Don't let the internet heroes convince you they had anything to do with tonight's new-look 79-63 victory over UT-Chattanooga. While many of us have been whining, cajoling and outright screaming at the heavens for some shifting of roles and playing time recently, Tubby Smith -- defying folks like me who said he was inflexible -- decided to shuffle his lineup and his rotation and got the best all-around game of the season from his up-and-down crew.
Almost all the scoring came from four players, led by Ramel Bradley's 23 points. Bradley also had 6 boards, 5 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks and he canned 6 threes in the process. Bradley, freed up to play his more natural scoring guard position, looked like a different player, displaying confidence in his stroke and on the open floor.
Fellow juniors Randolph Morris (17 pts, 6 reb, 4 blk) and Joe Crawford (19 pts, 4 reb, 4 threes) were both outstanding as well, focusing on what they do well. Senior Bobby Perry also added 17 points and 7 rebounds, for good measure.
But the big change was the injection of freshman Derrick Jasper into the starting lineup and the ripple it created. SoB whipping boy Sheray Thomas went from 20+ minutes against UNC on Saturday to 9 tonight, and Jasper, while shaky at times on defense and with the ball, grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds to go along with six assists and three steals.
The rotation was thus changed as well, with freshman Michael Porter the first sub for Jasper and Jodie Meeks the scoring guard substitute. Jared Carter also provided some nice minutes, if not exquisite shooting.
The change really opens up the Cats offense, since Jasper's naturally a full-court player and Crawford, Perry and Bradley do much better with the catch-and-shoot or dribble and shoot than they ever do with the dribble weave.
When guys are making shots, it also spreads the floor for Morris, who was excellent at breaking the double-team Tuesday evening. He still didn't get enough shots in the second half, but on several occasions the big Cat drew the defenders and kicked it, it got rotated and the open three fell, something that has killed the Cats at times this year.
Turnovers were still a major problem, as the Cats tossed away 20 again, and the second and third units really struggled on offense, but the team in general was much improved and the maligned Wildcats defense held the team to 30% shooting and a -10 rebounding margin. Not bad.
Maybe us internet coaches can learn a thing or two from Tubby after all?