Sunday, January 21, 2007

Separating From the Pac

Someone call the SPCA because some Huskies were just abused in Pullman last night. As the result of an ankle injury suffered in practice Friday, U-Dub fans caught a glimpse of what life without Spencer Hawes would be like, and it wasn't pretty. Derrick Low and his fellow Cougars had their way with Washington, holding the usually potent Huskies offense to 28% shooting en route to a 75-47 victory. The Huskies fall to 1-6 in the Pac-10 and have been virtually eliminated from the conference race. At 11-7 overall, they'll need to duplicate last year's rally to the end the season if they want any chance at all to make the tournament. Unfortunately for the Huskies, the Pac-10 is much stronger this season, so such a rally seems very unlikely. The only silver lining I can offer Washington fans is that without the opportunity to showcase his skills in the NCAA tournament, the chances are improving that Hawes will actually return for his sophomore season.

I'm not surprised that national writers, by way of their AP votes have largely ignored the very impressive season the Oregon Ducks have had thus far. I am however surprised how under appreciated they were by Fox Sports this weekend. The 18-1 Ducks, a legitimate top 5 team in my opinion, were hosting 12-7 Cal today; however you wouldn't have known it by watching FSN as they were nowhere to be found. For some reason, Fox elected to show Arizona State at USC in that same time slot. Now I know 'SC is up and coming and LA is a bigger market, but this was an embarrassingly misguided decision. The Southern Cal game ended up being relatively uninteresting as the Trojans built up an early lead and cruised to a 58-49 victory. The Oregon game however, was a track meet, with the Ducks rallying from an 8 pt halftime deficit to win 92-84. I'd love to give you more information, however since the game wasn't televised, I'm at a loss. I'm willing to guess that Aaron Brooks had a lot to do with the victory.

If there is a basketball god (and I believe there is, and his "buy it now" prices for UCLA tickets are outrageous), then Bill Rafferty will be assigned for UCLA games in the NCAA tournament. Otherwise, I'm all alone in screaming out "Onions!" when Arron Afflalo takes control in the last five minutes of the game. Afflalo relishes taking the big shot, and time and time again he delivers. Saturday, his play was huge once again, as anytime Arizona started a run, Afflalo quickly responded. He finished with 22 points on 9-14 shooting, and the Bruins kept pace with Oregon by beating Arizona 73-69. A few other points about the game:

Lorenzo Mata's horrendous free throw shooting (barely over 30%) is finally costing him minutes. During the final five minutes of the game, UCLA coach Ben Howland had no choice but to bench Mata in case Arizona opted to employ the "swat-a-Maht" defense.

When it was announced before tip off that Luc Richard Mbah a Moute was going to be out of the game with a knee injury, UCLA fans wondered if the Bruins would be dominated on the glass. Fortunately, Alfred Aboya stepped up his game and gathered a career high 11 rebounds. I keep waiting for Aboya to have his "Ryan Hollins moment" where he realizes that he's an athletic big man and starts to control the paint like one. This game was a big step in that direction and with a little more progress, this guy will be a weapon in the Bruins arsenal.

UCLA likes to defend the high pick-and-roll by doubling with their big man and trying to force the guard to pass the ball out of the designed play. By and large, it's been a successful strategy, but now teams are responding by setting up the pick much further back ("higher") than the normal set. This then creates a much greater distance for the UCLA big man (usually Mata) as he tries to sprint back and recover once the opposing guard has passed out of the double. Arizona State was effective with it at times, as was Arizona in the first half of Saturday's game. I expect more teams to adopt a similar strategy in the future, and it will be interesting to see if Howland has a counter-punch for it. (Switching to the faster Aboya might be the answer.)

As any non-Arizona Pac-10 fan can attest to, nothing brings greater joy than watching Lute Olson turn red and stomp around when things aren't going his way. There has been plenty of stomping lately, now that Arizona has lost three straight conference games for the first time in 23 years; and I've been beaming the entire time. Now, I'll probably feel bad when the day comes that Lute actually has a stroke on the court; but until then, it's all smiles baby. (And yes, I know I'm being a hypocrite because if I weren't a Bruins fan, I would absolutely hate all of Ben Howland's on court antics. Fortunately, sports fans are entitled to hypocrisy.)

I'm probably guilty of West Coast bias here, but I really believe the Pac-10 is the best in the country this year and worthy of two teams in the top 5. If this weekend the AP approves my application for voting privileges, my rankings would be as follows:

1. Florida
2. Oregon (gets the nod over UCLA by virtue of head-to-head)
4. Wisconsin
5. North Carolina


At Mon Jan 22, 10:29:00 PM PST , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a little shocked that Washington has been this bad... I know they lost a lot of talent but they have a lot still on that team, and Romar seems to be a good coach. I was shocked when I checked the standings today and saw they were 1-6 in the Pac-10.

At Tue Jan 23, 01:18:00 AM PST , Blogger Zach Landres-Schnur said...

fuck justin dentmon. fuck youth. fuck turnovers. fuck free throw shooting. fuck derrick low. fuck his hair. fuck tony bennett. fuck the singer tony bennett too.

oh, and it's been a husky season filled with sunshine and sunflowers, by the way.

At Tue Jan 23, 01:25:00 AM PST , Blogger insomniac said...

But at least the Huskies' problems are identifiable. All they need to do is get some experience and improve their guard play, free throw shooting, and turnover rate....oh and transition defense, perimeter defense, interior passing and shot selection.

Once they get that all fixed, the Huskies will be right where they want to be.

Alternatively, maybe Huskies fans could abduct Derrick Low and shave his head.


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