Sunday, December 21, 2008

He's Back

This was a total team effort. With Thabeet riding the pine for most of the game, the bench stepped up. While the offense was on track early, it derailed once the zone was implemented. They couldn’t find a way to penetrate it. Once they were able to pass the ball to the top of the key, the zone collapsed like a house of cards, shooters opened up and the big men positioned themselves for easy put-backs. It took longer for Calhoun to find the right combination to stop the dribble penetration of the Zags that created far too many easy buckets. The Bulldogs would pull everyone to the perimeter and let the ball handler beat their man to the hoop. With Thabeet out of his comfort zone, he found himself late to the ball and in early foul trouble. It would have been interesting to see Calhoun implement the zone to keep Hasheem in the paint. The guards were so used to funneling their man into the shot blocker that they had a hard time keeping them in front on pick in rolls.

Price was amazing. He was driving with speed, hitting the outside shot, running the offense, dishing out 10 assists, and getting on track at the line. He struggled all season against inferior talent, but when the chips were even, he played his best. He has shown his silky smooth touch from outside all year, and no three points were more beautiful than those that tied the game in the waning seconds. Austrie misses a wide open look, the ball finds its way to Price at the top of the arch, he’s covered by two players, takes a dribble to his left, jumps into his defender, and Onions!

Dyson was the heart and soul of this team. His toughness and tenacity were contagious. He was able to dribble into the lane, collapsing the bigs, and got to the line 12 times, sinking 10 of those. He also stuck his nose into the paint and pulled down 9 boards. He had the line of the night with 21 points, 9 boards, 4 assists, 3 steals, and 1 block. Austrie’s shot wasn’t there, having his worst play in his last four games. He was able to give Price and Dyson breathers, and his ability to sink free throws made him a valuable asset down the stretch. Kemba has had his third straight poor performance. If he isn’t able to get ahead of the defense, then he turns invisible. He needs to develop his jump shot and dribble drive into the zone, but he’s still just a freshman and playing with seniors.

Adrien was a monster out there, while his stats weren’t impressive, just 8 boards and 8 points, his defense was stellar. He still is missing easy buckets and needs to finish plays off. Last year he had problems covering players around the perimeter, but he had no problems with his man. Thabeet didn’t have the same luck. He found himself behind the play, and the refs didn’t give him a break, calling every bump. He had a season low 19 minutes, and couldn’t find a flow to his game. While the prior two years he was a quiet shell, this year he can’t contain his emotions and was flagged for a technical foul that knocked him out of the game. He needs to yell at the crowd, stop the dancing and trash talking to the defenders.

Has Stanley changed his name to Sticks Robinson? Whatever you call him, he was an important piece to this win. His stats are sub-par with 6 points and 2 boards, but it was his ability to contain the wing players that slowed down the Bulldogs offense. He was able to find his way to the rim on a few pretty put-backs and didn’t force the offense. He was the difference maker on defense.

What more can you say about Gavin’s play? He came off the bench, gave UConn the ability to thwart the pick and roll by staying in front of his defender, made his shots (4 of 6), with 14 points, had 12 rebounds, 7 of those offensive, 2 steals, one the costly Pargo turnover in the closing seconds, 3 blocks, and was able to make his free throws (6 of 9). While this wasn’t his highest scoring total, this was his best overall performance and a glimpse at the talent that he has. Calhoun used a small bench this game with Mandeldove making the other bench appearance and looks to have surpassed Okwandu for second big man off the bench.

It wasn’t just that UConn flew across the country and beat a legitimate top ten team, it was how they did it. Price who was struggling all year, showed he is back and better then ever. They couldn’t lean on their big man, who sat on the bench for half this game. It looked like everything was stacked against them and they came together as a team and dug deep down, found the essence of who they are, and ripped the game away from Gonzaga. While the season is long from over, they have proven to themselves that they belong, they’re legit, and you damn well better bring it for 40 minutes every night.

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