Sunday, January 23, 2011

No one trick pony here

This team isn’t supposed to be this good. Not with Kemba Walker missing shots. They’re supposed to be a one trick pony and a team too inexperienced to win games in the final minutes. But here they were pulling away from an athletic Tennessee squad with a total team effort. It wasn’t easy. They gave Tennessee a ton of easy buckets and were dominated in the first half in the paint but they were able to settle the defense down and began battling back on the boards. The outside shot kept them in the game and the second chance opportunities gave them the lead. They did give Tennessee an opportunity to crawl back into it down the stretch with a couple of missed one-and-ones. But they played smart, working the clock, and used solid defense without fouling, which is something a young team like this isn’t supposed to do.

Walker struggled for much of the first half, missing his first five shots but once he saw the ball go in at the free throw line, he sank back-to-back jumpers before knocking down a buzzer beating 3-pointer. His jumper still wasn’t working in the second half but he found ways to get points through put-backs and trips to the line. It was far from a dominate performance, but he played a team game and made the correct passes when doubled and tripled teamed. With others knocking down shots, he resorted to drawing in the defense and dishing.

Oriakhi also struggled early on after hitting a 15-footer. He was quickly benched for not running hard on the break and giving up a lay-up. He was also getting caught in bad positions, giving up second chance opportunities. But he came out ready to play in the second half. He battled hard on the boards and had the play of the game with a beautiful steal and dunk in transition. His post up and soft hook has become a consistent weapon for him and he also has shown a double move too. His game has matured and he is becoming a legit center in the league.

Napier had another inconsistent game. He banked in a 3-ball. He is shooting them without setting his feet and getting a solid look at the basket. He also had a couple of bad passes and missed some mismatches. All of this is due to inexperience. He is still a beast defensively and is a confident free throw shooter, but doesn’t get to the line enough to make it a weapon. He needs to use that blazing speed more to penetrate rather then take quick 3-pointers.

It looked like Lamb was going to have a quiet night with only a floater and lay-up in the first half but he came out on fire in the second, hitting two 3-pointers, two jumpers, a block, and sealed the game at the line (After missing a crucial one-and one). He has put together three solid performances against superior talent and should give him the confidence to be productive from here on out. Beverly had a tough game, driving the ball into the teeth of the defense and getting stuffed both times. He didn’t do much after that.

This is a totally different team when Smith is scoring and he did. His jumper was smoking, hitting four 3-pointers. He also attacked the offensive glass. His activeness helped stretch the defense and made it easier for the big men to work the post. Hopefully he can keep this momentum into the next game. Smith wasn’t the only player finding his outside touch. Coombs-McDaniel hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the first half. It was good to see him knock them down and build up some confidence in his shot. Giffey played sparingly in the first half. He had a bad pass and dribbled himself into trouble. He seems to be the odd man out of the rotation as it shrinks.

Okwandu had a solid game. He helped out on the boards, had a lay-up, beautiful tip-in, and a hook shot, and fantastic block. He is beginning to find his role and is being effective in it. On the flip side is Olander. He struggled blocking out and staying in front of his man. He rode the pine for much of the game. He plays with energy but is being bullied down low and isn’t finishing plays off around the rim.

What more can you ask from this young team? Lamb has put together several strong performances, Okwandu is playing both sides of the court, Smith is hitting the boards and knocking down jumpers, and Walker and Oriakhi are anchoring the points and boards. It has caused all the naysayers to question what the paper says and judge the performances. These freshmen can play with anyone and Walker, though not scoring with efficiency, is still unstoppable. But the most impressive aspect to this team is there ability to seal games down the stretch, which is something a much older team couldn’t do last year. And this is the beauty of college sports.


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