Friday, December 22, 2006

Hoops - Jackets Muzzle Dawgs

Tonight the Jackets beat UGAg 78-69. Tonight the Jackets beat the Dawgs for the 100th time in the long series between these teams. Tonight this team took a step in proving to themselves that defense really does win games. Tonight was a good win and a good lesson.

Well, the first play of tonight's game had me up going - OOOOHHH YEEEAAAHHHH..... The next 7 minutes had me saying - OOOOHHHH NNOOOOOO................ here we go again................The Jackets started with a beautiful backcut pass from Jeremis Smith to Thaddeus Young for a rousing dunk. Then UGAg proceeded to hit every single shot they hoisted in the air. They could not miss. This hit everything. I think they were about 8-8 at one point.................. and once again, we're talking about some really open good looks.

However, just when it looked like another one of those frustrating nights as the Jackets trailed 18-8, the Jackets flipped the switch and started playing defense. Not just good defense - great defense. The key - Mario West. He comes into the game at the 14:45 mark, proceeds to IMMEDIATELY get a steal that leads to a Smith dunk. Then a few seconds later, HE DOES IT AGAIN with a steal. From that point, it just seemed like the team geared it up another notch.

They closed the gap and took a 39-35 lead to the half. Then it seemed like the frustration was going to start again to open the 2nd half. Javaris Crittenton turns the ball over 3 consecutive possesions and before you know it, we're tied again.

We traded buckets and leads until the key stretch in the game, starting at the 16:33 mark in the 2nd half. The Jackets were down by 45-43 and they went on a 14-0 run and never really looked back. The key to run was clearly defense. They forced UGAg to take some really tough inside shots - which they missed. Yes, the mutts had at least 2 wide open 3 pt shots in that run which they missed, but overall the defense was very good, very active and very effective. Also, the start of that run the Jackets utilized their full-court pressure. While it didn't result in turnovers it did get the mutts out of synch. I was impressed.

UGAg's team was 2nd in the nation in field goal percentage this season. Tonight they were held to a season low 38% overall and 33% from long range. To be fair, UGAg was missing their best player and their point guard. Don't we know how tough it is to play without one of those? The Jackets had 11 steals, which is solid and was a result of getting into passing lanes, getting their hands up and keeping their feet moving.

Mike Mercer had 9 points tonight - all from the free throw line. He was 0-9 from the floor. That's a nice night holding him in check.

Tonight was one of those nights that has the potential to sink in with some of these kids. It's the kind of night where a few have a chance to say - I GET IT - Coach is right, this defensive thing works.

The offense was fun to watch tonight. Javaris didn't have a great night, but he did a pretty good job with dribble penetration and dishing. Interior passing was pretty darn impressive all around. The guy that stood out in that regard was Mouhammad Faye. He did a nice job threading needles and finding guys open down low.

The Jackets had 13 assists on 21 buckets. However, the real eye-opener was 41 trips to the foul line............. and they hit 30 of them. Many of those trips were the result of really good interior passing - finding the open guy. UGAg just decided they didn't want any easy hoops.

The great disappearing act. Lewis Clinch started the game................. his first shot was an airball................ then he proceeded to commit 2 consecutive fouls................. then..................... we barely saw him again. He played a total of 7 minutes, went 0-1 and committed 2 fouls. That's it................ So, are the rumors true? Will he have to sit out some games after the new year? My gut says yes. Something's up. He wasn't himself tonight, and Coach Hewitt was more eager to give D'Andre Bell a chance to show his stuff at the 2- spot. Is it just that Coach Hewitt is living his message - play defense or else? If this is all to the story then I applaud Coach Hewitt. However, there's more to this story it seems, and I hope I'm wrong.

Thaddeus Young was everywhere tonight. He had a career high 24 points, and all but one 3pt shot were either dunks, lay-ups or putbacks. He was active with 24 pts (7-14, 1-3), 10 boards (4 off), 2 assists, 3 steals, 2 to's. He was very aggressive tonight, but didn't force things. Tonight you could see the promise in his game. This was not a quiet night for Thad.

Having said that, Coach Hewitt after the game said that Thad has only scratched the surface of his talent - that once he learns to move without the ball his game will go to a new level.

Have I mentioned that Mario West is our game-changer? He is just that

Nice overall game tonight. Not quite 40 total minutes of effort, but close. Defense was the difference and this was probably their best effort tonight considering the competition. Way to go team.