O.K., well, people always use the glass is half-full or the glass is half-empty to describe their outlooks on life. Being a Stanford Men's Basketball type, I have always found myself simply asking for another glass. So, when you get a stretch of three games against what appear to be three of the four best teams in the conference, and you go 1-2, but with a couple of key shots dropping you could be 3-0, I think we all do the appropriate thing, which is sit back and make the call - "Hey Bartender, come down heeya...one bourbon, one scotch and one beeya!" I hate it when we are the ones that "coug it."
My impression coming into the PDR of Washington's arrival in the Bay Area was
that UW was the cream of the crop in the conference, in a year when the crop is
suspect, and that the Cougs were underachieving because they stink on
defense. So, our choking the Puppies with our man-to-man defense and
keeping our turnovers down on the way to a home win Thursday night that included
some excellent decision-making and free throwing down the stretch, was like a
Basquiat painting - butt ugly, but yet a thing a beauty. So we turn around
on Saturday and everyone feels like we should handle the Cougs, who gagged away
a loss in weenieville on Thursday and lost their starting point guard Reggie Moore to injury. But, you don't want to play a team that is desperate and
talented and suffered a "team unity" event like a loss due to injury (not
arrest), and is facing the key game of a conference season, which is the evil
get to .500 or go two games under .500 game. The Cougs had all that coming
in, and low and behold, their coach made an actual coaching decision for the
first time all year and scrapped their miserable man to man defense and come out
with a fairly lousy 2-3 match-up zone defense, which we acted like we had
never seen before.
Jeremy Green was the focus of the defense of the cats and dogs this weekend and his shooting was terrible because for the most part he got very few good looks. On the other hand, I thought his defense and his rebounding was pretty good. He was better defensively against UW than Wazzu, but maybe that was because the puppies didn't have Faisal Aden and Klay Thompson. Not surprisingly, our offense struggles late in the shot clock when we can't get Jeremy coming off a screen for a good look. Too many late shot clock and early shot clock shots were a huge factor in his going 9-28 from the floor. In fact, you can substitute the whole team for Jeremy, and simply say the entire team has to execute our offense more precisely or we are going to shoot poorly all season. And we aren't going to finish in the top half of the conference, if at home we shoot under 30% from deep, and under 40% from the floor.
Anthony Brown, who mostly played the "3" spot off the bench, played a ton of minutes in the backcourt with Green and Mann at the point. That lineup played the entire end of the game against UW and likewise against the Cougs. Brown was very solid against UW, continuing to show a naturally aggressive attitude on both ends. But, against the Cougs he was our best player in the second half on offense and put solid pressure on Marcus Capers out front when Capers brought the ball up. Brown was terrific against the zone defense, recognizing gaps and snapping passes off with purpose. He must have played against a lot of zone in high school because he was ahead of the defense frequently, seeing the gaps and space where he could sit down and get shots. He had a number of great catch, shot fake, and hit the gap with one dribble and snap a pass off sequences that all resulted in quality shots at the end of the sequence. Put another way, Brown facilitated what little quality ball movement we had in the second half. Now, if he could just have figured out that Marcus Capers wanted to go left when bringing the ball up the court every time because he was left handed, that would have been neat.
Our point guards were simply useless against the zone of the Cougs. We didn't get into the gaps, we didn't penetrate with enough purpose or control, we didn't shoot well, and we didn't recognize when our bigs were open in the baseline gaps and the middle of the court enough. Bright started both games, but shot poorly, and was outclassed defensively. He was simply not effective against the Huskies, who chose to defend him with Justin Holiday, 6'6", long and quick. It was an interesting and effective strategy. I thought Coach Dawkins was maybe a bit too hard on him against the Cougs, because Capers really wasn't an offensive threat. But, Bright needs to ramp up his peskiness and play tougher off the ball when his man tries to force his way through Bright to the offensive glass. That said, he made some great passes against the zone and Wazzou did have to pay attention to him at the top of the zone. The shots didn't fall though. Next week, the guards are not the mismatches this week's were.
Jarrett Mann played a lot of point or joint point with Bright and Harris. Jarrett played a great game against UW. He penetrated effectively and finished, including a sweet dribble drive left and throw down while the Husky big men were preoccupied with making sure Powell and Owens didn't drop from the roof on them. And the free throws keep falling, which means our best perimeter defender stayed on the floor late in both games. And I think I see his leadership improving as well. Jarrett, however, against the Cougs didn't run the zone offense(s) effectively enough and couldn't find the gaps in the defense until stuck late in the shot clock putting his head down and hoping for a light at the end of the tunnel. Casto, the kitties big man, did a great job of staying away from Mann and forcing Mann to hang in the air and make decisions, resulting in six turnovers with five assists. The key being, again, too many late shot clock "expeditions" forced by mediocre offense for the first 25 seconds of the shot clock. Mann needs to get after his guys to get more organized and more focused against the zone. Resetting the offense against a zone with 10 seconds or so left in the clock is not going to succeed in conference play.
Gabriel Harris, I thought, exemplified the offensive effort of the Cardinal in the two games. Nice and strong with the ball, focused, but the shots didn't drop and the drives managed to end up for the most part, nowhere. As the great Aussie band The Hoodoo Gurus used to sing, "Do you know where nowhere is, well, its all around you." Great effort on defense in both games though, but again, Aden and Thompson are good. In conference, we have to have something more than just solid, we need shots to go down.
Final Thought: Ball Movement. So I watched Pitt-Syracuse last night and I was blown away by Pitt's ball movement against the Orange matchup zone. Damned near every pass with serious zip on it, guys catching in the gaps, stepping to the pass to create movement into the gap, anticipating the backfilling into gaps, sitting down in the openings and staying open when the defense moves, quickly going front side to weakside by using the high post.
Final Final: Lets wrap this theme up. Josh Owens can score over anyone in this conference. There are no NBA ready big guys in this league right now, and USC's bigs may be the best, but they can't afford to get in foul trouble. Josh just went 12-16 for the weekend. He has to get more that the seven shots he took against the cougs. My old teammates Howard Wright and Adam Keefe would have ripped heads off if they were shooting that well and only took that many shots. At some point Josh has to be more selfish for the good of the team and realize that he has to go get 25 or 30. Josh has to stop being so nice and his coaches have to stop being so nice and the team has to realize where we have to go to win games. Because 80% shooting means Josh should have taken another 10 shots at a minimum, in which case, we would be 4-1, not 3-2 in conference. Josh, you need to tell the Bartender "to come down here!" Because you need a couple more shots. Or the rest of us are going to need them. Never mind, too late.
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