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As happy as I’ve been after a win in a while

Posted by Jeff Nusser on February 22, 2008

There’s an old saying in coaching: Control what you can control.

You can’t always control whether your own shots go in.

You can’t always control whether you’re opponents’ shots go in.

And you can’t control it at all when officials miss a blatant goaltend, or send a team’s best player to the bench with a bogus reach call that was instigated by the offensive player, or send an opponent to the line on a clean block because he happened to jump into a 270-pound brick wall and then predictably fall to the floor. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

But among the things you can control are how smart and how hard you play on both ends of the floor. And what I see is a team that is playing smarter and harder than it has all season.

I’ve been harping about defense for quite a while now, and this team is peaking defensively at precisely the right time. The Cougs took the Sun Devils completely out of everything they wanted to do last night, holding ASU to just an 83.1 efficiency rating. How did they do it? By executing all the keys I identified prior to last night’s game:

  • James Harden (right) was just 3-for-11 from the field, settling for seven 3-pointers — of which he made only one. His only three free throws of the game came when Kyle Weaver fouled him on a 3-point shot in the last few minutes. This from the guy who is 88th in the nation in free throw rate, and had eight free throw attempts in three of his last four games. That was absolute domination by Weaver against a hurting, worn down opponent.
  • The Cougars held Arizona State to its second-lowest offensive rebounding percentage of the season — just 18.6 percent. The Sun Devils, whose offense thrives off of second chances, had just seven second-chance points. It was a total team effort. Aron Baynes, Weaver, Derrick Low and Taylor Rochestie had 22 rebounds between them — all defensive. Not only was there some unbelievable boxing out, the Cougs were tenacious in chasing down every loose ball, missed shot and otherwise.
  • Jeff Pendergraph played 36 minutes, but his impact was negligible with just eight points, eight rebounds and three blocks but four turnovers. Conversely, Baynes played 28 effective minutes with just one foul — which wasn’t a foul — racking up 10 points, six rebounds and four steals, one of which led to a now-legendary dunk.
  • After going off for 30 points against Cal, Ty Abbott had just seven points. Most significant was that the Devils’ best long-range threat had only had three of the team’s 25 3-point attempts, and none of those three came without a hand squarely in his face. While the Cougs played exceptional 3-point defense, it was especially noteworthy on Abbott.

Want one more stat? How about holding ASU to 40.0 effective field goal percentage. For reference, Oregon State — one of the worst shooting teams in the nation — is averaging 42.2 percent for the season. This was complete domination on the defensive end by any measure.

Now, you might ask how I can be so happy when the offense wasn’t all that effective last night. It’s simple — although this is a results-based world, basing your opinion of performance off of results (and using it to predict future results) is a dangerous strategy. Think of it this way: Which makes you feel better about the way your offense, an off-balance 3-pointer from 30 feet that banks in, or a missed layup? The layup, because the opportunity to convert a high-percentage opportunity means the offense is operating more effectively. You’re not going to miss many of those layups, just like you’re not going to make many of those desperation attempts.

The moral is this: Just because we didn’t score a lot of points and missed more shots than we normally do doesn’t necessarily mean we had a poor offensive game. Quite the contrary, I thought we had a very good offensive game. Yeah, the results were bad; if it weren’t for all the free throws at the end, we probably would have had our lowest offensive efficiency rating of the Pac-10 season. But we were smart, we moved the ball against the zone via the pass, and we got ourselves open looks — we just didn’t always knock them down.

This offense has been our biggest asset all year long — don’t let any underinformed television analyst who says convince you otherwise. The Cougs are 11th nationally in offensive efficiency and second in Pac-10 games, just a shade behind UCLA. It’s been the one thing we could count on night in and night out, even as the defense struggled to find its legs. To have one off shooting night — it was only our third time under 50 in effective field goal percentage in Pac-10 play — doesn’t concern me greatly.

And that’s why I’m smiling today.

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2 Responses to “As happy as I’ve been after a win in a while”

  1. Jo-Jo said

    I agree. I just get so frustrated watching guys miss open jump shots. Really, that game wasn’t even close. It was like a said about the first UCLA game. When things looked bleak in that first half, the Cougs actually had some good looks, they just missed them. But when it comes down to it. You’ve got to take advantage of the opportunities when they come to you. Time is running out on margin of error on not finishing. This team needs to start making open lay-ups, jumpers and free throws down the stretch, or it could come back to bite them in the tournament.

  2. Jo-Jo said

    How ’bout Sendek making excuses for Hardens performance the other night, saying that he was “bothered by a injured wrist and tight back.”

    Yeah, that tight back really seemed to bother him on that crazy dunk. Maybe he’s just a freshman that is getting tired from carrying a team and doesn’t like facing one of the best defenses in the conference.

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