Saturday, March 12, 2011

In the Zone

Who saw this coming? UConn’s major flaw all year was the zone and not only were they playing against the best zone team in the Big East, but they were doing it on the fourth game in four days, but it didn’t matter. UConn played it to perfection. They didn’t settle for threes, screened at the top of the zone to free Walker, and the front court found the soft spots in the zone and converted, something this team didn’t do all year. They still had problems with dealing with pressure defense, which caused UConn’s once insurmountable lead in regulation to disappear on bad passes and poor execution. And while everyone thought it would be Walker to carry this team to the finish line, it was Lamb who made the clutch plays to finally seal the game, which is a great sign.

Walker is on a magical run in this tournament and is playing great ball at the right time. He was everywhere from jumpers, lay-ups, steals, knocking down free throws, getting a charge, hitting two three pointers, and attacking the zone with confidence. Something he hasn’t done all season. This is the best individual run in any tournament ever by a Husky and it is a privilage to witness. He is truly a special player.

Oriakhi has found his stride in this tournament and rebounded with authority. The zone has given him so much trouble and he has disappeared in games against it, but he hit two jumpers in the middle of the zone, was able to get behind the zone for trips to the foul line and had a dunk. He played solid defense though had a few touch fouls in the post and needs to defend without putting a hand on his opponent’s back. This is a diferent team when he is playing well. Smith played early and had two boards, but didn’t play after that.

Lamb had a slow start, only having two points in the first half, but he started heating up late, hitting a jumper and a three pointer at the end of the first second half, but he wasn’t finished. When the game was in the balance in overtime this team did what it hasn’t done all year, Walker differed to Lamb who hit two floaters. He ussually is a fast starter an fizzles out later in games, but this is a different Lamb. He is finishing games strong and it is making this team extremely tough. Beverly had a tough night and had three turnovers with two coming in the Syracuse’s comeback. He did have a couple of rebounds and a lay-up, but he needs to do a much better job of not turning the ball over. Napier had a tough first half, having two sloppy passes and a miss as his only contributions, but he played better in the second half. He hit a nice rhythm three but followed that up with a bad one. He played his patented pesky defense without fouling but also missed an important one and one opportunity that would've sealed the game in regulation.

Okwandu played a good first half with a charge, three blocks, a hook shot, and two boards, but didn’t have much of an impact in the second half or overtime because Olander decided to emerge as a player. Tyler had the best game of his career. He hit a jumper, a lay-up, three boards, a tie-up, hit one of two from the line, and had a major impact on this game. It is good to see his energy, which has never been lacking, translate into positive plays on the court. Hopefully he can duplicate this effort down the stretch. Coombs-McDaniel had a tough night. He missed all his jumpers, except a floater and had a horrible pass in the closing minutes of regulation. He only had two boards all game. This team needs him to become that third rebounder and finisher around the rim.

It defies all logic that UConn would out offense Georgetown, out muscle Pittsburgh, and then out play the Syracuse zone. The only thing left is to beat the best pressure defense in Louisville to shatter every weakness that this team has shown over the end of the regular season. They’ve cracked under the pressure in both Louisville games and they couldn’t stop Siva, who sliced their offense for easy plays. They’ll need to rely on a smaller lineup to thwart the pressure and players like Lamb, Beverly, Coombs-McDaniel, and Napier will all need to limit their turnovers to stop Louisville’s deadly fast break and try to keep them in the half court sets. They’ve avenged some of their most egregious losses with only one more to go.

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