In watching and reviewing last night's game, I believe we were outcoached, outplayed, and outshot. The first two would not have mattered if we hadn't been beaten in the third area.
First things first, though. This year was an unbelievable sequel to last year's fiasco. This team did not peak in the pre-conference season. In fact they got better at the end until last night. I would never have believed that Coach Cal could have forged these talented young players into a cohesive, selfless team that COULD have gone the route. That they didn't diminishes to only a small degree what has been accomplished to resurrect the program and bring the Wildcats back to the top of the "relevance" pyramid. Except for the hated Dukies and Coach Tom Izzo's team, is there any probability that the teams that remain, and made headlines in the tourney, will stay at the top? Little, in my opinion.
Now, to the three Os. First, we were outcoached. I don't say that Coach Huggins is a better coach than Cal, but he was last night. The 1-3-1 kept UK out of its offensive rhythm and the adjustment in the second half to get his (and therefore our) bigs out from under their offensive basket made room for all those cuts, picks, and layups that they scored. A simple reminder that their ONE point guard was far less effective going right could have saved us at least 10 points. Overplaying a guard to his strong side is simple, but we failed to execute that last night.
It is important to note that hitting all those 3s in the first half enabled the drives in the second. I believe our staff, having adjusted to the barrage of outside shots in the first half, and seeing two early in the second half, was slow to get our guys to drop back inside where they could help on the cuts. Coach Huggins' move to a 50-60s style offense with cuts and picks to free drives and drop passes was enabled because the Wildcats were trying to stay so tight on the perimeter.
The Mountaineers very high FG% in the second half was because of so many layups, plain and simple. I don't know what Huggins said, but it probably went like this: "Whoever is being guarded by Cousins, Orton, or Patterson, get your butt as far away from the lane as you can on our end and pick for our dribblers." Whatever he said, this is what happened, and it worked.
We were outplayed. I do not doubt the heart or effort of the 09-10 Wildcats. In fact, they have been able to dig deep every time but three all year. It was an amazing record for a bunch of underclassmen, simply amazing. But, perhaps because of their extreme talent and their experience in AAU ball, some of our players simply do not possess certain skills that were considered basic in years past: pick and roll, defending the pick and roll, inside switches on deep cuts, and weak side help from anyone other than Patterson, Orton, and Cousins. For example, how many times in the second half did you see John Wall inside and not helping when another defender's man drove to the basket?
One area, of course, in which we definitely were not outplayed was in rebounding. That is, of course, an "effort" area and we did very well, but because of the third O, we were not able to take advantage of the extra possessions.
Finally, we were outshot. Now, that is kind of like saying that the sky is blue when it's not cloudy or dark. But what can be done about it? Aren't even the best shooting teams going to have cold nights? Of course. That is true, and, to a degree, that is what happened last night. I kept expecting to see a breakout string of threes, but all we came up with until the endgame was bricks. It can happen, and it now appears that our fears from earlier in the season were somewhat founded, despite some very good efforts along the way.
One area of shooting for which there is no excuse, however, is the free throws. Seventy-five percent free throws last night would have given us five more points and that would have affected the endgame play to a great degree. Because some of our poorer FT shooters did not change technique during the year, I would suggest that free throws do not occupy a high rung on the ladder of Coach Cal's priorities. Given his teams' results in NCAA games previously and last night, I would humbly suggest that that importance be elevated.
In my opinion, free throw shooting is 50% technique, 25% mental focus, and 25% confidence under pressure. Technique is the easy part, and yet I see a number of our players with bad FT shooting technique. Poor alignment, straight knees, low arc, poor wrist flex in the pre-release, etc. Want to see good technique? Look at some old tape of Kyle Macy. You don't have to wipe the hands on the socks, and you don't have to bend the knees so much in the pre-shot routine, but the rest of the moves Macy made were textbook. And those moves are no secret.
The mental focus and confidence under pressure can be trained into players during practice. There's nothing a player hates after a two-hour practice more than laps and/or wind sprints. Believe me, with your teammates on the lane and you on the line, there's "game" pressure to make FTs if the result of misses is sprints/laps. It worked for my unathletic high school team, and it will work for the infinitely more talented Wildcats. I just don't understand why Wall, Bledsoe, Liggins, etc can't shoot FTs better, and I don't understand why Demarcus Cousins continues to swing the ball into shooting position from the left side of his head. Is nobody on the staff looking?
Sorry for the venting. I let myself fill the glass too full, perhaps, with this team. The way we all "know" these kids made the emotional involvement inevitable, I suppose. What a fine group of young men. I haven't heard any really derogatory character-related information about any of them, and there are few teams that can say that, I would guess.
With the season over, I wish all these guys well. Mark Krebs can now deal with his mother's illness, Ramon can spend more time with his daughter, and the more talented guys on the team can deal with the life-changing decisions about when to make the jump to the next level in their basketball careers. Regardless of how they choose, they will always be Wildcats, and, for this old guy they will always be my second favorite squad, right behind the Runts. Godspeed guys.
Now, how many days is it till next season?