ATB: Rhythm Of The Saints And Baseline ComplaintsPosted by jstevrtc on February 11th, 2011
The Lede. It was Day Four of Rivalry Week, and though the tag of “rivalry” on some of the games might have been questionable, there was no lack of storylines. Connecticut might have been indoors but still got caught up in one heck of a Storm, and Vanderbilt managed to dodge an entire Tide, though the majority of our friends and Twitter followees feel that the Commodores may have gotten a little help at the end. Oh, and there’s a little WCC team on whom you might want to keep an eye. Let’s jump in…
Your Watercooler Moment. There were very few points in this game at which Connecticut appeared to be playing at full speed, and even fewer at which St. John’s appeared to play at anything less. Sure, the Garden may have had a little to do with the Johnnies’ 89-72 win over the Huskies, but the bigger factor was that one team showed up for whole game and the other didn’t. UConn didn’t play its best basketball in the first half but at least seemed interested and stayed close enough to where their talent could have pulled them through in the end. Instead, in the second half, Connecticut didn’t defend in the half-court, didn’t get back in transition defense, didn’t seem at all prepared for St. John’s’ match-up zone, and did nothing to stop SJU’s Dwight Hardy. The St. John’s senior guard dropped 33 on the Huskies and got help with 20 more from D. J. Kennedy, whose 11 boards helped the Red Storm to a 41-31 rebounding edge. UConn got the help it’s been wanting from its non-Kemba corps — Roscoe Smith (16/6), Alex Oriakhi (12/8), Jeremy Lamb (13/5) all played well, though Lamb’s 2-7 from three was a bit of a pinch — it just didn’t defend for most of the game. Nobody expected that from a team who came into MSG ranked in the top ten nationally in FG% defense, especially inside the three-point arc. [Note: For our RTC Live summary and link to the coverage, see below.]
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
Shot Selection = Selection Sunday? Possibly the best evidence for the Lavin Effect on this St. John’s team is how he’s taken a bunch of kids he’s never coached before and nevertheless gotten across to them the importance of shot selection. In their win tonight, 45 of SJU’s 62 shots were twos. When they beat Notre Dame, they attempted only nine treys. In their upset of Duke, 50 of the Red Storm’s 55 shots came inside the arc. When they, er, lost to Fordham, they shot 20 threes. And hit four. When they exercise discipline, they’ve shown that they can take down anyone, and it’s a huge reason why they have five wins over top-50 teams. That’ll help a few weeks from now when Selection Committee members are comparing them to other teams that have zero wins against teams in the top 100.
Oh, Mickey, You’re So…Well, You Know. Mickey McConnell is becoming a star for St. Mary’s. On a night when Clint Steindl and Matthew Dellavedova had off-nights from the field, McConnell came through with a 25-point performance on 8-13 from the field and a perfect 6-6 from the stripe. His best accomplice tonight was forward Rob Jones, who had a miserable 3-10 shooting night but still contributed ten points and, more importanly, ripped down a whopping 16 boards. You may think a six-point win at Santa Clara is nothing to get excited about, but the Broncos knocked off Gonzaga there a few weeks ago, and the Gaels could easily have overlooked this game; they “travel” a few miles to the gym of their nearest WCC competitor on Saturday — none other than the San Francisco Dons. So, let’s see. SMC is well-coached, has Tournament experience, is in the top five nationally in shooting percentage and assists per game, is in the top ten in scoring, has great guards and verstaile forwards who can shoot, and have won 15 of 17. And almost nobody’s talking about them. As of 5:00 PM ET on Friday, we’ll be exactly 30 days from a bracket. We already can’t wait to see what kind of draw the Gaels get.
Tough Call Ticks The Tide. We don’t mean to be hard on Vanderbilt. They beat a good Alabama team tonight, and they got gutsy, clutch performances from Jeffery Taylor (19/8) and Brad Tinsley (15/4/6 asst), the latter providing what ended up to be the game-winning three-point play, a bizarre jumper he got to go from about 17 feet despite being off-balance and having taken a hit on the arm by UA’s Trevor Releford. The win is stained a bit, though, by what looked to be a terrible call by baseline official Tim Higgins. Here’s the setup: Releford gave Alabama a 77-76 lead on a layup with 27 seconds left. Ten seconds later, Tinsley converted his three-point play as described above, putting VU up 79-77. After a time out, Alabama worked it around to JaMychal Green who made a move along the far baseline toward the goal against defender Festus Ezeli. During the move, Green took a little contact from Ezeli. No call came from Higgins, but that was fine, because you can’t expect to get that call on minimal contact at such a late stage. With his next step, though, Green planted his right foot very close to the baseline, but Higgins felt that Green had crossed it, blew his whistle, and gave the ball back to Vandy with just over six seconds left. They salted it away with two John Jenkins free throws. Within seconds, Twitter was alive with people claiming that Higgins, despite standing right on top of the play, had missed it and denied Alabama a chance to tie. ESPN2′s second replay appeared to confirm that Higgins blew it, and announcers Rece Davis and Hubert Davis even stated on-air that they didn’t feel Green had touched the line.
Now, let’s be fair. The photo above is the only still shot we’ve seen so far, and if that’s as close as Green’s foot came to the line, it definitely implicates Higgins and exonerates Green. But we don’t know if Green’s foot slid a few inches after this shot was taken or not. The second replay on ESPN2 was the better shot, and even it wasn’t perfect. And even if Green really did stay in bounds, he still would have had to get two points out of the possession to tie the game. Maybe he would have earned a three-point play, maybe he would have missed a layup. The call didn’t cost the Tide the game on that possession, but it did cost them the chance to maybe win it in overtime and become the unequivocal top dog in the SEC. We hope a better shot or replay is found, because if Higgins really did botch that call, it will serve as further proof that, this year more than others, referees seem to enjoy making the “dramatic” call, especially when it comes to block/charges. If Higgins is proven right, then he earns the right to tell everyone to stick it (we still stand by our block/charge assertion). Anyway, let’s focus on the good, here. Vanderbilt got a nice win and have to be happy about how they pulled out a close one against a worthy opponent. Alabama proved that they’re no fluke even if they do play in the much-maligned SEC West. That they could go into Vandy’s weirdly-oriented house and play the ‘Dores to within the last ten seconds, the debatable call notwithstanding, shows that the Tide are a legit squad despite the shortcomings of their division.
This Is Not December’s Kemba. Only a player as special as Kemba Walker could draw ire for scoring 15, 19, and eight points in his last three games, but when you average 24.2 PPG over the previous 20 contests, that’s what happens. Actually, Kemba hasn’t hit his average in his last six games, and now Connecticut has dropped three of their last four. After Nolan Smith’s insanity on Wednesday (and season-long excellence), Jared Sullinger’s consistency, and the further propogation of Jimmer-mania, Kemba’s Player of the Year chances are dipping just as quickly as UConn’s possible Tournament seed.
Tweet of the Night. Whatever your opinion of the Higgins call, this is still truth spoken by The Sporting News‘ Mike DeCourcy:
Washington 109, California 77. There was never any doubt about this one from the opening tip. A school-record seventeen threes and eleven blocks later, Washington had run and gunned its way out of its odd three-game losing streak and re-established itself as a legitimate contender for the Pac-10 regular season championship. The Huskies were hot for the entire game, shooting out to 28-14 early lead and dropping 58 points on the Bears by halftime. Things didn’t slow down in the second, as UW hit for a Pac-10 record-high for Washington, 109 points. Isaiah Thomas played like the best lead guard in the Pac-10, scoring in a variety of ways for 23 points on 7-11 shooting while also finding time to dish out nine assists to open teammates. Six Huskies ended up in double figures, with Matthew Bryan-Amaning (18/9) and CJ Wilcox (14/2) leading the way. As for Cal, head coach Mike Montgomery seemed content to mostly sit back and watch the carnage for most of the game. Jorge Gutierrez (24/7/3 assts) often appeared the only Bear capable of willing to play hard on both ends — perhaps the Bear basketball team should be careful lest they find themselves on the same chopping block along with the gymnastics and baseball teams (due to end intercollegiate competition after this school year). With the Washington win, the Huskies move to 8-4 in the Pac-10, one game behind UCLA in the loss column and two behind Arizona. They will get a chance to play both schools again in coming weeks.
St. John’s 89, Connecticut 72. St. John’s used a dominating second half performance to send Connecticut to their third loss in four games last night at Madison Square Garden by a score of 89-72. The Red Storm shot 70.8% from the floor in the second stanza to put away the poor-shooting Huskies, moving to 14-9 (6-5 Big East) with the win. Dwight Hardy had a career-high 33 points on 10-17 shooting for the victors while D.J. Kennedy added 20 points and 11 rebounds. The Garden crowd of 13,652 was energized throughout and it may now be safe to say that exciting college basketball is officially back in New York City, courtesy of Steve Lavin and his experienced team. Connecticut (18-5, 6-5) just couldn’t get anything going against the Red Storm’s stingy 2-3 matchup zone. That zone, what should be a blueprint for future UConn opponents, turned the Huskies into a jump shooting team as they abandoned any semblance of an inside game. Alex Oriakhi scored most of his points early in the game but attempted only three shots after intermission. Kemba Walker could only manage 4-16 FG (all threes), including 0-9 from inside the arc. As a team, Connecticut shot just 13-38 (34.2%) from two point range, a concerning number going forward and well below their average of 47%. Walker and freshman Jeremy Lamb combined to shoot 9-32 FG (28.1%) and the Huskies shot 36.9% as a team for the game. It was a struggle for both clubs in the first half as they were trying to feel each other out and get into a rhythm. Malik Boothe’s halftime buzzer-beating three from just inside half court seemed to spark St. John’s and Calhoun was hit with a technical at the same time for making it known that he thought Boothe walked, saying after the game, “I know you can’t take four steps.” Hardy made both technical free throws after intermission and the Red Storm never looked back, putting up 54 second half points against UConn’s defense, ranked first in the Big East in field goal percentage defense coming into tonight’s game. Calhoun, clearly not pleased with his team’s effort, said, “This game was over early in the second half.”St. John’s made nine of 17 triples, much better than their season average of 31.5%. Before the game, Lavin told his team, “This game will be determined by rebounding.” He was right as the Red Storm out-rebounded Connecticut by a count of 43-33, a surprising number given the fact that Calhoun’s teams have always been known to dominate the glass for years now. St. John’s had a 40-18 edge in points in the paint and totally dominated the transition game, outscoring Connecticut 27-2 in fast break points. Four UConn players scored in double figures but it wasn’t nearly enough with the Johnnies pushed the lead to 25 at one point in the second half. Connecticut also struggled from the free throw stripe, making only 13 of their 22 attempts. By contrast, St. John’s made 20 of their 22 foul shots. Lavin was proud of his team after the game saying, “We were hitting on all cylinders. We were crisp, we were sharp on the offensive end of the floor.” After that performance, nobody is going to question him. The Huskies will look to get back on track Sunday at home against Providence while St. John’s will continue their push for the NCAA Tournament at Cincinnati, also on Sunday.
We were caught traveling on Wednesday night, so we’re including that night’s RTC Live summary of Louisville vs Notre Dame here:
Notre Dame 89, Louisville 79. After being mostly absent offensively over the course of regulation, Carleton Scott found the zone during overtime in Notre Dame’s 89-79 victory over Louisville on Wednesday night. Scott scored nine of his 16 points in the overtime period, including a key three pointer to begin the Irish’s 14-0 run in OT. It was interesting but still unsurprising that this game even went to overtime, since five of the last nine games between these two teams have needed at least one extra period to determine a winner. Louisville led the Irish 44-40 at halftime and the game was back and forth throughout the second half. The Cardinals needed a career performance out of junior guard Kyle Kuric (28 points) and a strong performance out of junior forward Terrence Jennings (14/7) to hold off a late Irish charge and ensure overtime. Once again, Notre Dame was led in scoring by their standout senior guard Ben Hansbrough (25 points) and they got a potential slump-busting performance from senior forward Tim Abromaitis (23 points). When the Irish were struggling in the first half, it was sophomore reserve forward Jack Cooley’s 10 points on perfect 5-5 shooting that kept the game close for ND. The victory boosted the Irish to 20-4 overall and9-3 in the Big East. The Irish will continue their run to the Big East crown on Saturday when they travel to Tampa to take on South Florida. The loss dropped Louisville to 18-6 (7-4). The Cardinals will have to recover quickly, as Syracuse arrives at the Yum! Center on Saturday in another game with significant Big East implications.