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.
Way back in November folks were talking about how tough the L.A. Roadie was going to be. Well, when you play 8 on 5 for two games, it doesn't make it any easier. Mrs. Roscoe and I were talking about how big the UCLA* game was and how it would be better to play to UCLA* on Saturday for the whole enchilada than USC on Saturday because UCLA* just beats the heck out of you, but at least their program is consistent in what they do, whereas USC and Tim Floyd are tricky. Well, L.A. defended their turf and now it's time to take our ridiculous 24-6, 13-5 record and move on to Phase Three of the season.
Throw out all of the statistics from Thursday night's traveshamockery at the glorified rec center in Westwood when you think about Mitch Johnson and just focus on how hard he played. I know a lot of people have a lot of things to say about Mitch, but I was proud as hell of the guts and focus he brought to that game. From the opening tip he controlled the entire first half tempo, and then in the second half with Darren Collison all up in his jersey full court Mitch just hunkered down and did his job very well. Our errors in the second half didn't come from our point guard losing control. And Mitch hit an absolutely huge three when we needed one.
Teams looking to press us in the next couple of weeks are going to see the UCLA* and USC film and think twice about it. They may do it, but it won't be because they see Mitch as the attack point. They may do it to up the tempo and keep us from Lopezing them into oblivion, but our guards handled all of the pressure they saw this weekend, and handled it well, and with limited minutes from the elder statesman Mr. Washington. We handled it because our guards have gotten much better at keeping their heads up and passing the ball earlier and more confidently. Our passing out of double teams or just before the double team arrives is much improved. Our bigs are getting the ball and being more decisive with what they are going to do. In particular, Robin is catching it across mid court and keeping his head up, staying turned to the court so he has vision of everything and taking a dribble or two down the court so the defense has to collapse. Our press breaking really has come a long way.
Did Darren Collison relentlessly attack Mitch in the second half, with great success? Yes. Darren Collison is a better player than Mitch. Darren Collison hit some really tough shots, made some great plays. Great players do that. But, Collison had to work for those plays because Mitch's effort was relentless. And Mitch's team got the job done folks, his team won this game! With the game on the line, Mitch closed out Collison and made him put the ball on the floor and attack the rim against our bigs, he took away the jumper and made the clock run some more, and the worst officiating call in the history of our conference occurred. Hey, I am not bitter. I am embarrassed. Embarrassed--no blood no foul in that situation. AAAAAAhghghghghghh!!!!!!
[Writer's Note: I lost a Jefferson and a bottle of cactus juice to my Bruin brother on that travesty, who is probably still running around his house in his 1988 Bruin practice shorts, the #$%*@____ (I gotta stop myself now because this is a family website. Deep breath. Punctuation.)
Anthony Goods, man, dude came out in the first half balling. Great intensity, great determination. Great effort on both ends. I wonder at what point he got hurt because in the second half he just wasn't as sharp. Credit Russell Westbrook for going all Afflalo on Anthony defensively, but Anthony seemed to be operating with more reservation on the offensive end in the second half. It is a sign of respect when Westbrook stopped roaming at all and stayed close to home on Anthony in the second half. Nevertheless, Anthony was great in the first half and then gutted it out the rest of the way.
Let's not talk at all about Saturday in South Central. O.K., just for a moment. Nothing to play for, nothing on the line, the team's psychology was not right. They were mentally worn out and there was nothing to play for but the joy of the game. But after 29 games, and fighting and grinding as this team has for so long, squeezing the life out of opponent after opponent by being mentally tougher than them, we just could not get the engines to hit on all cylinders. It's not as though we didn't put up a good fight, we did. And Trent took the wraps off our dentist again in the season finale. Downtown Kenny Brown can now say that he not only lit up Mustafa Shakur, but also O.J. Mayo too. Did Kenny's long range bombardment of O.J. Mayo cost Mayo money in June? Just to be petty and vindictive, and hey, its USC right, I hope so.
I have to tell you guys that I have really come to respect what Tim Floyd does with his team on the court. His guys bust their butt and they are always coming out in something new, something different. They showed a variation on the triangle offense on Saturday designed to isolate Mayo or Hackett on the weak-side at the free throw line and just let them go one on one. Great stuff, NBA stuff. At the same time, can we all stop talking about how we need to play some zone, throw some zone in to mix it up? Yeah, that worked great against USC. Admittedly our energy level was off, and I like that Trent decided to practice it a bit in a game context, but we should just can that sucker because the Lopezes simply don't rebound very well out of it. As a team, we rebound very well out of our man to man. Maybe we could goof around with a spot possession zone out of timeouts or after made free throws just to change it up, but no more multiple possession trips in zone.
Final thoughts: Now, we have to get some guards healthy. Hawkeye and Trapper, please report to the triage tent! Mitch was wiped out against the Trojans. So was Anthony and we gotta get Fred ready to rock and roll on Budinger in a few days. Gotta get them iced and heated and wrapped up and ready to go for Thursday because, unlike us, Arizona is playing for its NCAA life. For anyone wondering why Westbrook was defensive player of the year in our conference, go look at the numbers of Mayo, Harden, Lowe, Bayless, Goods, Appleby, Bryce Taylor, Christopher against UCLA*. And his team won the conference title, too. Trent Johnson was the conference coach of the year, and deservedly so. Trent may not be the best X&O guy in the conference, and look at the coaches in this conference folks, but game in and game out he gets great consistency out of his guys. No one in the conference blended minutes as well as Trent. If you think it's not gifted coaching to get seven starters to blend together and not get disgruntled and prima donna-y, you need to spend more time talking to college basketball players.
Final Final Thought: Mitch Johnson finished the year leading the
conference in assists, on a team that can't shoot. HE LED THE CONFERENCE
IN ASSISTS!!! Now maybe I am a point guard homer, but one of the keys to
this year was improved play from Mitch and I will yell this for Mitch and every
other point guard to call 5X in Maples, "Scoreboard!" And one more, "And
You Did What This Season?" I haven't checked, but my guess is that Mitch
is the first Stanford point guard to lead the conference in assists since a
little dude from Jersey. And I bet you can't say that about
yourself. Hey Mitch, drinks are on Brevin. Ask Mike McDonald for his
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