This upset win over $tate could be the turning point of the season, as we snap a 3 game losing streak to get back to 2-3 in the conference. We knew the tempo of this game would be key. We were able to make some shots early and set up our press, which gave $tate fits. Varnardo is a dominant player in the halfcourt, but we were able to neutralize him by making him run. The early tempo allowed us to build a nice lead early in the first half.
$tate was finally able to get things under control, and when they slowed it down and forced us to work against their zone, they were able to get back into the game. We've made some adjustments in how we attack the 2-3 zone. As opposed to running a 1-4 set or drive and dish from the point, we were penetrating from the wing on the weak side. This was effective for a while, as we were able to make good passes underneath. Unfortunately, we missed about 4 dunks or layups and then we got away from it and went back to trying to shoot over it.
Tony Mitchell had a great game defensively and on the boards. If only he would start catching the alley oop passes with 2 hands, he missed a couple of dunks trying to one-hand the alley oop. Hillman played a lot better than his stats would indicate. Although he wasn't credited with a steal, he gave $tate hell on defense. We really need him to find his shot at some point though.
Chris Hines started and received the bulk of the playing time ahead of Justin Knox. I've been hard on Hines at times this year, but he did an outstanding job. He is the main reason we were able to keep Varnardo in check. Hines doesn't bring much to the table on the offensive end, but he's a big, strong physical presence on defense and was able to hold his ground and block out the $tate big man.
Torrance and Brock made the shots we needed to make down the stretch. $tate had slowed the game down and taken a 1 point lead as we were struggling against the zone, but a couple of 3's and we were able to speed it up again and get the crowd into it. $tate is usually a much better 3 point shooting team, but I think our defenders deserve a lot of credit for their bad day. Most of their shots were closely contested. We do need to stop falling for the head fake, as once again we fouled their 3 point shooters on 2 seperate occasions.
Free throw shooting was much better after Jamychael Green started out 1 for 4. This game was starting to look like so many others this year, build a big lead, only to lose it in the 2nd half due to lack of depth. This time we were able to make the shots and get the stops needed down the stretch to get the win. This was a good win for the program, on national television against a top 25 opponent. Hopefully it will give us the confidence needed to start a winning streak, with 2 very winnable games coming up.
I will say this for $tate, if they could have got Renardo Sidney (top recruit they bought from CA) and the 7 footer they bought from Serbia into school, they would be very good, close to Kentucky good. Thankfully, it appears the NCAA has finally grown a set and is telling slick Rick "no" for a change.
There was a good, energetic crowd of around 11,000 or so. The student turnout was a little disappointing, but that's to be expected for an 11 am tipoff on a Saturday. As usual, a couple of thousand $tate fans made their annual trip to the "big city." At one point they were doing a "maroon-white" chant during a break when a U.S. Marine was being recognized at center court. Classless, but not at all unexpected from that bunch. I hope they all had a miserable time and an awful drive home.
Up next, the LSU Tigers will come to Coleman Coliseum Wednesday night for a 7pm tipoff looking for their first conference win. They will also be looking for revenge after we beat the crap out of them in Red Stick. They are playing better now, as they led Ole Miss for a good part of their most recent game before finally blowing it late. We are not good enough to survive a let down, so hopefully we will bring our A game and get back to .500 in conference play.