This was a huge homestand on the Farm for us, where we were either going to rise to the occasion, or drown like a drunk skunk. 5-4 or 4-5 or 3-6 were the options. Only one of those would leave us relevant in the conference and with any hope for meaningful post-season play without pulling a bison out of hat, like Colorado did last year at the conference tourney. Thank goodness on Sunday the only things hotter than the smoking hot beavers were us. We gave up 49 percent shooting and 56 percent shooting from deep, and we really didn't give them a lot of good looks, and still won. We took a pretty good beaver shot to the chin and we weathered the blow, which intimates a little bit about our quality.
I was probably not the only person who was stunned at the egg the tub toys laid here in the Bay Area. Wow. We stunk it up at Colorado, but what the grebes pooped out on the floor at Maples was the worst game played by anyone in conference this year by a wide margin. Unless you are Bruin fan, that is.
Aaron Bright led (yes, led) us to the home sweep of the dog chewy toys (see Orvis catalog) this weekend. Quietly, over the last four or five games Aaron has improved his guidance of the team, raising our offensive tempo, dialing back on the ball massaging and safaris, and cutting back on his turnovers. Since January 18, the quarter point of conference play, Aaron has improved from .80 on his A/TO to being fourth in the conference at 2.2, mostly by cutting back on his turnovers. Now, I don't think it is a coincidence that over that stretch we have largely been playing smurf point guards, and some mediocre ones at that, but it doesn't change the fact that in the last three games our offensive tempo and ball movement have crispified (new word), and our shooting has gone nuts. Against OSU's pressure, which has historically given Aaron trouble, he did a much better job of not getting into double teams, recognizing where the trap was going to be and moving the ball a moment earlier away from it or through it by passing, not dribbling.
Chasson Randle took this long weekend to remind the conference, and some of us Booties, that when he plays well we are pretty damned good. 11-of-21 and 7-of-9 is doing that voodoo that he do, so well. Chasson has been a big beneficiary of the crispified offensive tempo, mostly because he loves it. He has gone from 12.3 per game on January 18 to 14.8 per game now. One great example was Randle pushing a muddled transition against OSU, getting to 14 feet on the right wing with nothing there, doing a backward crab dribble that lulled the defense, and then counter-attacking to draw a quick pummeling foul in the paint for some freebies. He came out of that smiling at Dawkins, who was smiling back. A few minutes later he and Powell combined for a transition offense screen and Crystal Gale on the right side as the nutria ghosted a switch and Chasson reversed a lay-in with no one near.
Gabe Harris had a good dog chew toys weekend as well. While he didn't get much run against the tub toys on Wednesday night, because when you are up big you need to play the freshman Sanders, Sunday was a different story. He provided some great senior defense on Starks and Nelso and some hard-nosed offense, getting in the paint and getting some rebounds, and then knocking down meaningful free throws. We needed every bit of what Gabe brought on Sunday, and he made a difference.
But enough about guards for now, and lets mention a few team things. On January 18, we were 1-3, and our three key conference team statistics were: (i) scoring defense 67.8, (ii) scoring margin -1.0, and (iii) and rebounding margin +1.2. Now, at the halfway mark, and with our record a solid 5-4, we sit (i) scoring defense 65.1 (tied for first with UA), (ii) scoring margin at +5.3 (second to UA), and (iii) rebounding margin at only +0.1 (yes, Zona is 1st at +4.3). Also significant is that our field goal percentage has risen to .415, which is still not great, but much better than the .40 it was on January 18th. [Ed: Plus, free-throw shooting is No. 2 at .734, which was key to holding off Oregon State.]
In the twilight zone statistical anomaly of the decade, we lead the conference now by a wide margin in three point shooting at 44.9 percent (USC is a distant second at 36 percent). Seriously folks, prior to conference play we were flatulating at a 24 percent clip from out yonder. I have never seen anything like this. Gage and Randle are leading the conference in this statistic, with Gage shooting a ludicrous 17-of-26 from the business school. Randle was so bad shooting from deep out of conference that his 50 percent clip in conference has only improved his overall percentage to 32 percent. This reminds me though that out of conference statistics are typically not very meaningful, it's just that this reminds of it backwards-y.
It was an interesting strategic blunder by the aqua-skunks, or just a true testament to their ineptitude, that we came into the game on Sunday leading the conference in three-point shooting and they couldn't find us out there to the tune of 14-of-25. Not one of which was a tough three late in the shot clock. We didn't force up one of them. Some of them were so wide open that we could have eaten some clock by just standing there for a few seconds waiting for a varmint to walk over. Who lets John Gage take six threes in one game. Who lets anyone who leads the conference in three-point shooting do what he does best? The last place team, that is who.
Final Thought: Here comes the Zona roadie. Great timing for us, as we need to get a road splitskie here. We get a tough Zona squad on Wednesday night, but don't play again until Saturday afternoon, while Sparky plays Thursday night and they have several players that appear to be wearing down from the whacko minutes they have been playing. Carson, Felix and Gilling are all playing 37-plus minutes per game, and Sparky's defense against the Huskies on Saturday night was non-existent as they gave up 96.
Final, Final Thought: Great to see Rosco Allen flash the three point stroke he appeared to have on film in high school. 6-foot-8 and 2-of-2 from deep against the rats, and a huge lift off the bench with his passing and steals. We actually hit five threes in a row between the 16:29 mark and the 12:13 mark of the first half, a string Josh Huestis obnoxiously broke up by slamming down an easy putback off an Allen miss.
Final, Final, Final Thought: We are in a fight for last place in the conference in home attendance with the soiled you-know-whats, but we'd be last by a wide margin if they actually counted butts in the gym instead of tickets sold. On Sunday everyone must have been home getting their queso fundido ready for the Super Bowl party. We need to find a way to quietly let season ticket holders and the 6th Not Theres know that for weekend games, the mimosas are flowing at the Roscoe!
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