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Some positives to take away from Thursday

Posted by Jeff Nusser on February 8, 2008

We already pointed out what mostly went wrong in the loss to UCLA, but perhaps Tony Bennett summed it up best after the game:

“Plays have to be made when two teams are defending that hard. … When you’re playing that kind of team, your best isn’t always good enough. Sometimes you have to come up with something a little better than that.”

And I think that’s spot on. It’s not too much of a stretch to work from the premise at this point that UCLA is just a better basketball team than WSU, as it’s safe to say that the addition of Kevin Love and the loss of Ivory Clark sent these two teams in opposite directions. If we go ahead and work from that premise, I think I can prove that we’re not just negative nancies around here by channeling my inner Vince Grippi to give you some of the real positives I saw come out of that contest.

First and foremost, the Cougs did not appear overmatched. While that’s a comment that would have been absurd heading into the first matchup ranked No. 4, it had some real merit after the losses to the Bruins and Wildcats. The intensity was there, the focus was there. And while the performance hardly was flawless, the way UCLA makes you pay for seemingly every single mistake you make turns what should be a close game you have a chance to win at the end into a comfortable victory.

One of the reasons we didn’t appear overmatched was that we did an excellent job containing penetration against quick guards for what seemed like the first time since shutting down Jeremy Pargo.

Derrick Low, who I’ve roundly criticized much of the year, did a really incredible job on Darren Collison. While Low clearly isn’t as quick as Collison, he used his bulk to guide Collison to spots on the floor where he generally couldn’t do a lot of damage. Taylor Rochestie did a very nice job on Josh Shipp, who had just six points on 3-of-8 shooting, and Kyle Weaver did an awesome job on Russell Westbrook. (Remember, Westbrook did a lot of his damage on fast breaks.)

Perhaps most impressive to me was that it didn’t seem like the guards wore down as the game went on. Even until the end, they did a pretty good job containing most of the guards. Maybe it was because of adrenaline, but maybe it’s because our boys aren’t as worn down as we speculated.

I’m hoping for the latter, because truly, if the Cougs play perimeter defense the rest of the season the way they did on Thursday, they’ll win more than they lose the rest of the way and probably make some noise in the tournament. Time will tell if it was a one-game blip or something that’s sustainable, though.

Another positive was the contribution of Caleb Forrest. Like Nik Koprivica last year, good things just seem to happen most of the time Forrest is on the floor. He’s hitting that little midrange jumper and making some plays on the defensive end. He’s still a weak rebounder, but he just seems to be a nice sparkplug who gives the team energy.

Unfortunately, I just don’t see how he’s going to find more minutes in the rotation. With a three-guard lineup, opportunities for bigs to play are limited. He doesn’t have the bulk of Baynes, the length of Cowgill or the shooting prowess of Harmeling. Where does that leave him? Playing 15 minutes a night, as he has been, pretty much no matter what he does. I think Bennett’s hands are tied, unless he decides to go with a more conventional lineup on the floor from time to time with three bigs. I, personally, wouldn’t be so opposed to that for stretches of games.

On the whole, the offense was pretty good last night, and the defense was good enough to stop just about any other team not named UCLA. Last night’s effort against tomorrow’s opponent translates into a streak-breaking win for the Cougs.

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2 Responses to “Some positives to take away from Thursday”

  1. Jo-Jo said

    Enter Harmeling into the guard rotation at the 3, and let Forrest back up the bigs. It makes a good deal of sense because Harmelings post defense is weak.

  2. Nuss said

    I know that’s an option to most anybody else, but as we established, it’s clear that Bennett has decided that those three guards are going to play just about every minute of every game. I guess his philosophy is that any one of those three guards represents a substantial offensive and defensive upgrade over Forrest. I don’t necessarily disagree with that, except that I think it could help our guys be fresher in the last five minutes of a game.

    Additionally, it could potentially pose some matchup problems for our opponents from time to time; sometimes I think some of our difficulties come from this “we are who we are” mentality. Teams very rarely have to try and matchup with our personnel this year. The mixing and matching, pushing buttons is something Bennett was masterful at last year, but hasn’t really done much of this year.

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