Mitch Johnson outplayed Nic Wise and Taylor Rochestie in this tournament and guided his team within a couple of plays the tournament title. Mitch's mental toughness has to be lauded. He was physically tough throughout, he was mentally tough throughout and he was getting his rear end cleaned on Saturday and he fought by Darren Collison to make a couple of plays at the offensive end and really didn't let us give up for a moment. Throughout the weekend Mitch did a great job of occasionally, in those situations where there are re-sets of offense, denying the ball back to the opponents' point guard and forcing them to shift the plan. That is heady and situationally aware defense, the type of little thing that wins games.
I had a coach once who would constantly pound away on just keep doing your job, giving the effort, be smart and let your teammates help you when you are overmatched. Mitch did that very well on Saturday and Collison just made some difficult shots look easy. And Collison cannot be kept away from the ball on "resets" late in the clock.
On the other hand, after playing two very clean games against UA and WSU, Mitch did get careless with a couple of passes. It has been a while since we have seen two or three bad one handed passes from Mitch in a game, but they were back. Given, it was the third game in three days, but I think Mitch knows against UCLA* you have to be a bit cleaner than that with your entry passes into the offense. At the same time, one of the things UCLA* makes you do is take some shots late in the clock and Mitch did a great job of making some plays happen for his teammates in those situations. In fact, better than I expected. Mitch continues to be exceptional on the defensive glass, just exceptional.
Anthony Goods had a tough Thursday and Friday. But he played great defense. It is not often you see someone sub in for Fred Washington to tighten up the defense, but that is what Anthony was asked to do on Friday night against Derrick Low. That is how good we are on defense. Fred is exceptional and Anthony was tasked with watching what was going on and coming in and doing it a bit differently. Offensively against UA and WSU, I thought Anthony just seemed snake bit. He made some good moves and the ball didn't drop or he got a questionable charge call. Some perimeter shots just didn't go down. But a couple didn't come off his hand right, which I attributed to the injury to his hand. Sometimes in a basketball game, when you have that jammed thumb injury, you just don't catch the ball cleanly or you don't get it in your hand properly and you end up locked into the motion of the shot, shooting what looks to everyone else to be a good shot, but you know something has gone a miss long before the release.
If you are going to have a few misses in a conference tournament, show up for the final. Anthony Goods showed up on Saturday and played beautifully. Mitch pushed tempo a few times and got Anthony some good looks early and the ball went down. When that first one went down the set of Anthony's shoulders improved. In fact, we needed to run a few plays for him to try and get him off a bit more and we just didn't. Of course, getting open against Westbrook is a challenge. In the second half, Anthony put the ball on the floor several times and attacked to the middle of the key. It is easier said than done, but attacking Westbrook off the dribble really helped create opportunities for others and drew some fouls. At the same time, I thought Anthony really excelled guarding Westbrook on the other end.
Just a moment on Fred Washington here. He looked rejuvenated. The whirlpool and hot pads did the charm. Thursday night the difference in the ball game was the butt-kicking that Fred Washington and Law put on the Cats on the weak-side glass. Fred's defense was excellent, including a couple of very good blocked shots. And the trips down the floor early in the second half where he drew fouls number two and three on Budinger, sending the whiner to the bench, were critical. Against WSU he attacked the basket, with and without the ball, and seemed to catch WSU unsuspecting. Easy buckets off the bounce or offensive glass or off the pass against Wazzu were difference makers given the way they were shooting the ball. It's really hard to get easy buckets against Wazzu, and we got a few because of Fred. Against UCLA* I thought Fred outplayed Shipp. Fred's ball handling was outstanding. He may have forced a shot, but against UCLA* I think you have to try and make some plays and get the ball up on the rim for the big dogs to go hunt.
A couple of final thoughts: All right, maybe Darren Collison lacks some of the vision that you want in a starting NBA point guard, but rumor has had it for several years that when you get going up and down at Pauley in July and August with the big boys the League that Collison is fantastic. Well, in the Pac-10 tournament, a slog-fest this year, Collison was the best player by a wide margin. In the finals against a very game Cardinal, he was the difference. Was that Darren Collison or was that Allen Iverson? The go left, one hand pick with the left and finger roll from eight feet off window over Brook was exceptional. He made, by my count, six shots where we defended very well, forced him into a tough situation and he just dropped it. As a player you shake your head, you give him a nod and say "Nice shot!" And inside your head is yelling vernacular and your gut has a queezyness in it. The difference between first and second in our conference isn't Fatty Love or Russell Westbrook, it's the little guy that admitted the "Block" was clean.
Booties, let Saturday's game be the reminder you need to get your sons and daughters out in the driveway and dribbling and shooting with their off-hand. Collison scored three critical baskets in this game driving and making shots over 7'0" guys with his left hand. Fred Washington has a great off-hand around the basket. Mayo, Low and Bayless do the same thing. If Russell Westbrook gets the off-handed finish to the level of those guys, and he will, yeeesh! Anthony continues to improve with the left hand, but he, like Westbrook, isn't fluid going that way yet, it is more of an afterthought adjustment.
I still don't like the zone, but against UCLA* I thought it showed some effectiveness at limiting Collison. It's just that we didn't have our small forwards and shooting guards crashing down the glass hard enough. When a shot blocker goes for the block, be it out of zone or man, your small forward and shooting guard have to crash down and get physical putting a body on the shot blockers man or just finding the unblocked out guy and banging him. Fred does this very well. As an example, on one offensive put back late in the second half, Brook steps over to block the layin on penetration ( I can't remember the shooter), Robin steps over on to Love and literally earholes him to the ground (a move not lost on NBA scouts I am sure), and the ball comes off soft and a foot above the front rim where Keefe crashes down from the high post and Landry just makes a play at the ball and gets out-quicked and out-athleted to the ball by Keefe. Landry has to know that Keefe is crashing down from the free throw line and hit him rather than just try to go get the ball. This is an aspect in the zone that we need to improve on, particularly if you are looking down the road at Texas.
Finally, Brook Lopez against Wazzu. Wow! And the physical play by both Lopeze, Fred, Taj and Lawrence in this tournament was impressive. We just powered our way past two very good teams. And then gave better than we took from UCLA. Robin and Brook put a pounding on Kevin Love. Looking at our bracket in the South I don't see anyone that we can't guard and just pound into oblivion.
Slam-Dancing Folks. Mr. DJ, oh Mr. DJ, can you please turn it to 11 and
cue up the opening cords to Clampdown by The Clash and lets introduce the Lopez
boys to the Mosh Pit.
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