Cougs soaring into showdown with UCLA
Posted by Jeff Nusser on January 11, 2008
Folks, if you needed to see anything more than what you saw last night to convince you that this team is as ready as it can be to finally put the demons of Pauley Pavilion behind them tomorrow, then you, my friend, simply have unreasonable expectations.
That was as complete an offensive performance as you’ll see all year, and might be as dominating an offensive performance as you’ll see against USC all season, as well. That was a better offensive performance than Kansas, Memphis or Stanford could muster, and was on par with the beatdown Cal put on the Trojans a week ago.
Don’t believe me? Against those three opponents, USC’s defensive efficiency rating was an average of 78.1. The Cougs posted a 123.3 efficiency. To put that into perspective, over last night’s 59 possessions, USC would typically allow 46 points. The Cougs scored 78. They were that dominant.
The game was so out of character last night for USC that the Trojans headed into the game 15th nationally in defensive efficiency … but came out of it 34th.
How did the Cougs do it? Well, as many have speculated, the re-emergence of Daven Harmeling as a perimeter threat would completely change the offense and make everything a heck of a lot easier for everyone else. I think that was absolutely proved true beyond a shadow of a doubt last night.
Harmeling set a number of pick-and-pop screens in the first half, and the Trojans obviously had a gameplan to leave the screener and double the ball every time in an effort to keep Derrick Low, Taylor Rochestie and to some extent Kyle Weaver (who doesn’t handle on those high picks very often) from being able penetrate or get an open look at a 3. Virtually every time, Harmeling made them pay.
In the first half, it translated into the Cougs staying close after stagnating late in the period. But the fruits truly were reaped in the second half, when WSU was able to get penetration because USC couldn’t double the ball-handler on those high screens. It opened up the kind of space the Cougs haven’t seen against a quality opponent all season. The 17 assists were a direct result of that.
The residual effect of Harmeling’s performance ought to be great, as well, as UCLA now has something new to think about heading into Saturday. The Bruins will now have to gameplan for him, as Ben Howland is too good of a coach to dare a hot shooter to beat his team. Beyond doubling the ball handlers on screens, the Trojans had a plan to double any pass into the post to force the Cougs’ perimeter players to beat them. It worked early until Harmeling came alive. How will the Bruins try to stop us?
If we want to pick some nits, I suppose we could say the defense wasn’t as good as it’s been at times. But I chalk that up to a team of really good athletes getting loose occasionally and making some plays. The problem with that, of course, is that those same athletes can’t continually make those mid-percentage plays as if they are high-percentage ones, and that’s why they shoot 54 percent and still lose by 15 thanks to 13 turnovers — a very high amount in a 59-possession game.
If there’s one thing to worry about heading into Saturday, it’s this: Low, Rochestie and Weaver each played 37 minutes or more, including 38 high-effort minutes for Weaver, who had the unenviable task of chasing O.J. Mayo around for most of the game. He’ll likely draw Josh Shipp on Saturday, who doesn’t figure to run off 32 screens the way Mayo did.
All-in-all, though, this was as impressive a performance as you could hope for heading into such an important game.
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