That common cliche used tons around this time describes yesterday's game exactly. They played in-your-face defense for 40 minutes and besides a couple of fast break layups and two DJack dunks we had to work hard for every inch. No matter what we did on offense whether it was the pick and roll, dribble drive, etc. they had an answer for it. That's what you can do when you play man-to-man defense like they did last night, you can shut down any offense on any given night.
I talked about this yesterday during the game in the game thread, but the game-changing play was Rodrick Stewart's charge against Randal Falker. Maybe my love of 'no-name' players is getting in the way, but if they Rodrick doesn't slide across the lane and take that charge they would be:
-Regain momentum after Darnell Jackson's dunk got it on our side
-Falker doesn't pick up his second foul and probably plays the rest of the first half
And perhaps most importantly, it showed them we were willing to give up our bodies just like they do and play their style. If you watch the replay (I have numerous times) you can tell that he gets absolutely thrown to the floor, it had to send a message to the Salukis that we're not scared or intimidated of their tough man-to-man defense. UCLA will play the same kind of defense on Saturday, so get ready for another game in the 50s and 60s.
Super didn't play well yesterday, but when it counted he shot his free throws well. He needs to have a bigger impact tomorrow against the Bruins for us to win than his 9 points on 2-6 shooting. He is the best 3 point shooter on our team in my opinion, so for him not to make a single one the entire game really hurt us. If UCLA is able to leave our shooters and collapse their defense when someone drives in then our offense is completely different.
While Super just played 'OK' against the Salukis, my predicted difference maker in Julian Wright had an outright horrible game. What fans will remember is his two missed FT's with a chance to ice the game, but what I will remember most is his freshman mistake that he made with about 3 minutes left. He had just stolen the ball and we were winning by a point, we had a chance to extend it to 3 and make us feel more comfortable. Instead of pulling it back out like he has most of this season, his immaturity showed when he took it 1 on 3 and tried to flip a little left hand hook which he missed. He has got to stop making freshman mistakes, starting tomorrow, for us to beat the best teams in the country.
Brandon got in early foul trouble, just like Super and Julian, forcing him to play little in the first half. However, he played almost the entire second half and played great. He hit, as Bill Self said, the 'biggest shot of the season' with his runner in the lane to make it a 61-58 game on his way to 12 points on 6-6 shooting. He was also a big factor elsewhere dishing out 5 assists and grabbing 5 rebounds on his way to 'Player of the Game' honors virtue of CBS. He definately deserved it, he was the biggest reason why we are still playing.
Russell has played great throughout the Tournament including last night where he led the team in minutes. He has been slowly losing minutes since the emergence of Sherron Collins, but in the Tournament he has been playing his best basketball of the season and earning those minutes back. He played great defense on Jamaal Tatum, he was really the only guy who guarded him in the first half where Tatum only scored 2 points on 1-9 shooting. In the second half he didn't have Tatum exsclusively, which led to Tatum leading them back into the game and nearly stealing one from us. Russell only scored 9 points but made the only 3 pointer for us in the game and dished out a couple of assists.
Kaun isn't playing anymore. At all. He played 11 minutes in the first half but didn't play AT ALL in the second half. Literally, he didn't see floor time after halftime. He played decent in the first half, muscling around with Falker a ton on his way to a series of 1's, 1-1 shooting with 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 personal foul and 2 points. He won't play a ton against against UCLA, but when he does he will have to bully around Lorenzo Mata and take him out of the game.
All of the minutes that didn't go to Sasha Kaun went to Darrell Arthur, who was one of 3 players to play absolutely unbelievable yesterday. He was an extremely efficient 4-5 from the field on his way to 9 points, but early in the second half he single-handedly kept us in the game. They had the lead 33-27, but then DA got an easy layup on a fast break and made the shot while getting fouled. After making the free throw on the next possession someone (I can't remember who, Julian or Super I think) threw up an airball but there was DA, ready to pick up the trash. Arthur is a more athletic and better offensive player than Sasha Kaun, so if Arthur can play as good of defense as Sasha does then Arthur is an upgrade.
Collins played well on the offensive side of the ball and his quickness will really help us against UCLA, but his defense wasn't good at all. Tatum went off mostly while SC had to guard him, showing how good Super and RR really are. SC just isn't to their level yet on the defensive end, but still look for him to play a lot because his speed might be the only way we can get into the lane. He only scored 2 points with those 2 being on a one man fast break early in the first half, so he definately needs to start getting open on the offensive end and hit shots. I know that it is easier said than done to do that against defenses like SIU, but it is something he will have to do on Saturday for us to win.
DJack played very good, coming up with a huge play late in the game that gave Brandon the opportunity to hit that shot. It was right after Julian's freshman mistake when Darnell just stepped in front of Randal Falker and stole the basketball. He is playing more and more late in games because Sasha isn't playing much and Arthur isn't ready to play crunchtime minutes yet. He was perfect from everywhere yesterday, shooting 3-3 from the field (with 2 of them being momentum building dunks in the beginning of the first half) and making 2 huge free throws late in the game. With Super only shooting 5-8 from the line last night, I would rather have DJack on the line than anybody else on our team. I don't care he shot only 66% from the line over the season, I think he is our most consistent FT shooter and I trust him more than anyone else.
RODRICK!!!!!!!! He kept us in the game in the first half because with our 3 top scorers (Julian, Super and Brandon) all on the bench with 2 fouls we had to stay in the game. We did that and more going into halftime with a 3 point lead, but we might have gone down behind without Rodrick Stewart's game changing charge. He then hit a mid-range jump shot that got us to 27 and capped off scoring in the first half, finishing off the night with 3 points thanks to a 1-2 free throw trip later in the second half. Rodrick played 9 HUGE minutes and if we need him again I wouldn't feel uncomfortable at all to play him against the Bruins. He plays good defense and rebounds the ball pretty well, he could play even more minutes next season.
We only played 9 players, no one else for me to recap. I will post my game preview of the UCLA Bruins either sometime tonight or tomorrow, watch out for that.
3 more games to go, but right now we are heading into a 1 game season. All that matters is Saturday's tussle with the Bruins, after that we can -hopefully- start worrying about someone else.
ROCK CHALK BABY!!!!!!!