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If you aren’t convinced now, you never will be

Posted by Jeff Nusser on December 6, 2007

So rarely does a game live up to its hype. Last night, the No. 8 Cougs’ 51-47 win over No. 17 Gonzaga at raucous K2 did that — and then some.

Some might look at the score and shooting percentages and say it was an ugly game. I couldn’t disagree more. If you need dunks on every other possession and one-on-one isolation plays to entertain you, there’s a three-letter association that’s tailor made for you that was hogging the airwaves on FSN last night.

But, if you — like me — enjoy watching two hard-nosed, well-coached, talented opponents slug it out with great gameplans and great defenses, well, last night was your paradise.

First, let me take this moment to officially welcome the WSU defense to the 2007-08 season. That was absolutely vintage Cougar basketball, the kind of stuff that vets all of the thoughts we’ve all had about this maybe, possibly, being a Final Four team. There is not a team in the country — and I am not exaggerating when I say that — that could have penetrated that defense last night. Not North Carolina. Not Memphis. Not UCLA, or Kansas or Texas. Maybe some of them could have shot over the top of it, but that thing was an iron fortress around the basket.

I’m not even sure I can fully convey what a dominating defensive performance that was, but I’ll try. If you watched it, you know. But it becomes even more staggering when you try to quantify it.

First off, the raw numbers. The Zags …

  • … shot 15-for-52 overall — a paltry 25.9 percent. They have shot 45.3 percent on the season.
  • … shot 5-for-16 from 3-point range — 31.3 percent.
  • … grabbed only eight offensive rebounds. They average more than 12 a game.
  • … got just 17 points combined from leading scorers Matt Bouldin, Jeremy Pargo and Austin Daye. They normally combine for 37.2 a game. Additionally, Bouldin came into the game 26-for-48 over his past five games. He was 0-for-9. Zero points.

The performance becomes even more jaw-dropping when we look at other stats such as efficiency and rebounding percentage (what are those?).

In the previous three games — all on the road — Gonzaga’s offensive efficiency had not dipped below 95, and had been excellent at 115.8 and 124.5 against UConn and Virginia Tech, respectively. Against WSU? Just 75.8, more than 25 below Gonzaga’s season average. How big is that? Think about it this way: If the Zags had performed to their average offensive level over last night’s 61 possessions, they would have scored 65 points. Instead, they scored 47. In other words, the defense last night was 18 points good. That’s the kind of stuff of legends.

Perhaps the most underrated aspect of last night’s defensive effort is what an amazing job WSU did on the defensive glass. I mentioned in the game thread that Gonzaga was a team that thrives off creating extra possessions through offensive rebounds. Last night, though, the Zags claimed just 20 percent of the available offensive rebounds — far below their season average of roughly 40 percent. In such a close game, that was huge.

There are nits to pick offensively. Where is Derrick Low? Why does a team laden with upperclassmen sometimes have rashes of silly turnovers? When will Aron Baynes quit committing silly fouls so he can truly be a force on the floor? But, really, they simply aren’t pressing enough to take away from this performance.

While we have acknowledged the awesomeness of the offense so far, we all know that defense is where our bread is buttered, and last night showed why: Even when we have an off offensive night against a quality defensive opponent, we can still win a game. And comfortably. The final margin was four points, but at no point did it feel like the Cougs were in danger of losing control of that game. That’s the power of defense. That’s what this team is capable of.

To be frank, this truly is the kind of performance that proves once and for all that this team is the real deal, that it absolutely belongs in the top 10, and that it absolutely should be mentioned in the same breath as the nation’s elite. The defense had been the one missing cog this year, but no longer. The Cougs should coast through the remainder of their nonconference schedule before waltzing into Hec-Ed for it’s Pac-10 opener on Jan. 5 ranked as one of the top 5 teams in the country. And it will be entirely deserved.

I said it below, and I’ll say it again: Enjoy this. These are awesome times.


6 Responses to “If you aren’t convinced now, you never will be”

  1. michelle said

    I love that you said our defensive effort was worth 15 less points for them. Imagine that type of statistic against UCLA or Zona. I’m so pumped for this season and that game last night really got me ready for this season. Go cougs! I love your blog, by the way, we need to figure out how to get more people on here!

  2. westsidecougar1 said

    “Enjoy this. These are awesome times.”

    Believe me…I am. These are incredible times and I hope that we Cougar fans don’t forget where we were a few years and ago and lose perspective. I absolutely love watching this team play!

  3. Longball said

    You really couldnt pick a better group to root for. These guys just do things the right way and from all appearences that extends off the court too. I am definately enjoying every minute of it and proud to see the Cougs program getting props all over the country, including on the Tar Heel message boards. This season is going to be another fun ride.

  4. Nuss said

    Thanks, Michelle. I appreciate that. If we keep doing a great job — and if readers like you and the others keep posting thoughtful comments about the team — the site will grow. Really, we’ve seen great growth already. We’ve only been around a few weeks (since November 14) and we’re already seeing days where we get more than 200 page views. That’s pretty cool.

    Of course, you can tell your friends about us, but another thing you can do is continue to let me know what kind of content you’re eager for and I’ll see if I can provide it. I can’t do everything — I do have a wife and kids and a real job, after all — but I’ll do my best.

  5. DrPezz said

    What would you say is the biggest worry you have in regards to this year’s WSU hoops season?

    Mine is the depth of the team. I worry what will happen when the bench must win a game for the Cougs. Granted, WSU looked phenomenal against the Zags (in Gonzaga no less), but I do have some concerns about the bench help.

  6. Nuss said

    I would agree, especially up front. When Cowgill and Baynes get in foul trouble, there’s really no real size to bring off the bench. I’ve actually got some other thoughts on the depth that I’m going to be writing about this week during the lull between games, but I think Bennett is revealing a lot about how he looks at this season from how he’s managing his rotation.

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