Any time you get 23 assists on 35 field goals you know you're doing something right. Any time you have 23 assists and 3 turnovers in a game where you are pushing the tempo good things are going to happen.
Dudley and Clay in their stories have given you all the news, stats and highlights. So let me zero in on a couple things that may not have been so obvious and are not likely to be covered in tomorrow's stories.
The interior defense today was exceptional. Rashard Sullivan had the primary responsibility for holding down Shawnson Johnson and he did a great job. But did he ever get lots of help. Wen Mukubu was a whirling dervish, spinning from his own man to double down whenever the ball went to Johnson. Billy Pharis also was quick to help and also added three blocks. Finally, Ferguson, Brewer and Modica stuck their hands in on the big guys whenever they got the ball in position to do anything with it. While granted N.Texas is not a strong team, nevertheless this is significant because interior defense is where we got our hats handed to us against Illinois and in several other games as well we were lamenting the lack of good interior defense.
Several players are making great strides in their individual games. This is the fourth consecutive game where I have commented that Rashard Sullivan has stepped up his play. Not only have his defense and rebounding improved, but most significantly he is beginning to show some offensive moves and better understand what he can do offenisvely to help his team.
Wen Mukubu is bringing great energy every time he steps onto the floor. That in itself is not new. But now, in addition to energy Wen has become probably the team's second best defender, second only to Eric Ferguson. And for the second straight game he has added some offensive moves, yet is playing within his limitations at the offensive end.
Speaking of Ferguson, if Eric can maintain the level he has shown in recent games this team could fool lots of folks. His defense has been superb, he has added scoring when needed, but most importantly he is pushing the tempo on offense, finding the open man or finishing himself and doing all of this while reducing turnovers-- his biggest bugaboo last year.
Billy Pharis, especially in the last two games, has shown the all-around game that some of us expected from him but which was missing in early efforts. Billy is knocking down the open shots, is the traffic director especially at the defensive end, and is possibly our best passer from the high post. His defensive work today is a nice bonus.
Ronnie Brewer had, in my opinion, his best game today. Good moves offensively, finding the open man with good passes and avoiding the high risk passes that marred some of his earlier games. He also is beginning to show that he understands what Coach Heath expects from him at the defensive end. In addition to the defensive plays that he did make today he came within a whisker of steals on about three other plays that would have led to breakaways. It was also good to see Ronnie knock down a couple 3's, though that's not something the team will necessarily look to him for.
The bench performed really well today. Not only did all fourteen players get in the game and score, but all did other things that helped their team as well. Entering conference play it's got to be reasssuring to Coach Heath to know that in the event of illness, injury, foul trouble, etc. he can turn to guys like Jamarr Blackmon, Kendrick Davis and Mike Jones with the expectation of getting solid minutes.
This team is unselfish. The ball movement, making the extra pass, finding the open man... all these things were evident from the opening tip today. Also, while some coaches stick with their system come hell or high water it's comforting to know we have a staff that will adapt to its talent. It's probably becoming increasingly clear that the motion offense fits this team to a "T" and even though he's "not a motion offense guy" he has his guys into exactly that and it is paying off. We've also seen some zone and may see more as the conference season progresses even though a tough man-to-man is the preferred defense for this staff. The team is also showing a nice feel for the press, so maybe we'll see a bit more of it as well.
Give him a couple weeks to learn the plays and get into basketball shape and Matt Jones can help this team.
The LSU game Tuesday will be a good barometer as to whether these improvements will carry forward against quality opposition. If the two rehabbing freshmen can pull their games together and take them to the levels their teammates have shown in recent games it still appears to this optimist that the NCAA tournament is more than a dream.
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