Fred Washington: "I thought we played good. That was a good team we beat today."
More love from Trent for his team (not to hammer this point to death, but his effusiveness was but a rumor in years past, I swear)...
Johnson: "We're a much better rebounding team than we have been in the past. We have size, we have some quickness. But what most impressed me with this group this weekend, regardless of whom we were playing and what the level was, they brought some energy three nights in a row. These guys competed. No questioning heart."
Point guard Mitch Johnson's offensive evolution - from passing up the open shot (freshman year) to shooting the open shot (early sophomore year) to hitting the open shot (end of sophomore year) - has been analyzed to death. Today though, he took another major step forward: actively looking for an open shot. I'd rarely seen him try to create his own shot before, but he did just that three times by my count, penetrating and shooting the mid-range jumper or putting up a floater in the lane, even though there was a defender guarding him. His final output wasn't spectacular (2-of-6, seven points), but I thought the improved process was more important than the so-so results.
While Trent Johnson praised his floor leader, he disagreed with my premise:
Johnson: "Well, Mitch is Mitch. The difference is he's stronger and guys around him are experienced. The ball's going down for him. He's doing a good job. But he's taking the same shots this year as last year, the ball's just going down (pause) more. But he's always going to run our team. He's always going to be solid. He's always going to make good decisions. Again, I've said it and I'll say it again, these guys took too brutal a beating last year in terms of their decisions. It wasn't all on them." [That was cryptic.]
But hey, I know what I saw (and a fan has to agree with me): Mitch is looking for a shot, which he never had done before.
After a monster first half (20 points), a quiet second prevented him from breaking his career record of 30 points (vs. Siena and vs. Washington State last year), but he was clearly the best player on the floor tonight - and earned the Basketball Travelers Classic Tournament MVP award for his efforts:
Goods: "Coach has told us to be aggressive, and the way we altered our offense opened up a lot of driving lanes. So I just wanted to attack and a couple of shots went down and I was able to get my rhythm, a little bit."
#4 is also evolving into a more complete player, ("a pretty darn good player," as UCSB coach Bob Williams put it), adding to his game an ability to drive that wasn't there last year:
Goods: I feel more comfortable putting the ball on the floor. I guess last year you could say I settled for the three a lot, and this year, I have a lot of guys running out at me, so I'm either trying to get to the basket or work the mid-range a little more."
Still, Goods is a deep threat first, second and third. Williams recognized this, so why did he continue to zone in the first half and give Goods repeated open looks?
Handling the Rock
Mitch Johnson and Drew Schiller both passed their first full-court press test with flying colors. Just scanned the box score and saw Mitch's six turnovers (and five assists, let's be fair), but I'm believing my eyes over the stats. Several of those turnovers were aggressive passes in transition that sailed high when Mitch was feeling a bit too much energy.
Points are supposed to bring up the ball, so most notable was Trent Johnson's big vote of faith in Fred Washington, as Coach called upon his slasher to handle the rock and start the offense as much as anyone. The senior shined, with just one turnover in 37 minutes of play.
For Washington, meanwhile, let's hope this isn't just his characteristic confidence speaking, because if there's truth here, watch out:
Washington: "I don't think pressure really gets to us. We're experienced. Last year we were young and got pressured a lot, sometimes we folded and sometimes we responded well. I feel like this year, when we get pressured, we're always going to respond well because we're comfortable with it. We have good ballhandlers out there. It really doesn't bother us that much. I feel like we're at the point where if a team pressures us, we're not going to commit stupid turnovers and stupid mistakes."
Any way we can set the time machine last March and take this group on a trip to Kentucky?
Washington absolutely locked down Alex Harris, the mid-major All-American senior guard Trent Johnson called an NBA lock before the game. He set the tone for a defense that allowed just 48 points, the fewest a Stanford opponent has scored since the 82-39 win over Denver last November 25. Trent Johnson was effusive...
Johnson: "Quite frankly, I knew he was good, but he was a little bit better than I thought. I don't think Fred did a good job. I think Fred did an exceptional job. First two games, he [Harris] had been in a good rhythm - 25, 27 [points]. For him to be 7-of-18 speaks volumes to Fred's effort defensively."
Washington: "I know if I'm a guy like that, he's going to shoot and get his. What'd he get, 18? [yeah, on as many shots]. He got a lot of shots , I think that's the most anyone's attacked me one-on-one. Yesterday, we got a 20-point lead and I kind of felt like I slacked off. Today, I wanted to come out and maintain the intensity."
UCSB's Alex Harris: "I think the size of their front line helps [their D] a lot. I think they were more physical inside and limited us to one shot, and with those things, it was going to be hard for us to pull out a 'W' tonight."
Today's Humorous Quote:
Fred Washington on free throws....
Washington: "Man, I don't know what to say about me. I'm knocking them down in practice, but I'm sucking in games. I've got to keep shooting, I guess."
Goods: "I'm missing in practice."
Darren Sabedra, Mercury News: "What you think, Trent?"
Trent Johnson: [deadpan] "I agree with him. He sucks."
Styles of Play
Coach Johnson ducked my question on this, instead emphasizing the team's positive approach to practices, but to win two games where you score 100, and then win a grittier, grind-it-out game was impressive and is a great sign for the rest of the season. For both of the future Washington/Washington State weekends - we'll need close to our 100 point total to win the first one, and 67 will probably be enough in the second. Come NCAA time too, who knows what style of team we might draw in a given round.
Where art thou, Lawrence?
One of my favorite personalities on the team (I hear he has an ant farm in his room), but just one shot and no points tonight after a hot (Saturday) and cold (Friday, Monday) during the season's opening three games. True, Johnson contributed to the lack of production with a questionable decision to bench him with two early first-half fouls, thus guaranteeing the outcome (less playing time for Hill) he was trying to avoid, but Hill finished with 17 minutes of play. That's enough for an All-Pac-10 guy to score.
Those two early fouls weren't sheer coincidence either. I thought UCSB purposefully repeatedly attacked Hill early with their smaller, faster post, Chris Devine, figuring Hill was the weakest post defensively. The strategy worked last night, but hopefully Hill will be returning soon to his dominant form of old.
Trent Johnson: "Hill's fine. Hill's fine. Three games this year, he hasn't played up to his standards, but he's fine. He may be pushing himself a little too hard, but he's going to relax and he'll be fine."
Blow the Whistle
After the Harvard game, I railed in this column against the 46 fouls called, 28 against your Cardinal, writing "I think the Pac-10 officiating could really hurt this team in March, when 12 months of work will be evaluated. This team's main strength should be its physically assertive, overpowering post defense. But if players always get whistled for that aggressiveness, it could well have a Pavlovian effect."
Sunday was much the same - 47 total fouls (fortunately only 17 on Stanford this time), and UCSB coach Bob Williams must be a Bootleg subscriber, because he led off his postgame remarks with an unprompted and thinly-veiled attack on the aggressive officiating:
"I got a little annoyed with the constant whistling I was hearing in my ears, so the defensive pressure was creating a lot of whistling. And with that amount of whistling, you're not going to have anyone left. … I think the whistling made it difficult for both teams to have much feel or rhythm."
Let's be clear - his complaints were not a case of sour grapes. Repeatedly, Williams said that Stanford was better and would have won regardless…
Williams: "At the same time, they're really good. They're big. They were our fear, which was rebounding. They cleaned up on that pretty good...We knew we had to hit from the perimeter, because we just can't take those horses down low. They're too big...I'd just as soon rather not envision [both Lopez twins]. I had enough trouble sleeping last night anyway. I don't really need that walking around in my dome."
..but Williams then reemphasized the effect of a tight officiating on his team - and ours...
Williams: "It was a game that both teams would have liked to be a bit more physical. You can just take a look at the guys they have over there. They haven't spent that much time in the weight room to not have the game be a little bit physical. From that standpoint, it made it an awkward game. But that is a point of emphasis with the NCAA this year -- any kind of contact. And so they called it pretty close, and we'll see how they're calling it in two months."
A reporter asked Williams for a clarification...
Williams: "They were going to call it if there was contact on the dribble attack of anything extended - they would let the body go a little bit - but anything extended, I thought they were relatively consistent and then they let it go late, in the last four, five minutes.
Interesting. Hadn't heard of this before.
On Stanford's upcoming opponents...
Trent Johnson: "The level of play, the level of competition just continues to escalate."
Johnson also made reference to Northwestern's Princeton-style attack and the need to defend for 35 seconds on the shot clock and compared Siena to UCSB - two solid teams he expects to dominate their respective leagues.
I thought the Stanford wings did a much better job with their entry passes today. The fact that this improvement came with the team's two biggest targets on the bench for much of the game (Robin Lopez played just 22 minutes with two early fouls and Brook is academically ineligible during the fall quarter) makes it all the more impressive.
If you agree with my observations above, this team has addressed its three biggest concerns in the first weekend alone: 1) Better entry passes. 2) Better ballhandling 3) Better shooting from the point guards.
Insert your disclaimers about Brook Lopez, injuries, officiating, and the one-and-done style of the NCAA Tournament, but things are looking up right now. It's not just that we're 3-0, it's that we're showing none of the Achille's heels that plagued the 2006/07 Cardinal last year.
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 it on KZSU (90.1 FM, kzsu.stanford.edu) with the incomparable Ben Speilberg.
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