Back in the day, we had a term at my fraternity for certain things that were just a little too ugly, like most offensive linemen's girlfriends, "Coyote Ugly". For lack of anything nicer to say about our shooting over the LA-in-Norcal weekend, our Cardinal were guilty of some coyote-ugly shooting. Thankfully, the guards were not the worst of this bunch of these apparently Teejers- trained, spastic, flailing bunch of bricklayers. I kept looking for Mel Brooks or Ben Stiller in the corner of the gym sitting on a director's chair, laughing and yelling, "Good, Good, print that!" Hell, we get good half court contest shooters, but the basketball players look like the half court shooters from the non-conference home schedule. Yeesh!
Anyway, moving on to the Cardinal guard play this weekend. O.K., Mitch Johnson welcome to the party. Mitch played what I thought were perhaps his two most competitive games as a starting point guard in the Pac-10 this weekend. Against UCLA, admittedly against a still-not-100% Darren Collison, Mitch was simply the best he has been. Aggressive, confident and strong with the ball. His turnovers were of the trying-too-hard-to-make-a-play variety against the best defensive team in the conference and easily the best defensive backcourt in the conference. I know a lot of people are going to say what about WSU, they play great defense? Sure they do, but they don't pressure and they don't jump passing lanes and hedge screens with the clinical aggression of UCLA.
The key to Mitch's game against UCLA, and without him we are gonzo by 15 at halftime and it is over, was his mindset this past weekend. He was confident and aggressive and opportunistic - willing to take his shot or make a solid move to the paint when the defense offered it. That tells me that was "letting the game come to him" and not pressing. See play, make play. Sounds easy, but I thought he was really keeping his dribble low, focusing on staying balanced and having his feet ready when he was catching the ball. He made several great pump fakes this weekend (which begs the question - why is anyone going for a Mitch Johnson head fake?) that froze or lifted his man and allowed him to get to that 12-foot pull-up jumper that he knocked down against UCLA and missed against USC.
The USC game was ragged. Way too ragged. And Mitch went 1-6 from the floor, but I thought all of his shots were good shots, except that last barfy lay-in where he was trying to draw a foul instead of keeping his eye on the prize. What happens in a game where nothing is going down is guys start looking for contact, start making things too difficult while looking for a call because they know if they just take the shot it isn't going to go down. It's a Catch-22, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. Anyway, in a game in which we committed 19 turnovers, Mitch had just one. He might have tried to get us under a bit more control at times, but it wasn't like we were going to actually execute well against USC's half court defense the way we were playing anyway. Mitch deserves a ton of credit for his rebounding in the second half. With the big fellas locked in seemingly endless battle of mixed martial arts submission holds. guard rebounding became a critical factor and Mitch just went and got some very big rebounds late in the game.
Mitch also gets a lot of credit for really playing his butt off on defense. He got a beat a few times, but for the most part he was in great position all weekend, helped well, and actually made some hugely opportunistic plays in the perimeter passing lanes. In a game in which we made 17 field goals against USC, Mitch's break away bunny, along with Kenny's beat the buzzer layin, stand out as critical makes. In both instances, defense generated offense - just had to make that point. I also thought Mitch did a great job running the high screen and roll against the San Antonio Spurs-level hedging of UCLA - no turnovers against that and several very nice passes. Its a lot harder than it looks on the floor than in the stands or on television.
Anthony Goods was our best player this weekend. His defense all weekend was outstanding, despite UCLA's brilliant shooting. I thought Anthony was physical, aggressive, and only occasionally did he get locked into anticipating the play and getting beat going the other way on a counter. But let's be serious, without Mitch and Anthony making shots against UCLA, we might have been blown out of gym. Don't tell me that Anthony's two late threes were after the game was decided because there is a huge difference between down 11 and down 8 and there is an enormous difference psychologically between losing at home by nine to UCLA and losing at home by 15. Most importantly, I thought that, in both games, Anthony made some plays going to the basket - keeping the defense honest and forcing the play into the paint. When the refs aren't calling anything that typically is a foul - unless you are Brook - it is hard to get to the line or finish in the lane, but Anthony drew a couple of fouls and made some foul shots. If there are two criticisms I have of Anthony from this weekend, I thought he should have been more aggressive in both games and I thought against USC he missed a lot of open post-feed opportunities. Otherwise, he spent the weekend being guarded by some of the country's best perimeter defenders and guarding some of the country's best shooting guards and I thought he held his own admirably.
Fred Washington played all over the court this weekend, and his conditioning isn't quite there yet, which is why I think he didn't play more minutes. Fred's defense on Shipp and Mayo was outstanding. Particularly Mayo, because you have to give Shipp his due - dude just made some shots, man. Mayo, much better player when Fred was not on the floor - taking nothing away from Goods' defense of course, but Fred can really guard a guy. Offensively against UCLA, Fred was nails. I wish he would have finished more of his moves to the rim in the games, but his aggressiveness to the rim was crucial and in many instances led to offensive rebounds that our dinosaurs then turned into additional rebounding statisticalisms. Fred also made all six of his free throws this weekend. Nice work overall.
Was that a Landry Fields sighting on Saturday? Wow. I didn't even notice Fields was in the gym on Thursday. What up with dat? I will say this for Coach Johnson, he put Landry during a dead ball and USC comes out in a 1-3-1 zone and Landry is in the right spot and sinks a three. Maybe he was anticipating Floyd going zone, or more likely, he thought that Lewis was coming in the game for USC and was going to give Landry some run against a guy like Lewis rather than against Hackett or Mayo. Anyway, Landry has to stop kicking the can, period, because three turnovers in 11 minutes is just bad basketball. But, Trent gave him a chance to play and he answered the gun right off the bat. Same with Kenny Brown. I thought we got great minutes from Kenny Brown in the USC game and would have liked to see him against UCLA. But he came out after the DNP-CD and really got after it on defense and was solid with the ball. Nice work by Kenny - clearly he is going to continue now (at least I think so) to get some run each game as a backup point.
A couple of final thoughts: We faced some pretty good defense this weekend, but that is no excuse for the way we shot the ball. People can rant and rave all they want about coaching or whatever, but shooting the ball once the game starts is all on the players. And I for one thought we got a lot of good looks against both clubs. In particular, I thought we must have missed 20 shots in the paint against UCLA and I maybe 20 more against USC. And against USC I thought we missed a lot of open jumpers. Guys simply have to start making shots, because the looks were there. Interesting statistic: 28 offensive rebounds in two games against ranked teams this weekend. That is phenomenal effort and physical play at its best. Shooting bunnies though….
Finally, our inbounding was horrible against UCLA - so we came out against USC with a new inbounder, Mitch Johnson, and three successful counters or options off our base inbounds play, two of which resulted in easy buckets, and most importantly no turnovers on inbounds plays. Kudos to the coaching staff for such quick changes in performance in an area that has been pathetic, particularly in light of the 42-hour turnaround while trying to game-plan for the dramatic difference in personnel and scheme between the two clubs. I thought that was an area of coaching that clearly contributed directly to the win. Mitch made much better decisions than Anthony and was much more comfortable late in the five-second count. Onward to the Ducks and Beavers. If we rebound and defend like we did against UCLA and USC, we will sweep the Oregons because the Ducks can be killed on the glass and they don't have physical bodies or the fouls to give that the LAs had. I also can't imagine we continue to shoot cripples like fourth-graders.
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