Obviously, I intended to have the post up earlier, but a combination of problems with Blogger, and, you know, actual life stopped me from getting this out. Anyway, here it is, as for what's next: no scouting report for URI, but I'll post a brief recap and then a quick report on Dayton.
A late recap on this one, but let me assure you, it was good.
We played some incredible defense, taking a series of terrific stands and forcing them into the type of game they didn't want to play. We won this game through good defense, superior strategy, and a surprisingly effective half-court offense.
UAB came to play their game, and their main offensive scoring weapon, getting to the line to shoot free-throws, was working all game long. The shot 26 free throws, which doesn't seem like that many, until you realize that UAB only took 52 field goals. I'll buy that you maybe don't frequently stare at FTA/FGA rates, but take my word (or at least Ken Pomeroy's) when I tell you that only four teams have averaged a percentage greater than the %50 that the Blazers achieved in this game. The point being is that the Blazers executed this part of the game plan quite well, and honestly, we countered as well as we could, playing them smartly and not fouling nearly as often as we might have been tempted too. We played this correctly, but we have to give a check to UAB for executing this strategy better than we stopped it. So what did we do right to slow down their offense?
Well, we did, in fact, bait them into a bunch of threes. And you know what? They actually shot slightly better than their season average from the three point line, but it doesn't matter, because playing the percentages worked: They are a terrible three-point shooting team, and shot an anemic 31.6%. If they had taken their normal proportion of threes that wouldn't have been so bad, but, of course, they did not take their normal proportion. Typically, UAB shoots 31.5% of all shots from the three-point line, but we induced them to take 36.5% from downtown. Anytime you get a team to go away from it's strengths and play a game based on their weaknesses, that is some kind of victory. On the other hand, this whole discussion of their three-pointing and foul-shooting has been a little bit silly, because it hides the real story of our defense against their offense.
UAB shot 28.8% from the field. On a night when they were shooting three-pointers at their usual mediocre rate, it turns out that the long-ball might have been their best option. UAB was shooting an incredibly anemic 27.3% from inside the arc, and our front court managed to collapse the middle, stay in front of their man and force terrible shots. Our guards were quick and prevented the drive. Howard Crawford, Kenneth Cooper, and Aaron Johnson, 60% of the starting line-up for UAB, made only a single field goal out of 20 shots and turned the ball over 8 times. For basically, the last ten minutes of the second half, they didn't score a field goal.
That is why we won.
On offense, we played well: Deon is playing as well as he ever has, John Henson is playing about three times as well as he did at the beginning of the season, Marcus Ginyard has taken it upon himself to prove that his defensive reputation is completely merited (near shut-out of Elijah Millsap in the first half), and Larry Drew is playing with a ridiculous level of swagger. Dexter already had that swagger, but now he executes, and if Tyler Zeller is going to not score so much in one game and still contribute defensively, that's perfectly okay; dude was just coming back from that nasty shot to the head. Yeah, Graves and McDonald kept putting up bricks, but you know, we live with those so that we can enjoy the games where they don't miss. It was weird to watch us play this slowed down game. We are running plays, people are making cuts, setting screens. It's not that the Carolina teams of the recent past didn't ever run plays, it's just not something we ever relied on, or really, could rely on. Even last year, I would get nervous to see our half court set, but knew I could count on Ty Lawson spinning a broken play into gold or the startling and seemingly unstoppable efficacy of the "get-the-ball-to-Tyler-and-let-him-draw-contact" play. All those teams wanted is fast-breaks and chaos, and don't get me wrong, it totally ruled. This year though, we execute. Sure there are turnovers (though those have thankfully plummeted), but finally, I trust our guys to run our stuff, and that sure is nice.
We are playing as well as we played all year, including those blow-outs at the beginning of the year, and, I must say, the NIT has grown on me.