Anatomy of a comeback: A tale of two halves

Sometimes, basketball is a really, really simple game.

In the first half of last night's game, the Cougars were bad. Really bad. Check out the four factors from the first 20 minutes:

Possessions: 33


WSU
USC
Efficiency 72.1
102.2
EFG% 37.5%
45.2%
OR% 18.8%
40.0%
TO% 24.0%
15.0%
FTRoff 25.0%
32.3%

On the game thread, one person said we were lucky to be down by 10, which certainly was one way to look at it. But I had a different take.

I thought USC was lucky to be up by 10.

Think about it: Was USC truly beating WSU in the first half? The Trojans' offensive effectiveness -- which wasn't even that great overall at 102.2 efficiency -- generally relied mostly on the Cougs own issues. USC scored eight points directly off turnovers (it seemed like more, didn't it?) and four points off of long rebounds that turned into transition baskets. Additionally, the Trojans scored seven more points as a direct result of offensive rebounds that went right back to the rim.

In other words, more than half of USC's 34 points were essentially a direct result of mistakes by their opponents.

Last night was seriously the poster child for the validity of the Four Factors -- in lieu of good shooting, getting offensive rebounds and forcing turnovers is a nice way to compensate. Granted, they were able to take advantage ... but let's not give them too much credit for converting opportunities handed to them on a silver platter. On their other 23 possessions, they scored 15 points -- .65 points per trip.

That confirmed what we already knew going in: That USC is not a great offensive team; the Trojans have struggled to score on most everyone. So even with all of our difficulties defending this year, it was pretty much inevitable that if we could clean up the turnovers and stop USC from getting easy transition buckets because of it, the Trojans probably would experience some long scoring droughts. As I said on the game thread, it really was only a matter of whether we'd be able to score when the opportunity came.

And after watching the Cougs for years do to opponents what USC was doing to us last night, that was hardly a foregone conclusion. After all, the Trojans came in as the No. 1 ranked team in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency. In short, this is the best defensive team we're going to see all season. Down 14 nearing the midway point of the second half, the odds certainly looked long.

But the Cougs were able to do it. How? Again, back to the four factors, this time side by side:

FIRST HALF       Poss: 33   SECOND            Poss: 32
WSU USC   WSU USC
Efficiency 72.1 102.2   Efficiency 136.5 82.5
EFG% 37.5% 45.2%   EFG% 64.0% 35.7%
OR% 18.8% 40.0%   OR% 46.2% 33.3%
TO% 24.0% 15.0%   TO% 9.5% 19.0%
FTRoff 25.0% 32.3%   FTRoff 44.0% 39.3%

Simple, isn't it? USC's offense wasn't all that different in the second half, if you figure the difference in the effective field goal percentage comes from the lack of easy fast-break buckets. (Also adding in a dose of spectacular interior defense from my unsung hero of the night, DeAngelo Casto.) It was our offense that make all the difference: Take care of the ball and get more shots on the rim; make a few more of those shots, and offensive rebound more of the ones that don't go in. Oh, and do what you do best -- attack the rim. That was pretty much the story.

For as complicated as people want to make it, sometimes basketball is just that simple. And the result was one of the more impressive things I've seen in college basketball -- anywhere -- this year.

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