Daniel's Fast Breaks™ - Northwestern State
We're going to turn Maples into a bakery if the schedule keeps up like this. Obviously, there's a definite limit to how much you can learn from a game like this, and I think that Coach Johnson, the fans, the players and the press corps were all acutely aware of that, which explains the lethargy I witnessed from all four groups during and after the game. The team's comments about Northwestern State, like those for Harvard, required little reading between the lines.
Trent Johnson: "Similar results and similar effort to start with from last night. I thought we did a good job of taking care of the ball against their pressure. But I'm pretty sure these guys are aware, like the staff is, that we're going to see a better basketball team tomorrow afternoon."
Drive & Dish:
Last night's gameplan against NWSU was pretty simple, and obviously effective offensively. Leverage the athleticism advantage by driving into the paint with the wings, and then kicking out on the doubles. When I asked Mitch Johnson about his big shooting night, and he deflected the praise onto the scheme:
Mitch Johnson: "It was just stepping up and hitting open shots, but we did a good job of spreading the floor and making them help and recover. We were able to get into the gaps and see open guys."
Coach Johnson said his rotation patterns were a function of both trying to rest up players for tomorrow's game - the third in as many days - and trying to rotate in as many faces as possible.
Trent Johnson: "When we scheduled this tournament, we did it for a reason. Hopefully at the end of the year we'll be in a situation where it'll be similar - playing three games in a row in the Pac-10 Tournament. For the most part, they did a very good job defensively and there hasn't been much of a drop-off for the guys who are coming in. At least during these first two games, from everybody."
Throughout this past week, I talked basketball with my friends close to the program and they all agreed that Harvard and Northwestern State would be jokes, but that UCSB was quite a solid team that could give the Cardinal serious trouble. (And Coach Johnson has said the same thing in as many words.) That Harvard and Northwestern State were laughers was definitely true, but I hope the prophesy is only half-true, and we pull away from UCSB convincingly this afternoon. While the Gauchos handily beat Northwestern State and Harvard, they won those two games by 15 or 20 apiece, not 40 apiece (and needed a late run to salt away the win against Harvard on Saturday). Hopefully, Stanford will have fresher legs. Trent Johnson, coach that he is, probably gave the most in-depth response to my question here than any he was asked Saturday night.
The Bootleg: "Coach, what concerns you most about UCSB? I know they do a very good job pressuring."
Johnson: "Well, the pressure. They're a very experienced group. They're an NCAA team, I'd be very surprised if they don't win their league from start to finish. And they shoot the ball, they shoot the ball from five positions. I mean they're good. Harris is a pro, he's a pro who can really play and the first two games they played are no indication of how good of a basketball team they are."
Trent Johnson's rather uncharacteristic optimism I chronicled in my initial Fast Breaks™ after the Harvard game is only increasing by the day. First came his comments earlier that this team is the hardest, most consistent practice team he's ever had here and that they're worthy of their preseason national ranking, which he absolutely railed against before the 2005-06 season (and rightfully so, in retrospect). Then, the comment above that he hopes to make the Pac-10 finals with this team - and that the idea of playing in that Sunday final is so salient in his mind that he purposefully scheduled this tournament to prepare his team for that grind. I realize it's reading tea leaves or pulling teeth or whatever your analogy of choice, especially next to a football coach that will give you 20 reasons why we're going to win the Pac-10 within three years, but I know Trent Johnson a little bit after three years on this beat, and trust me, this is the most complimentary I've seen him be of his own team. Mind you, his latest comments were in response to a 'what can your team do better' question. Johnson briefly obliged, mentioning rebounding and ball control, but then couldn't help but state his mind: "I think we're sharing the ball well, we're playing with a high level of intensity, so I tend to dwell on the positives instead of the negatives. These guys are playing to a level which I think is good for us. In the past, this has been a team that has played to the level of opponents."
Every single day I see him, Johnson compares this team in a favorable light to his three previous seasons here. Wow. Johnson did catch himself, and ended with a "we're playing to our level, but it's early, so let's not get too excited right now," just for good measure. Fair enough at 2-0, but Trent Johnson and his team can't have it both ways. If USCB is as good as they say, and if Stanford looks half as good as they have in routs the last two nights, anyone else care to get excited with me (and this team, as much as they try to hide it)?
When he's not rescuing women off of tall buildings, Daniel Novinson writes men's basketball for the Stanford Daily (www.stanforddaily.com) and broadcasts men's hoops on KZSU (90.1 FM, kzsu.stanford.edu) with the incomparable Ben Speilberg.
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our website, as well as our full-length feature articles in our glossy magazine. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up) and The Bootleg Magazine (sign-up)!