Ladies and gentlemen, The Big Lebowski, the right Reverend himself, now that was what I call a homestand. Gripping, nailbiting, paint chips flying off the rim, anaconda defense. Holding serve in our gym this weekend was, as it ended up, far more important than we thought it was going in. Now we get a week to get ready for the Weenies over in the temple of the People for the Equitable Treatment of Shrubberies [PETS]. As Tim Armstrong of Rancid so well put it, "This ain't no Mecca man, this place is _____-ed." Shoot, there I go again, going off on Cal… sorry about that.
Going in to the weekend, I don't think anyone thought the spoiled children would beat the Bruins in Pauley. Suddenly, we are sitting 4-2, one game back of the Bruins, Cougs, and Sun Devils (watch them sink like a stone now). We are now on a nice two-game winning streak and playing a very beatable team on Saturday. The Pac-10 just re-bunched, something it will probably do again and again this year. And Ben Howland - well, he's not John Wooden yet. And the Ducks are dangerous, but sitting at 3-3 behind us. Anyway, I have to think of a quick segue, how about that second half from Anthony Goods to keep us in the upper division of the Pac-10 and still in the hunt for a conference title?
What did one expert, say at halftime, about what we needed to do to get back in the game against ASU? Have our shooting guard act like one? Bingo. Anthony Goods, welcome back to the Pac-10 conference, compadre. A lot of time it isn't if the shots go down, so much as when they go down and what your face tells the other team when you take them. Anthony's first three of the second half was a confident stroke, on balance, and The Law got the rebound and put it back in. And the next one went down. Little known fact by most Booties (because you all can't shoot to save your lives!), shooters love it when a big fella gets an offensive rebound off their miss, it tells them the world is rotating properly and their teammates are locked in. Next three goes down for Anthony off a nice pass from Fred and we are down just six. Goods gets eight points in the first ten minutes of the second half, and each one was one we needed it, bringing momentum and stretching out a zone that was starting to lose confidence. You know your shooting guard can see the opponent's blood when the jumper is going down and then he starts driving and drawing fouls and making free throws. Great offensive effort by Anthony in the second half of the ASU game. Maybe we got him some momentum now, and he has the offensive charm coming up as he looks to go into Cal, where everyone goes to get hot right now.
Who cares about the Zona game at all now? Two brief comments on Anthony from that game. I thought he held is own and defended his butt off in that one. We can talk all we want about shoes and knees and things, but Bayless struggles against Anthony and then bounces right back against Cal. Props Anthony! There are a lot of good looking freshmen in this conference, lottery pick guards like Mayo and maybe Harden and Bayless, but in two years we are all going to be figuring out how to stop Kyle Abbott. Kyle impressed me, folks. That is a shooter's stroke, and he was their best defender too.
A quick take on the Wildcats' Jerrod Bayless... something was really bothering him against us, and usually that means on both ends. But he busted his butt on defense the whole time - that really shows basketball IQ and guts. Dude has sick elevation on his jumper and great ability to take contact and get shots off to the glass - too bad for him there was a 7'0" window cleaner in front of the glass.
A word on ASU's James Harden... his patience and ability to let the game come to him were very impressive. He took his opportunities and he got to the line. Fred can flat out guard and I think that Harden would have found a way to get 20 on Fred, but for the dinosaurs that stopped him in their shadows about five times. Several times he got to 8-10 feet and just didn't take it up because he knew he was going to have to go up and over Fred and hang and get a shot off and he knew you can't hang or clutch or you eat it. He is a smarter player right now than any other freshman in the conference not named Love. If anything, his team needed him to be more aggressive. I think he just got tired.
For our own Mitch Johnson, Saturday was a day off - no one running at him off the dribble, no one hounding him for 40 minutes. Very welcome I am sure after the Zona game, which was just a bit stressful. In fact, the entire team saw that zone on Saturday and exhaled and just relaxed too much. But, after a barfest of a first half, Mitch really got the ball moving around much better in the second half and he picked up his defensive tempo right off the bat. But, I want to talk about Zona and Mitch. Nic Wise made some circus shots on Thursday night, but overall I thought Mitch did a very good job on him. Conversely, I though Nic was just "o.k." on Mitch, and Mitch hit two big threes for us. In fact, for the weekend, Mitch went 3-4 from deep. Why? Because he did a very good job of recognizing when the shot was going to be there and getting his feet set early and catching the ball with his butt down and his hips hinged for shooting, so there was no catch, step in to the shot, row your boat and push type motion. The motion was fluid, quick, much more difficult to guard. He is clearly getting some work in on this as he continues to improve his fundamentals as the season progresses.
Mitch threw some horrible passes against Zona in the second half. Horrible. No excuses, just poor and unnecessary decisions. Still, six assists is six assists. And his passing in the second half against ASU was much snappier, more thoughtful. I though he set the tone well against ASU.
Fred Washington played all over the court on Thursday and Saturday. As much as Brook Lopez dominated the second half against ASU on both ends, we got the sweep because of the defense of Fred Washington and Taj Finger. Fred stifled Budinger and Harden in back-to-back games, with a lot of help from his friends. Two completely different players, great results. The better of those two players is Harden. Harden doesn't jack up bad shots, Harden stays patient and doesn't show the frustration that Budinger frequently does. Harden gets to the line. That was where he got his points and he really challenged Fred physically - something so far in league play, no one really has. And who besides his dad knew Fred was a clutch late-game free-thrower? That's what I thought. Seriously, icing a game is icing a game. Welcome to the short list of guys that have won Stanford basketball games at the free throw line, Fred! We'll get you new electric Stanford logo cart to haul those big swinging huevos rancheros around campus.
As wonderful as it was to see Fred drain the life out of Zona, let's all stop for a minute and recognize what I hope was the turning of the corner by sophomore Landry Fields. 24 minutes over the weekend and that was 24 minutes of Pac-10 level defense, hustle and intensity. That was playing both ends of the floor the right way. That was one trip down the floor on offense, just missing the offensive rebound and ASU turning and burning the other way and Landry Fields outsprinting three of his own teammates and several Sun Devils to get back, forcing Harden to pick up his dribble awkwardly and robbing him of an offensive opportunity. 24 minutes without a turnover, while still being aggressive. When we now can bring Taj, Robin, Kenny and Landry off the bench with that level of defensive effort - yikes, man! That is a lot of bench defense and hustle. I thought it was great stuff from Landry.
Closing this sucker out - we now get three in a row on the road. Cal can't guard anyone - they really miss Theo Robertson. I think we have a very good chance to go into Pullman in two weeks at 6-2, but I will be happy to go in there at 5-3. Everyone is going to focus on the big fellas in the next game, but we win where everyone else has been winning against the Weenies, because their backcourt defense is atrocious and they make poor decisions. If we take care of the ball, Goods sees this as a night where he can get 15+ and Fred and Landry bring the intensity on Christopher, a night when we just strangle the life out of them on the perimeter. We just held ASU and Arizona to 35% and 37.5% shooting respectfully, and I think we can go on the road and hold Cal to 40%. Lets go beat some Weenies, boys and girls.
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