To give some perspective on how long it has been since the last Waves victory over UCLA ... it had been less than two years since D-Day, Truman was about to step in for an ailing Roosevelt, George Mikan and the Minneapolis Lakers were just a blip on the radar screen, and perhaps the most alarming of all ... pre-John Wooden.
Where to begin? Well, best by just pointing out that this was the best game I've ever seen involving the Waves ... if only because I was radio-bound for last week's UCI game about which many said the same thing.
Jimmy Miggins was the best player on the court. Yes, Kapono can flat-out score; yes, Billy Knight was money; and yes, Terrance Johnson will one day be a Waves legend, but for right now, Miggins was the difference in this particular game.
Credit the coaching staff -- easily the most perceptive in my nine years watching Waves hoops -- with recognizing the hot hand and going to it repeatedly. Early in the game, it was Craig Lewis, who showed he felt the three-point range, so screens were set to open him up. Midway through the first half, it was Boomer Brazzle, who scored nine in the half from all over the court. In the final minute of the half, it was Terrance Johnson, who hit a layup to shake a cold shooting start nailed a three at the halftime buzzer that cut the lead in half, 36-33. Westphal called a screen for Johnson at the perfect moment.
But in the second half, the hot hand was Miggins, who scored 15 of his 20 in that period. The guy is 6'6 and 200 lbs soaking wet wearing a winter coat. But he repeatedly posted up vaunted UCLA post players TJ Cummings and Matt Barnes and frankly abused them. Again, credit Westphal; Miggins did this once and they went to it three more times in a row before Lavin caught on and put a quicker defender in the game.
The Waves have also learned how to run the fast break. Devin Montgomery executed one to perfection when he dribble-penetrated deep into the lane, drawing the defense, then whipped a pass out to the corner for an open three. On maybe the game's key sequence, Dan Gadzuric got a steal, had only Montgomery (who's a foot shorter) to beat, then clanked a dunk off the bottom of the rim -- I thought I was the only one who did that -- and the Waves picked up the ball, went the other way, and found Boomer Brazzle for a wide-open three. Five-point swing that game the Waves a five-point lead. On two other transition plays, Miggins found Johnson for short jumpers.
Johnson and Miggins are for real. Johnson's shooting percentage was low due to missing a lot of perimeter shots early, but when he's in transition or doesn't have time to analyze the situation, his instincts take over and he finds a way to score. Several times, he picked up busted plays or loose balls and calmly stroked medium-range shots that were back-breakers. Miggins, meanwhile, led the team in scoring and grabbed 11 boards. His array of post moves is reminiscent of a guy who was busy winning a game of his own across town last night, Elton Brand. Of course, Brand outweighs Miggins by about 80 pounds.
Craig Lewis is having the breakout season he's been waiting for. Can you say "out from under the shadow of Brandon Armstrong"? As great as Brandon is, he scores by holding the ball and creating his own shot, which takes the rest of the team out of the offense. What do you know ... when Lewis gets the ball, he can create some things too. His outside stroke was smooth as silk, hitting 7-14 overall, 4-8 from three-point range. Most of those shots were under defensive pressure and at key times in the game.
Micah McKinney saw his first action of the year, oddly enough, at crunch time. He hit two runners in the lane -- before now, his achilles' heel -- and directed the offense in the clutch. Late in the game, more coaching kudos to Westphal for shuttling McKinney and Montgomery repeatedly, Montgomery in for free throws, McKinney for defense.
The key to this team is balance. Five guys in double figures, contributions from the center position (combined 6 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks). I can't say enough about this win. All you hear around town is what a "bad loss" it was. Let them go on believing that UCLA lost it, rather than we won it (there's some truth in both, though).
I am really looking forward to Saturday. What a shame it would be to win a game like this and find ourselves at .500 at the end of the week. If we find a way to win in Utah, we might even hear whispers of a word often associated with Pep athletics, but never basketball ... top 25 ... but sssshh, don't tell anyone.