Against Sparky on Thursday we shot like crap for 10 minutes against the worst zone defense I have seen in my 46 years of watching Pac-8-10-12 college basketball, but there were so many holes in that zone that it was just a matter of time before the guys stopped seeing opportunity everywhere, calmed down, and just took the first good shot. Plus, A-State was even worse on offense, and we strangled them, while nicely spreading the minutes. And then the shots fell and the world became a wonderful place for a bit.
But, then the showdown for third place came on Saturday and it all went to hell again. The rebound ring went back on the rim. In what was the least talented game between UA and Stanford since 1984-85, not a single first round pick on the floor, the two teams played a remarkably mediocre game just like they did in 1985. Unfortunately, I was at both games and this one was worse, because we lost. It was made all the worse by the fact that it was right there for the taking and we couldn't figure out how to get it done. The only redeeming thing was that Steve Kerr wasn't doing the t.v., Marquess Johnson was, so we didn't have to listen to the raucous Zona fans serenade Steve with "STEEEEEEVE KEEEEERRRRRRRR" just for fun. I've heard that enough already, and the Zona fans were loud enough.
Let's start talking guard play, with this sentiment: our guards have to shoot better or get smart and shoot less.
The best play of the Sparky game was Chasson Randle grabbing a defensive rebound in traffic, planting his right foot in the floor and flying up the court through traffic for a hitchy left-handed layin. The play showed a hell of lot of confidence and it showed he learned from last Sunday's game at Haas Pavilion, where he saw Gutierrez do the same thing to us. Push the tempo out of nowhere and see if you catch everyone napping. But then Zona happened and Chasson got Kyle Fogged. Basketball aficionados around the conference have known for years that Kyle Fogg has been the best on-ball defender in the conference for a long time. Chasson played a very strong game against Fogg on both ends, got hacked about five times by Fogg and didn't get the call. But the ball didn't drop. It was that simple. Chasson missed a couple of good looks from the barn, lipped off a couple of strong takes to the rim, and generally fought Fogg to almost a straight up draw. Almost, because Fogg got a couple of shots to drop in the last 10 minutes and got a block on Randle at the 4:20 mark.
Aaron Bright just smoked Sparky and we will leave it at that. Against Zona, the effort was there and it was a 10 point, three assist game. But, like with Randle, the ball didn't drop and much of the credit goes to Josiah Turner, the terrific freshman point guard for Zona. But, Aaron has to get his head up, has to get more unselfish and has to become more focused on execution than on "making plays." With his handle, his jump shot and his quickness, he can't allow great pressure defense to turn him into a dribbler. Aaron has to do a better job, and so does Randle and so does Mann (who should know better), of seeing the mismatches, feeling the deep chill downtown, and just hit the open man on the block. I counted six times that Aaron looked like he saw Josh Owens open on the block and turned the offense the other direction. With Perry, Chol, and Hill in foul trouble and not tall enough or strong enough to be effective on Owens, it was incumbent on Aaron to be a pass first, execute the obvious, point guard and get the ball to anyone open on the block. Owens is shooting 57.7% from the floor for chrissake.
Jarrett Mann caused me to almost punch Dave Hill in the nose on Saturday. Seniors don't make brain dead turnovers down the stretch of winnable ball games. But two weekends in row Jarrett has. Seniors don't gift wrap blocked shots for stupid lummox freshmen. And seniors don't blow the easiest bunny of the game. I gotta stop, I am getting too negative. I am going to go look for a silver lining…
Anthony Brown was terrific against Sparky. Great game on both ends. I thought his defense was terrific against Zona as well, and he really covered some ground in both games to go get rebounds. He took care of the ball as well. But, we needed his bench production on the scoreboard, and you know that didn't happen. We were outscored by the anemic Zona bench 8-5, in large part because Anthony couldn't get shots to go down. And with one exception, they were good shots.
Final Thoughts: I will reiterate that bad shooting can be cured by coaches invoking the Ralph Miller-AC Green rule. Sometimes good coaching is actually taking the decisions out of the hands of the players for a bit and teaching them what good shots look like. I know Coach Dawkins can coach, but if the point guards can't figure the equation out…
Final Final: I am really getting old. I remember Joey Johnson, Nick Johnson's dad. Joey played with Mark Carlino, whose son Matt Carlino went to UCLA and jumped out of there to BYU, at ASU. (Does it say something about your program when former players' kids don't go to your alma mater?) Nick is already a much better player his dad, Joey. But, we should all be happy that Nick can't jump like his dad, because had been Joey lifting off for those two cheap dunks in the last minute on Saturday, we'd have really seen some funky helicopter stuff. Joey was the type of jumper that when you played him, you wanted to whip ASU bad, so that he would get a clean shot at the rim during garbage time. Case in point, in 1989, at Sparky we had them by a thousand and with about 30 seconds left in garbage time Deshon Wingate throws a bad inbounds pass to the top of the key against Sparky's pathetic 1-2-1-1 press and Joey tookit in stride, one dribble, two foot lift off from outside the dotted, Deshon (who was 6'7") steps way in front of the rim and gets his feet set to take the charge (which was laudable hustle and the right defensive thing to do) and Joey flew right over the top of him, spread-eagled, his naughty bits missed Deshon's head by a foot, and Joey had to twist himself sideways in the air to get out of the way of the front of the rim or he would have brained himself. Deshon went on to have a hell of career at Stanford and hammered a lot of dunks down on guys, but that was a bad pass and it was great to witness Joey get his F-18 on.
Final Final Final: It's a completely winnable roadie in L.A. this weekend, if we get the ball to Josh Owens and force him to score 20 every night. To mangle a Damon Wayons In Living Color paraphrase, "Hocus Pocus, collard greens and some focus!"
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