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Did I mention that it starts and ends with defense?

Posted by Jeff Nusser on January 27, 2008

There are a few things I want to highlight in the wake of yesterday’s awesome nail-biter, but I can’t really think of a cohesive way to put it all together, so on this non-football Sunday, you get a notebook-style recap.

So, about those keys to the game

If you didn’t believe me yesterday before the game when I said that defensive rebounding would be the key, consider this: How different would the game probably have been if ASU had come up with three more offensive rebounds? That’s what the Sun Devis would have needed to hit their season average, and it probably would have resulted in a Cougar loss.

Tony Bennett thought it was so important that he put Robbie Cowgill back in the starting lineup. Cowgill showed his coach that his faith was well placed, as he was one of the big difference makers in that department.

We still didn’t see the re-emergence of the midrange jumper that made him such an underrated weapon last year — a function of a zone defense, which won’t give up many of those — but we did see the return of the guy who is active on the glass and weakside help defense. He was everywhere yesterday, picking up five rebounds and a couple of blocks. He topped the 30-minute mark for the first time since Washington, which tells you what Bennett thought of what he was doing on the floor.

Gosh, it feels good to write that about Robbie, a truly good guy we all want to see succeed.

Kyle Weaver is the man

Weaver probably won’t get any votes for Pac-10 player of the year because he doesn’t score enough points, but his ability as a basketball player was on full display yesterday. Without him, we don’t win that game — for multiple reasons.

Early on, that ASU zone was giving us fits. About all we could find were some contested 3-point shots over the top of it, and we weren’t hitting them.

How to attack a zone is one of the great quandaries of basketball. It’s kind of like in football: Do you run to set up the pass, or pass to set up the run? Against a zone, do you shoot the 3 to set up attacking the gaps, or do you attack the gaps to set up the 3? I’ve always been a proponent of the latter, figuring an easy 2 is better than a 3-point shot any day of the week, and that’s where Weaver was at his absolute finest yesterday.

Early in the game, I turned to my buddy, Chris, who I was watching the game with and said, “The Cougs are going to have problems against this zone because they just don’t have a good passing big man to put in the high post.” It turns out a 6-foot-6 guard could do the job just fine, as the offense did a stunning 180 once Weaver went to the high post.

Weaver was so effective at finding cutters in the gaps, he finished with eight assists, and probably had another five or six “hockey assists,” where the guy he passed to found another guy after the defense sucked in. That fact wasn’t lost on Arizona State, which more or less shut down the WSU offense for the final five minutes after making a concerted effort to keep Weaver from touching the ball in that high post. They were so dedicated, their zone almost morphed into a 2-1-2, as one guy consistently switched in front of Weaver to prevent an entry pass. The Cougars couldn’t adjust, and the offense went cold. But it had done its job.

Oh, and did I mention that Weaver had eight rebounds, a block and a steal, all while trying to guard James Harden? Truly, a stud effort worthy of note that probably will go unnoticed by most.

Enough about the refereeing, people

Anyone else want to throw up when they read about Herb Sendek and James Harden whining about the non-call at the end of the game?

Look, the Pac-10 has some of the worst officials in the country. Officiating basketball is the hardest job of any of the major sports, so inconsistencies are going to be the norm. But Pac-10 officials take that to an entirely new level, a fact that is indisputable to any college hoops fan who watches other conferences. Outside of the NBA, I’ve never seen a group of officials that generally are so intent on imposing their will on games. I’m as guilty as anyone about criticizing them, but it’s about time we all just accept it — especially coaches and players — as Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen (also the worst at his job in the country) has shown absolutely no desire to make it better.

It’s not like that final no-call was a strange departure from the game. The officials had been wildly inconsistent all evening, calling ticky-tack fouls on guys 25 feet from the basket (Baynes and Pendergraph), then not calling other fouls that could be construed as muggings (Taylor Rochestie’s “turnover” right in front of a referee comes to mind).

But I can see where Sendek and Harden were coming from. I thought there would be a foul called, and perhaps the biggest reason is because Cowgill clearly had gotten fouled before the tie-up on the previous possession — seriously, he had his hands on the ball first, then was undercut out of bounds. I figured the inconsistency would continue, so kudos (I guess) to the referees for allowing the contact to go at the other end, especially when Harden had bullied his way to the cup in the first place.

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10 Responses to “Did I mention that it starts and ends with defense?”

  1. Jo~Jo said

    A couple of other thoughts;

    One Weaver’s ability to break the 2-3 zone, on the final WSU posession, the Devils went to a 1-3-1, which really would be the best in terms of defending the Cougs in my opinion. I wonder what would’ve come of that game if they had switched that earlier in the second half.

    Okay, I know that Harden appears to be an awesome player, but he looks pretty one dimensional to me. Why didn’t the Cougs force him to take jump shots? And is in not obvious that he goes left 9 out of 10 times. Again, he didn’t look like he could be stopped, but I think he could have been defended better. Defensive players have a tendency to over D a guy like that, and that is a mistake. The defense that was played on the last posetion was perfect. Give him some space on the perimeter, tempt him to take the jumper, which he clearly doesn’t have the confidence to hit, and know that he will go left. Stay in front of him, stay on your feet, and stay tall once you get into the paint (which is exactly how that last “no-call” ended up. Guys like Harden will eventually shoot themselves out of the game. He gets his shots when his defenders are over-aggresive and bite on the jump fake. On his last attempt, no one touched him and he just lost the ball. If you stay tall and on the floor he will be totally wreckless. Really, he looks like a rec-center all-star.

    The emotional intensity that the Cougs started the second half with was wonderfull to see. In your grill defense, a bounce in their step on offense, shooting three’s with reckless abandon. Those are the things that top ten teams have. In terms of their attitude that first 8 minutes in the second half, they looked like Memphis did at the start of the game yesterday against Gonzaga. Not in terms of talent or style of play, but in confidence and emotion. They looked convinced that they were going to win that second half.

    Here’s to a weekend sweep at home against NorCal. Beating Stanford will create a nice little separation at the top of the Pac. The way it should be.

  2. drpezz said

    Jo Jo, Weaver did set up Harden towards the end of the second half when he baited Harden to lower his shoulder and commit the charging foul. However, I agree that the Cougs as a team should have forced Harden to make some 15-20 foot jumpers; he drove too easily when the Cougs didn’t give space.

    Two things I noticed:

    1) The Cougs did not play well but were only down two at the half. Once they did bury a couple treys, ASU was forced to open the zone which allowed the Cougs to attack the basket much more easily, especially back door. even though the Cougs were blocked a couple times, these cuts forced ASU to commit a bit more on defense.

    2) The Cougs started making the extra pass towards the end of the first and the beginning of the second halves. That one extra pass (creating the “hockey assists”) made a huge difference in opening up the lead they held onto down the stretch. The pass before the assist and the picks creating the open shots never show up in stat sheets, but are critical for team success, which the Cougs started to do quite well.

  3. Jo~Jo said

    Drpezz,

    You’re right about the offensive foul, though I think that was earned on some flopage. None the less, Harden had been leading with that off arm and dropping the shoulder all night and it finally came back to haunt him. You just can’t allow those kind of players to initiate contact and get rewarded for it. Give them space and they don’t know what to do. They will eventually reach out and with their off hand and shoot themselves in the foot.

    I don’t know if anyone noticed that I said that Low needs to catch and shoot the other day, but did you notice how he got hot in the second half? Oh yeah, work off the baseline screens and . . . CATCH AND SHOOT! Basketball is so much better when you keep it simple.

  4. Nuss said

    “Harden looks pretty one-dimensional to me.”

    He’s shooting 42 percent from 3, although he’s only taken 50 shots out there. I think shutting down the 3 was such an emphasis that they weren’t going to dare anyone to beat them from there after Thursday.

    But I do agree to a certain extent with your premise.

  5. Jo~Jo said

    I didn’t know he had those numbers. This was the first I’ve seen him play. For a guy with that percentage, he certainly doesn’t look for his shot on the perimeter very much.

  6. JP said

    How big was the three second call at the end of the first half? Not only does ASU miss an opportunity to score, but we get a great play by Forrest to get some positive momentum ggoing into the half (only down 2).

  7. Nuss said

    I probably wouldn’t look for my shot on the perimeter much, either, if I was going to the line seven to 10 times a game, as he does. Like we mentioned in the Arizona game, why not attack the rim if you’re going to get rewarded for it? It’s what the NBA is built on, unfortunately.

    Speaking of the NBA, anyone else notice Bob Weiss’ comment about that 3-second call? He said it shouldn’t have been called because the ball was 30 feet from the basket and the player wasn’t affecting the play. How very NBA of you, Bob. Perhaps it hasn’t occurred to you that one of the reasons very few people like the NBA anymore — other than watching two guys play and three guys stand around on virtually every offensive possession — is because of its selective application of rules such as traveling, palming and 3-second violations …

  8. Jo~Jo said

    Listening to that guy makes me wonder how he ever made it at any level as a coach.

  9. Ptowncoug said

    We need a guy like Harden on our team. A lot of the times we get into trouble at the perimter having our guards pass the ball around on the outside with the increased ball pressure that we are getting. We need to be more agressive in attacking the basket and forcing that Pac-10 officials to call fouls every once in a while.
    I like Rochie’s agressive in the 2nd half, but thought he should be doing that from the other side of the basket.

  10. Longball said

    Both Sauls and Cross are missing time with concussions. Do we need to wear helmets in practice, or should we wrap Baynes elbows in Charmin Ultra?

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