Editor's Note: The following column/commentary offers the writer's views of the on-court performances and decisions of our men's basketball team. In no way should constructively-intended criticism be deemed as a lack of respect or admiration for our team's obvious desire and commitment.
One of the things that seem inexorable is how Senior Day affects you as your life lengthens. I remember thinking back in 1989 something like, "Can I just cancel my part of this so we can get to the playing part? Man this is dragging." Now I stand there thinking back on the career of Fred and the boys and I'm trying not to well up. Next year, I am cocktailing hard before Senior Day. Thank goodness for the Bootleg afternoon out at The Goose post game festivities. I spent some time on Sunday searching for Nigerian midget goats, on good recommendation, on the internet as a means of replacing my lawn mower with the little biodynamic, environmentally-friendly fellas.
But enough about my emotional plight and environmentally friendly midget goats. How about those Cougars? I didn't see the Husky game, we won, who cares. Well, actually, it says a lot for the Huskies that they are playing harder at this point in the season than they were two months ago. They are playing desperate and it showed in their win at Berkeley against a team that clearly isn't playing desperate.
The Cougars played a very good first half and I frankly wrote us off for dead, just hoping we came out in the second half and played our butts off. But a funny thing happened along the way as we went in to the half with Big Mo on the basis of Drew's spot on lob pass to Robin for a dunk. The key was that Drew didn't telegraph the pass, he looked the play off and then snapped it off quickly and accurately. With emotional guys like the Lopezes, an espresso shot like that goes a long ways.
One of the issues the Cougs have is that, as damn good as they are, they don't put a lot of pressure on you when you bring the ball up. This means that Mitch knows he is going to play a lot of minutes and he is going to get the offense initiated. Well, in a purely half court game no one in the country is any better than us. Witness some of our second halves this year at Maples and on the road. Brook can go to a place offensively in the half court that only Mike Beasley can also identify. Our guards, in particular Mitch, just did an awesome job of entry passing in the second half. First half, our guards were far too complacent with their passing and with their movement in general. It's one thing to run offense, it's another to run offense with purpose, e.g. getting your feet set and being on balance so that you are ready, so you are anticipating the opportunity. Second half, you saw how well our offense runs when Mitch, Fred, Anthony et al. are constantly intent.
Specifically on Mitch, six rebounds and six assists and only one shot. But his timing in the second half on offense was precise and the location of his passes was precise. And he clearly came out for the second half with a purpose--get our butts in gear and get El Guapo la pelota. Several times he made quick entry passes from challenging angles that were to El Guapo's target hand and that didn't make El Guapo come out of his stance to catch them. This allowed El Guapo to maintain deep position, and when that happens, as we have seen over and over again this year, count the bucket.
But, just as importantly for Mitch, his defense the entire game on Rochestie was better than Rochestie's defense on Mitch. Mitch wasn't trying to do a lot offensively scoring the ball and Rochestie did nothing in the second half to take anything away from Mitch as a distributor. Conversely, Mitch made Rochestie work very hard for shots and take very difficult shots. Mitch also jumped a few passing lanes, tipped a ball now and then and put solid on-ball pressure on Rochestie when Rochestie picked the ball up. Wazzu went through some spats in the second half where they didn't move the ball very well, which was the result of on-ball pressure on their guards and some primary passing lane denials by Mitch, Anthony, Fred, Law and Taj.
Anthony played very good defense in the first half, and his guy Low just made some tough shots. Conversely, Anthony had a couple of good looks that just didn't go down. Second half, Anthony looked to me as though he just wore Low down as Low's season long march toward 38 minutes a game seemed to be taking effect. Any time a guy that good at shooting the ball and that good at handling ball only gets off four shots in a half in which his team is scuffling to score 20 points, the defense is great and the player has mentally been taken out, or taken himself out, of the game. Anthony's defense was legitimately lock-down. But, Low shouldn't mentally drift, either. Anthony was so locked in on defense that he was all over the passing lanes, stealing the ball or forcing a re-load by the passer.
Maybe Low was getting tired because Anthony made him really work in second half. Anthony started the half with great intensity, attacking the paint a couple of times, drawing fouls and making it known that he was going to be the aggressor in that individual battle. A locked in Anthony Goods created havoc. Low didn't want to help off him, and that allowed Brook a bit of extra time on a couple of possessions to make his move. Anthony also stepped to the line the second half and nailed his free throws, keeping the pressure on the Cougs. Anthony in attack mode when teams are looking to stop El Guapo makes us brutally tough in the half court because penetration with the Lopezes, Taj, Fred, and Law just makes us too much handle on the offensive glass.
Just a note on Fred and Taj, because those guys spent the bulk of the time Weaver was on the floor taking Weaver out of their offense. Weaver was criminally violated by the officials in this game (all together now--AW, TOO BAD!), but he tried several times to take Fred and Taj off the dribble on left wing isolations and was flat stoned. Few guys in this conference have been able to do that and that is a staple of the Wazzu offense that got them nothing on Saturday.
Final Thoughts: Zona choked on Sunday. Kirk Walters deserves a
lot of credit for going a little over easy on the huevos rancheros, but Kevin
O'Neil is not Lute Olson when it comes to getting guys to play with confidence
on the offensive end. Yes, Brook Lopez played with great positive raw
emotion on Saturday, but frankly so did Mitch Johnson and Anthony Goods. I
loved seeing that emotion. That is what pulls the crowd onto the floor
with you--let them see who you are and they will respond. It's part of why
you play basketball, to have the gym rocking with you. Otherwise you might
as well go join the swim team. Let's go take one at Pauley--the Bruins are
vulnerable. The title is there for the taking.
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