Rushed Reactions: #1 Arizona 70, #4 San Diego State 64

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on March 28th, 2014

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Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is the NCAA Tournament’s West Region correspondent. He filed this report after #1 Arizona’s 70-64 win over #4 San Diego State. RTC will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Fighting Through A Tough Game. Nick Johnson, the Pac-12 Player of the Year  and a rock for the Wildcats, started the game missing his first ten field goal attempts and, even more confusing, getting scored on at the other end of the court by guys like Xavier Thames and Dwayne Polee. This was a bad sign, as one thing previous Arizona losses had in common were cold shooting nights by Johnson. But at no time was he ever visibly down on himself or giving anything less than 100% effort. And after a T.J. McConnell steal turned into an easy hoop for Johnson on the break with just under three minutes left in the game, that broke the seal. He hit a dagger three on the next Arizona possession to put the Wildcats up six and then made ten straight clutch free throws down the stretch to ensure that the Wildcats’ lead would be safe. It probably wasn’t the type of game Johnson envisioned prior to the game, but his ability to keep his head in the game and stick with it through his struggles bear the hallmark of a champion. And, in the end, he still wound up tied with Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson as the Wildcats’ leading scorer, with 15. After the game, Sean Miller’s main theme was his pride in his team’s resiliency, and Johnson was a perfect example.

    Nick Johnson Did Not Have A Great Game, But He Stuck With It To Help His Team Win (Christian Petersen, Getty Images)

    Nick Johnson Did Not Have A Great Game, But He Stuck With It To Help His Team Win (Christian Petersen, Getty Images)

  1. San Diego State Rebounding. In their first matchup, Arizona dominated the glass. They grabbed 40.6% of offensive rebound opportunities and controlled 74.3% of defensive rebound chances. For the first San Diego State possession of the night, you could tell that those types of stats were drilled into the Aztecs’ heads. On the first possession, Skylar Spencer and Josh Davis were each credit with a single offensive rebound before Davis put the ball back in for a hoop.  And the Aztecs may have been under-credited there. On the third possession, the Aztecs were credited with three more offensive boards before Davis again wound up putting the ball back in. A tone was set early and it continued throughout the first half and throughout the game. But, you can bet that Miller mentioned the rebounding disparity to his team at the half, because down the stretch Gordon grabbed a couple of huge offensive rebounds on consecutive possessions under the six-minute mark that turned into big buckets for the Wildcats. Arizona made the final rebounding margin a bit more respectable, but the Aztecs’ work on the glass helped keep them in this game.
  2. Rebounding, Redux. Arizona has now been outrebounded in every game they’ve played in this tournament, quite a change for a team that was in the top 25 in the nation on both ends of the court coming into this game. Miller noted after the game that this may just be who the Wildcats are these days – a good rebounding team, but no longer a great once since the loss of power forward Brandon Ashley. “People say that we’re a big team. Since Brandon left us, our size is good, but not great… Our room for error rebounding the ball is lost. We don’t beat you up any more… We’ve need all five guys on every shot to box out, we have to work hard to get second shots.” The Aztecs certainly opened up a lot of eyes to that fact and now, with a Wisconsin team that does a terrific job cleaning the defensive glass, second chance opportunities on Saturday will be hard to come by. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #2 Wisconsin 69, #6 Baylor 52

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on March 27th, 2014

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Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is the NCAA Tournament’s West Region correspondent. He filed this report after #2 Wisconsin’s 69-52 win over #6 Baylor. RTC will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

A Wisconsin player scoring at the rim was a familiar sight Thursday night. (Harry How/Getty Images)

A Wisconsin player scoring at the rim was a familiar sight Thursday night. (Harry How/Getty Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Soft Baylor Zone. Two possessions in, one of the story lines of this game became clear: there was going to be a ton of space in the middle of the Baylor zone for Badger players to operate. On back-to-back plays, Frank Kaminsky caught the ball in the middle of the lane and turned around to find the Baylor defender, only to discover that there was nobody there. On the first, he wheeled to the rim for a layup and on the second, he settled for a jumper (which he missed), but this scenario played out time and time again: Badger catches the ball in the lane only to be surprised by the fact that there was no Baylor player there to defend him. And credit Wisconsin for continuing to take advantage of that. Of their 29 first-half points, 16 came in the paint. The second half was distorted some by free throws, but still 20 of the Badgers 40 second half points came in the paint. And on every possession it seemed that the Badgers made it a priority to get the ball inside first and work inside-out. And it was deadly.
  2. Wisconsin Perimeter Defense. Baylor’s offense is predicated on being able to shoot the three well; they take 34% of their field goal attempts from deep and knock in 38.6% of those shots. However, the Badgers’ biggest defensive strength is their ability to limit good looks from deep, allowing the opposition to take just 25.9% of their field goals from three coming into the game. Tonight, those stats played out as Baylor was only able to take 26.3% of their shots behind the three-point line. And many of those were bad looks, resulting in a 2-of-15 night from deep for the Bears.
  3. Dunks and Layups. We mentioned Baylor’s awful defense above, but let’s give credit to the Badgers for running great offense. Against a team that plays primarily zone, like Baylor does, it is all too easy to get caught up in launching perimeter jumpers. The Badgers did not settle for that fool’s gold, instead attacking the rim. Of their 26 field goals, 16 were either dunks or layups. And many of the perimeter jumpers they did get (and often make) came as the result of inside-out offense after the ball was worked inside and then back out for a clean look after the Baylor defense collapsed. Really, the whole thing was a clinic for the Badgers. Read the rest of this entry »
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Three Keys for Arizona and San Diego State in Tonight’s Game

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) & Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on March 27th, 2014

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Arizona and San Diego State will play in the nightcap at Anaheim tonight, with a trip to the Elite Eight on the line. To break down this match-up, we asked Arizona expert Adam Butler of Pachoops.com to give us his three keys for Arizona in this game, while RTC correspondent Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) will offer up San Diego State’s biggest priorities. Make sure to also follow @RTCWestRegion for news and analysis from Anaheim throughout the week.

Three Keys For Arizona

  1. T.J. McConnell and the turnover battle — Any discussion of offense in this preview is a disservice to the defense both of these teams play. That said, defense is also the only known commodity offered by both teams (though SDSU really leaves a lot to the offensive imagination). And so I turn our attention to T.J. McConnell. Arizona’s floor general — as you’ve heard all season long — is the quintessential pass-first point guard. That’s great. It’s perfect for Sean Miller‘s system and feeds the Arizona beast. But when he isn’t, Arizona struggles. When dimes turn to turnovers, San Diego State can turn those into easy buckets, and for a crummy offense, those are gifts. Great gifts. Like the kind of gifts you hunt for before Christmas day, great. If McConnell is playing heady and taking care of the basketball — taking shots when he has them and creating them for his friends when he can — Arizona should roll.

    T.J. McConnell Is A Catalyst For Sean Miller's Squad. (Icon SMI)

    T.J. McConnell Is A Catalyst For Sean Miller’s Squad. (Icon SMI)

  2. Continuing to rebound — The glass has been a place Arizona has dominated this season. They’re one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country, which often salvages their less-than-elite shooting and puts greater pressure on their opponents. They offer a double-edged sword of not allowing you transition opportunities and grabbing offensive rebounds. Furthermore, they own the defensive glass  (#8 defensive rebounding rate in the nation). You’re not getting rebounds against this team. Unless you are. In which case, you have a chance to compete. San Diego State can board, ranking top 35 in both offensive and defensive rebounding rates. They’re not Arizona, but I’m telling you there’s a chance. Read the rest of this entry »
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Johnny Dawkins’ Road Map Gets Stanford to the Sweet Sixteen

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on March 27th, 2014

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Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is the NCAA Tournament’s West Region correspondent, which begins Thursday night at Honda Center in Anaheim with Baylor vs. Wisconsin followed by San Diego State vs. Arizona. Make sure to also follow @RTCWestRegion for news and analysis from Anaheim throughout the week.

Last March, Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir had a telephone conversation with Jeff Faraudo of The Bay Area News Group in which he basically recounted laying down an ultimatum for head coach Johnny Dawkins: Make the NCAA Tournament in 2013-14, or it is time to move on. “We want to be playing for a [conference] championship. We think we have the caliber of kids who can do that,” Muir told Faraudo. “And we want to play in the NCAA [Tournament]. The goal has always been and will not change: We want to play well into March on the grand stage of March Madness. There’s a clear expectation that we can do that next year.” For a coach who had missed the NCAA Tournament in his previous five years in the position, and with roughly the same team expected to return, it seemed like quite a challenge at the time. And from there, the challenge grew even bigger.

Despite Four Players Lost To Season-Ending Injury, Johnny Dawkins Has Stanford Still Playing (credit: Danny Moloshok)

Despite Four Players Lost To Season-Ending Injury, Johnny Dawkins Has Stanford Still Playing. (Danny Moloshok/AP)

In July, a torn ACL for senior forward Andy Brown – his fourth such injury in a span of just over four years – ended his Stanford playing career. In October, it was announced that sophomore guard Christian Sanders would miss the season with a hip injury. At roughly the same time, sophomore forward Rosco Allen was said to be out six to eight weeks with a shin injury; those six to eight weeks turned into a lost season, as Allen played just seven minutes all year. Then, the coup de grace came in early December when a dislocated right shoulder would keep senior point guard Aaron Bright out for the remainder of the season. Before conference play even rolled around, four key players, each of whom would have had a role on this Stanford basketball team, were lost for the season.

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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen, Thursday Night

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) & Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) on March 27th, 2014

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Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is the NCAA Tournament’s West Region correspondent, and Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) is the NCAA Tournament’s South Region correspondent. Make sure to also follow @RTCSouthRegion and @RTCWestRegion for news and analysis from Memphis and Anaheim throughout the weekend.

Tonight we tip off the Sweet Sixteen with games from the South Region in Memphis, TN, and the West Region in Anaheim, CA. Here are the breakdowns for tonight’s games.

#10 Stanford vs. #11 Dayton — South Region Sweet Sixteen (at Memphis, TN) — 7:15 PM ET on CBS

Nobody expected the Flyers or Cardinal to be in this spot, but one of the two teams will be a game away from the Final Four after Thursday night. This battle between party crashers doesn’t figure to be the most entertaining Sweet Sixteen matchup when it comes to talent and overall quality of basketball, but after Stanford knocked off New Mexico and Kansas by a combined eight points, and Dayton defeated Ohio State and Syracuse by a mere three total points, we should at least be able to count on this game being a tight one. KenPom doesn’t disagree, as his predictor foresees a one-point final margin. Stanford is the team on the right side of that predicted final score, and despite displaying maddening amounts of game-to-game inconsistency all season long, I can’t find a way to disagree that it will be the Cardinal advancing to the regional final.

Sweet 16 Participants For The First Time In 30 Years, Dayton Will be Flying High When They Arrive In Memphis On Thursday Night, But Can Their Magical Ride Live On For Another Night?

Sweet  Sixteen Participants For The First Time In 30 Years, Dayton Will be Flying High When They Arrive In Memphis On Thursday Night, But Can Their Magical Ride Live On For Another Night?

Both these teams are double-digit seeds that the FedEx Forum could have never seen coming, but the narrative surrounding the two teams this week has pegged Dayton as the truer “Cinderella.” Vegas oddsmakers have also pegged the Flyers as a three-point underdog, and there’s also that three-decade Sweet Sixteen drought that lends itself to the role of plucky little David. But before recognizing that Stanford is hardly akin to Goliath, let’s also take a second to note that this Dayton team is more accomplished than many surprise second-weekend visitors of NCAA Tournaments past. They were the best team in the Atlantic 10 from February on (a league that sent six teams to this Tournament), have gone 12-2 in their last 14 games, and were one point and a late collapse away from beating Baylor in the Maui Invitational (they wound up beating Cal by 18 in the third place game). Their inclusion in this NCAA Tournament hung in the balance all season, but they’ve proven they belonged – both before and after admission was granted.

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Assessing the Steve Alford Era at UCLA Almost One Year In

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 26th, 2014

It was a year ago this week that the change was made at UCLA. Ben Howland was dismissed after an opening round NCAA loss to Minnesota, and the following week, on Saturday morning of the Elite Eight to be precise, UCLA announced that it would hire New Mexico head coach Steve Alford – who had just recently agreed to a lengthy contract extension with that school after its own untimely exit from the NCAA Tournament – as the 13th head coach in the storied program’s history.

Steve Alford, UCLA

The Steve Alford Era Had A Bumpy Start, But Has Settled Into A Nice Groove (Damian Dovarganes/AP)

Suffice it to say that the beginning of the Alford era in Westwood did not begin smoothly. The hire was greeted with anywhere from an outright disdain for the choice to a more wait-and-see approach, but few if any saw the hire as a home run. (Here, we called it a solid line-drive single, and our response was probably one of the more favorable ones you may have read). From those initial reactions, the temperature dipped dramatically over the next week after an unreceptive opening press conference delved into his handling of a sexual assault case at Iowa 11 years earlier and went downhill from there. A week later Alford finally apologized for his handling of that case and an uneasy truce with the local media began.

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Gonzaga: What Gives?

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 25th, 2014

Gonzaga has been playing Division I basketball for 57 years. In that time, they’ve made 17 NCAA Tournaments. Sixteen of those 17 appearances have occurred consecutively over the last 16 years. And Mark Few has been the head coach for 15 of those. Just to be clear: Mark Few has taken Gonzaga to 15 consecutive NCAA Tournaments, a streak which accounts for 15 of the program’s 17 tournament appearances in school history. After the Zags’ big Elite Eight breakout surprise in 1999, Few entered as head coach and took the Bulldogs to the Sweet Sixteen in the following two seasons, marking three straight appearances in the Tournament’s second weekend for the burgeoning program. In the 12 years since the run from 1999-2001, they’ve made it to just two more Sweet Sixteens, losing in heartbreaking fashion to eventual national runner-up UCLA in 2006, then getting blown out by eventual national champion North Carolina in 2009.

Gonzaga Basketball Is Defined By The Mark Few Era (AP)

Gonzaga Basketball Is Defined By The Mark Few Era. (AP)

Mixed in there, however, are more underachievements based on seed line than overachievements: a 2002 first round loss as a #6 seed; a 2004 round of 32 loss as a #2 seed; a 2005 round of 32 loss as a #3 seed; and most famously, last year’s round of 32 loss as a #1 seed. Only twice has Gonzaga outperformed its seed in the NCAA Tournament since 2001 — that took place in 2003 where they won one game as a #9 seed (note that the Zags also then gave #1 seed Arizona one hell of a game in the next round), and in 2011 when they won a single game as a #11 seed.

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The Pac-12 Season: It’s Been A Wild Ride So Far

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 25th, 2014

Well, at long last, after an up-and-down season, we can probably pretty safely say: The Pac is Back! Fully buying into the fact that NCAA Tournament performance alone does not equate to the quality of a conference, it is still fun to have three teams dancing in the second week of the tourney. The last time our fair conference had as many teams in the Sweet Sixteen was back in 2008, when it was still just the Pac-10 and also the last time a conference team made the Final Four (UCLA). Between 2009 and 2012, a total of just three teams made the Sweet Sixteen over that four-year span. Things finally ticked up last year with Oregon and Arizona representing us well, and now, we’re back to the promised land. So, how did we get here? Let’s take a quick look back and see.

Pac-12First, I want to admit that I’ve jumped on and off this bandwagon several times this season. Back in the preseason I made the call of seven Pac-12 teams getting invited to the NCAA Tournament and Stanford advancing to the Sweet Sixteen. The former prediction just missed, but the latter actually came true. Still, no use in me taking credit (or blame, for that matter) for either, because god knows I’ve tried to walk both of those back time and again. In early February, I was sitting through a UCLA blowout of Colorado in Pauley Pavilion and began a post (that I never got around to finishing) writing off the concept of seven Pac-12 NCAA Tournament teams entirely, and making the argument that the conference was closer to winding up with just three teams in the field. So there’s that.

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NCAA Regional Reset: West Region

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on March 25th, 2014

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Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is the NCAA Tournament’s West Region correspondent, which begins Thursday night at Honda Center in Anaheim with Baylor vs. Wisconsin followed by San Diego State vs. Arizona. The South Regional Reset published earlier today and the East and Midwest Resets will release tomorrow. Make sure to also follow @RTCWestRegion for news and analysis from Anaheim throughout the week.

New Favorite: Arizona, #1, 32-4. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. The Wildcats looked a little shaky in what turned into just a nine-point win in their round of 64 game against Weber State, but they really did little this weekend to change the popular notion that the Wildcats are not only the strong favorite in this region, but a legitimate contender for the national championship.

Arizona Did Little In The First Weekend To Make Us Second Guess Their Status As National Championship Contenders (Christian Petersen, Getty Images)

Arizona Did Little In The First Weekend To Make Us Second Guess Their Status As National Championship Contenders. (Christian Petersen, Getty Images)

Horse of Darkness:  Wisconsin, #2, 28-7. The Badgers took a 12-point deficit into the half against Oregon in the round of 32, getting lit up to the tune of somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.48 points per possession by a great offensive team for 20 minutes. But coming out of the locker room, they made a commitment to getting the ball inside on offense and getting back and challenging jump shooters on the defensive end. The adjustment turned into less than a point per possession in the second half for the Ducks, while the high-scoring Badgers were the one that turned in 1.5 points per possession. The Badgers have proven their ability to score in bunches this season, but if they can play defense like they did in the second half against Oregon, they’re going to be a real tough out.

Biggest Surprise (1st Weekend): Creighton Getting Demolished. The simple fact that Baylor advanced over Creighton isn’t all that shocking. But the manner in which it happened was stunning. Creighton shoots five-of-24 from three against the Baylor zone? A sketchy Baylor defense hold the nation’s best offensive team below a point per possession? Doug McDermott’s college career ends with just a 15-point performance? Stunning.

Completely Expected (1st Weekend): Mostly Chalk. Three of the top four seeds advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, and the one upset based on seed-line probably isn’t that much of an upset at all, as Baylor crushed Creighton to earn its 12th win in the last 14 games.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Arizona 84, #8 Gonzaga 61

Posted by AMurawa on March 24th, 2014

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion@RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Points Off Turnovers. The first 11 turnovers in the game belonged to Gonzaga; Arizona scored 19 points off of those miscues on the way to building a 21-point first-half lead. There it is. For all practical purposes, that was the game. Turn the ball over and give the Wildcats six dunks (Aaron Gordon had four first-half dunks himself) and four layups before halftime and you should have no expectation that you’re going to be in the game. Clearly, Mark Few made limiting turnovers a high priority in the halftime locker room, but coming out of the break, they turned it over on the first two possessions. For the night, they turned it over 21times, leading to 31 points for the Wildcats. That’s the ballgame, right there.

    Aaron Gordon And The Wildcats Ran Gonzaga Off The Court Early And Often

    Aaron Gordon And The Wildcats Ran Gonzaga Off The Court Early And Often

  2. Arizona Halfcourt Offense = Questionable . To pick a nit, as good as the Wildcats were in forcing turnovers and getting out in transition, their halfcourt offense was so-so. They made just eight of 25 field goal attempts in the first half in the half-court and scored just 27 points on their 27 first half possessions that were not scores off turnovers. In the second half, they were much better, shooting 11-of-26 from the field, but again not really scoring in the halfcourt, averaging a shade under a point per possession in the second half. So, clearly, the key to stopping the Wildcats is forcing them into a half-court game and not allowing them to get points in transition, something that is far easier said than done.
  3. Highlight Reels Plays. Nick Johnson running down David Stockton and rejecting his breakaway layup. Gordon throwing down his now-patented reverse layup on the alley-oop. Gordon dunking over two Gonzaga big frontcourt players on an offensive rebound follow-up. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson providing a ridiculous in-your-face dunk in the halfcourt game. There are probably another half-dozen plays I’m forgetting that deserve mention as well, but the fact of the matter is, the Wildcats didn’t just beat the Zags by 23 points, they embarrassed them continuously throughout the game.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 UCLA 77, #12 Stephen F. Austin 60

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 23rd, 2014

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Kyle Anderson (left), Zach LaVine, and Norman Powell had a lot to celebrate about as the Bruins easily advanced to the Sweet 16. (AP)

Kyle Anderson (left), Zach LaVine, and Norman Powell had a lot to celebrate about as the Bruins easily advanced to the Sweet 16. (AP)

  1. UCLA – Sweet Sixteen. Remember back when this program was absolutely rolling under Ben Howland in the middle of the last decade? That went away fast, sure. But, now for the first time since 2008, the Bruins are back in the Sweet Sixteen, this time under first-year head coach Steve Alford — who himself is back in the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 1999 at Southwest Missouri State. Picky UCLA fans did not take kindly to Alford upon his hire and they took an even longer time to come around to this fun and exciting young team. But this weekend in San Diego, UCLA fans traveled well, were enthusiastic throughout, and seem to be back on the bandwagon. Their biggest nemesis from the last decade – Florida – is once again in the way. And if things do not go well on Thursday in Memphis, there might be a lot of Bruins’ fans with broken ankles as they jump back off the bandwagon, complaining about an easy path to the Sweet Sixteen and other silliness. But for now, UCLA basketball is cool again.
  2. Stormin’ Norman. Under Alford, Norman Powell found increased minutes, an increased role, and a level of freedom that he clearly enjoys. For a guy who was rumored to be considering transferring at the end of last season, he turned into a difference-maker for the Bruins this season. And in the postseason (including Pac-12 Tournament play), he’s taken his game to a new level. He has regularly harassed his man on defense into off games (today for instance, he held Friday night’s star Desmond Haymon to 3-of-11 shooting), he got nine steals in five games, and he made countless highlight-reel plays. Today’s best was putting the ball behind his back in transition just prior to laying the ball in deftly between a couple of defenders for a hoop. And then, rather than celebrate his play, he got back on defense and knocked a pass out of bounds to kill an SFA transition attempt.
  3. Scrappy ‘Jacks. The Lumberjacks, led by sophomore forward Thomas Walkup, are a team that is hard not to like. The bulk of their team is between 6’3” and 6’6”, but they play bigger than their size, they get after it on defense, they sell out for loose balls and they’re just talented enough (seems like everybody can stroke a jumper and make a pretty pass) to play a little finesse game on offense. Walkup in particular won over quite a few fans this weekend. A 6’4” sophomore forward who plays bigger than his size and older than his age, he does just about everything well. He drew early fouls on the bigger UCLA frontcourt, he grabbed eight boards in the first 11 minutes of action he saw, he defended with passion, he was a facilitator for the squad in the high post, he knocked down jumpers; he did everything but hand out water bottles in the huddle. The ‘Jacks lose three seniors, but expect them to be a force in the Southland going forward. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reaction: #4 UCLA 76 #13 Tulsa 59

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 22nd, 2014

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion@RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. UCLA Defense. Let’s face it, the star of the show in most UCLA games is going to be the Bruins’ highly efficient offense, currently ranked 13th in the nation. Future pros abound and even those without professional futures are above-average offensive players. But for this team to make a run in this Tournament, they need to be able to improve upon what was a defensive slide late in the regular season. Last week in the Pac-12 Tournament, they took the first steps down that path, and they continued that today. They focused in on Tulsa’s leading scorer and rebounder James Woodard,  making sure that he wouldn’t beat them, and in the deciding second half, they limited him to a single point. Down the stretch, after the Golden Hurricane had pulled to within five points, the Bruins held them to just two points over the next seven possessions and forced three turnovers along the way. The Bruins’ offense is a given; but when they turn up the defense is when they can become special.

    Norman Powell's Defensive Intensity And Transition Explosiveness Are A Key To UCLA's Success (Associated Press)

    Norman Powell’s Defensive Intensity And Transition Explosiveness Are A Key To UCLA’s Success (Associated Press)

  2. Norman Powell. Of all the talented UCLA guards this season, it seems Powell – the team’s third starting guard – has flown under the radar somehow. Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams are all-conference types, Zach LaVine earned plenty of buzz with his phenomenal start to the season; and of course, Bryce Alford has been the subject of plenty of talk. But Powell has been rock solid all year. Maybe the team’s best perimeter defender, he’s a whirlwind in transition and a more-than-capable performer in the half-court offense. And tonight, down the stretch, he was Adams’ running mate, regularly making big-time plays on the way to transition hoops. Most spectacularly, with just over four minutes left and UCLA starting to run away, Powell ran under a long Tulsa pass in the backcourt, like a free safety tracking an errant bomb, corralled the ball, tip-toed along the baseline to remain in bounds, then turned, attacked the rim and finished with the hoop and the harm to put a nail in Tulsa’s coffin. All told, UCLA outscored Tulsa 21-5 on points off of turnovers, a big part of which came off of plays by Powell and Adams. Read the rest of this entry »
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