There is a pretty common mistake that coaches make: they forget to sacrifice a cow or a slew of chickens or a goat before playing in the Sweet 16. Such sacrifices are not usually required at less erudite universities than Stanford, like Texas, because at those universities that type of thing goes on all the time in fraternities. At Stanford, you gotta do it in order to get the ancient Egyptian God of Jump Shooting, AAAACCCKKK, to take the lid off the rims. Alas and alack, Doug Oliver forget to go slaughter something on Thursday night in Houston, instead choosing to break down film and then toss sleeplessly wondering what he had forgotten this time.
So, after losing in the Sweet 16 to a team that just played better than us, I am sanguine about things. At some point when only good teams are left playing good teams all the effort and execution and scheming and hustle typically comes down to this one thing: the ball has got to go in the basket for you to win. It wasn't that we didn't belong on the court with Texas, I watched the game twice, and I think we can beat those guys. But not last Friday night, because they shot the ball and we didn't shoot the ball.
Guard play, schmard play. Let me clear my throat here, this game wasn't about coaching. This game wasn't about effort. This game wasn't about anything Texas did to us defensively. This game was only about shooting. As INXS sang back in 1983, "It's the One Thing." 22-65 ain't gonna feed the bulldog. 22-65 will hurt your feelings. Did I mention I watched this game twice? We missed open shot after open shot after open shot. Every one of Anthony Goods' looks was a good look. In fact, several of them were of the "I am too damn open variety." Mitch took a couple of shots I'd like back, but overall, Mitch took good shots as well. It was a target rich environment my friends and, in what I hope is an omen, Landry Fields showed up and relaxed and came to shoot. The shots were there, all night.
But damn, good run fellas. 28-8 is 28-8. Raise your hand if back in October you said Sweet 16 and down to the last weekend for the conference title. I did, but I was high at the time.
In the end it, we seriously could not have expected better play this season from Mitch Johnson. He isn't sexy, but 5.2 assists is impressive on a team that can't shoot. On a night in Houston where his team just devastated the rims, he still had eight assists and the three turnovers were balls that should have been caught. He raised his shooting percentage dramatically this year and his assist to turnover ratio improvement was similarly impressive. He had the Mike McDonald-esque sophomore to junior year improvement we hoped for.
Anthony Goods, he knows it. Anthony improved his defense this year to a very solid level. But, next year I'd take a little less defense for Anthony to find his potential on the offensive end. Anthony sacrificed some game this year for the betterment of the team and it hurt his shooting. This last game will hopefully burn deep, because we need a 500 game speed jump shot per day spring and summer from Anthony. We also need more than two free throws a game from Anthony next year as he has to manufacture some points next season, regardless of what our frontline looks like.
Kenny Brown. Hell, Kenny, I don't know how you walk away son. Andy Fischer may have gone from walk-on to scholarship to starting. But what an incredible contribution Kenny made. What a flair for the dramatic. What a confidence level. Lock and load Kenny. As far as I am concerned, Kenny is the Ivy League player of the year, two years running.
Peter Prowitt. This is a guard column, I know. But not enough can be said about Peter Prowitt. Great young man. Injured all the time. Great attitude, the first guy up off the bench to cheer on his teammates. It isn't easy to get recruited right over. In fact, I know it sucks big time. Peter Prowitt would have started on four Pac-10 teams this year. My hats off to you Peter. You can play on my team in the alumni game in September if you want. You can have Poly81's spot.
Fred Washington. Sometimes a guard, sometimes a forward, from power forward to point guard and all points in between. I am going to miss this guy. I am not going to worry about him, but I am going to miss him. From the moment he opened the door for Mrs. Roscoe on our alumni tour of the new Maples, and then walked and talked with her for 10 minutes, you could see this was a self-confident, warm young man. Fred worked through injury after injury, a coaching change which caused, and we could all see it, some "getting to know each other" moments between Trent and Fred, where candidly we could have lost Fred to the fringes of the program. Having gone through much the same thing myself in my own career, I know the day-to-day struggle to maintain focus (I lost a lot of those daily battles). I really understand and respect the contributions and leadership that Fred has made to this program. A lock down defender, our second best ball-handler, and our tough guy. Talent is talent, but every successful team has the guys that contribute with guts, and blood and sweat and finally tears. It's those tough guys, those guys that wear it on their chests with such fire: the Freds, the Sauers, the Lottichs, the Harbours, the Robinsons, the Madsens, the Hernandezes, the Vlahovs, the Fischers, the Knights and Lees that put the red to our Cardinal.
And so, with the sounds of Pennywise, Bro Hymn thundering in the background,
as the punks say, "Tall Cans In The Air Boys! Tall Cans In The Air!"
for Taj and Peter and Kenny and Fred. Vaya con Dios Amigos.
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