Feb. 24, 2003
If we defend and rebound, we will win.
At halftime of the St. John's game we just wanted to stick with the guys who were really competing. After winning that game, just about all Coach has talked about at practice and on the bench is defense. We keep telling our guys if we commit to defense we will win, and that is exactly what has happened.
At halftime of the Miami game we had given up 39 points. This was a team that came in averaging 70 points per game in the Big East, so the message at halftime was pretty clear. We need to stop them in order to win. We had held St. John's to just 7 field goals in the second half of our road win, and we needed a similar effort against Miami. We held them to 24 points in the second half, and only 15 of them came against our half-court defense.
With Villanova coming into town we felt that Thursday was a really big day for us. We took Wednesday off after the game, so Thursday would be our first practice for Villanova. We had won 2 games in a row and were feeling pretty good about ourselves. We really needed to fight the tendency to think we had figured it out and now we were just good enough to win games. We won these two games with a commitment to defense and the glass, and we have really competed the way we need to win games. Practice needs to reflect that, and we knew we couldn't come in and go through the motions and beat the first place team in our league.
Although we haven't been practicing very long, we have been competing very hard and it has really helped us. The 5 guys who are starting have great chemistry and really hate when they give up points in practice. And the guys who haven't been playing as much have taken it personally and really tried to do the things they need to get back into the line-up. It's hard when veteran guys like Rome, Maris and Chris aren't getting into games much, especially when all 3 of those guys have helped us win a lot of games. But they have taken it as a challenge to get back into the rotation when they easily could have given up and turned the other way, and that has really helped us.
The emphasis on defense continued on Thursday and the intensity was high, and I knew that was a good sign for Saturday. Coach has switched they way we keep score when we are playing live in practice - we don't count points, we count defensive stops, and the losing team has to run. It hopefully drills the point home that if we stop people, we will win.
The Villanova win was great for us because we played a pretty complete game on the defensive end. We held Nova to 17 points in the first 15 minutes, but slipped a little bit in giving up 15 over the last 5 minutes of the first half. While we weren't exactly clicking on offense we defended very well in our zone throughout the second half and never really let them get comfortable. While they did bury a bunch of 3's on us, most of them were contested and we held them 21 points below their average. It was good to see we could play our zone against a team that shoots the ball well and still have success.
We also did a great job on the boards, a huge turnaround from the loss in Philly. Down there we were out-rebounded by 20, and Saturday night it was an even draw - and we outrebounded them by 7 in the 2nd half. And we won without great games from Donnie and Ryan, which is a good sign. We got huge contributions from Sick, Tuukka and Marcus on both ends of the floor.
I felt the crowd was a big boost on Saturday and really helped give our guys life. I was speaking with some students on Sunday who were at the game, and they couldn't believe how loud it got in the building. We went down 55-51 with about 6 minutes to play but scored 5 straight points to re-take the lead, and the building really came to life. It's super to see that, especially with the struggles we have had this year. Our fans have not given up on us and that really makes a difference.
In our last 3 wins we are holding our opponents to just 38% shooting from the floor and we are out-rebounding them by almost 2.5 rebounds per game. We have struggled with our turnovers and our 3's haven't been going down (we've only made 10 in the last 3 games, and Sick has made 7 of those), but we are only giving up 61 points per game. We feel like we are much better than that offensively and that at some point we will snap out of it and our offense will click. But despite that we can win games because of our defense, so once again that was the emphasis in practice yesterday and today.
So now it is on to Georgetown, and the game plan is simple. If we defend and rebound, we'll have a great chance to win. I still think we are going to need our bench a little bit more, but our 7-man rotation has been playing well together. But we are going to need some more help, especially to win on the road, so hopefully more guys can step in and contribute.
Georgetown is fighting to get to New York, and they might have the best post player in the country in Mike Sweetney. Winning on the road is never easy, but we will certainly be going in with confidence.
It's amazing how big the next game becomes after you have won a couple. I mean, the difference between coming home at 14-11, 7-7 sounds an awful lot better than 13-12, 6-8 with Gampel Pavilion staring us in the face, doesn't it?
Defend and rebound. It's a simple formula, but it's not easy.
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