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On guards, Gonzaga, and the casual Cougar fan

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With a day behind us, allow me to add my reflections to those of Nuss earlier.

Last night was a total shock. No, not the final score. I think all of us knew Gonzaga could run away with the game given their offensive prowess. I knew the Cougs would have to play a near-perfect game to have a shot at the victory.

What was a shock was how it happened. It took eight minutes to completely unravel a normally disciplined Cougar team. It happened after a first half where we happened to play nearly-perfect.

And what happened off the court was even more shocking. Let me step back - I was actually tired after the first half - it was one of the first times since I've been in the ZZU CRU where at least half the students in the lower bowl were jumping around on defense. I was physically drained and I thought, "we still have to do another half of this." Add that to the noise - which is always present - and you have a pretty formidable fan section. The Cameron Crazies would've been impressed.

But the arena had the life sucked out of it. It was like the balloon of energy that had been expanding gradually since the first fans set up tents 24 hours earlier was popped without warning. If the team had made their threes (they were 1 of 10 in the first half) we could have at least had a lead at the break and the initial run wouldn't have hurt. But as it was, the ball game was essentially over when the scoreboard read 41-31.

Cfred wrote a fanpost about the guards earlier, one that I think sparked an interesting argument. Are the guards too pass-happy, or are they not involving their teammates enough?

My feeling is this: Rochestie needs to pass more, and the other guards need to shoot more. Rochestie's team-high 11 attempts is more of an indication of him trying to take the game over than involving his teammates. Meanwhile, Klay Thompson and Nikola Koprivica had a fair amount of attempts last night, but could still have attempted more as we tried to come back in the second half. Actually, it was Aron Baynes that needed more looks in the end (3 for 3 on the night).

But that's not the biggest issue with the guards, in my opinion. My problem with the guards, most notably Rochestie and Thompson, is their lack of ability to draw contact when they drive to the basket. Remember the successful first half? Part of that half featured nine consecutive points by the Cougars, all from the foul line. Taylor Rochestie is a 95% free throw shooter. Thompson is 100% on the year (7 for 7). The single greatest thing these two players can do to help this offense down the road is get to the line. They have to be more willing to initiate contact in the lane.

Let's take a play out of the Mark Few playbook. One of Gonzaga's problems throughout the years has been a tendency to draw offensive fouls. But part of this is that the Zags are the agressors in the lane. If that means occasionally you pick up a cheap foul on a charge, that's OK. And by the way, how often have you seen the Cougars make an offensive foul that isn't away from the ball this year? Not often at all. Klay and Taylor can make a world of difference by driving the lane without fear of contact. Why throw up a runner when you can go for a lay-in and a potential foul shot?

Another benefit - if Taylor and Klay succeed, defenders will have to come out of the paint to try and stop them from driving to the hoop. That means more room for that extra pass to Baynes, or a kick out for an open jump shot. So let's get to the basket.

One more thing with the guards in general. They get it. Taylor said:

"I think we were pretty disrespectful to our coaching staff and kind of our system that was implemented to us because we didn't play with the right kind of juice and the right kind of poise and the right kind of soundness that we are taught every day at practice. And that's offensively and defensively. So we're down about that more than the score."

Now, they have to channel that frustration into a positive, in how they practice this week. I really think they can do that. You don't want to be Montana State right now.

Back to the Zags - the fact of the matter is we cannot field a lineup that can defend Heytvelt, Downs, Pargo and Daye at the same time. That's 6'11", 6'8", 6'10" and a 6'2" surefire NBA guard. And all of them are great shooters. Few made the mistake of having Heytvelt ride the pine for a large part of the first half with two fouls (as a part-time Zag follower, this is a common issue with Few). Once Heytvelt returned, the matchup problems came right back with him.

The Zags are really freaking good. I hope people realize this loss has as much to do with that as it does with our guys.

As for the fans - I have to say that I like both the low attendance and the high attendance games, albeit for completely different reasons.

The low attendance games are great because it's only the diehard fans in the lower rows of the ZZU CRU. They know the team, they know the players, and they could care less that we're playing Sacramento State, because they came to see WSU and not the opponent.

Meanwhile, the "big" games, like last night, have an energy unlike any other. Even at a reduced size of 3,800, the ZZU CRU is beyond huge. And loud. There's a sort-of party atmosphere; one that only gets amplified when there's a big shot or a huge block. Sure, a fair amount of the fans don't know who #44 is, and some of them just came out because they wanted to see the #5 Zags. Or UCLA. Or Arizona. You get the picture.

Casual fans are a necessity to a successful program, but they come with their flaws. Considering most "casual" fans have no idea this site exists, I can't really come out with a proclamation like "stop saving seats" or "stop leaving early". But I can bridge the gap by saying that at the very least, I'll take our casual fans over anyone else's most passionate fans. As long as they don't turn on our team, I'm all right with all the Cougar fans. Even the ones who can't pronounce Koprivica.

One last thing: Cougar commit Brock Motum, the 6'9" Aussie power forward, was at the game. As was our old power forward, Robbie Cowgill. Assistant Coach Ben Johnson joked to Motum that we could have used him in uniform last night. Actually, that might not have been a joke. Either way, I hope Motum takes more away from the first half experience than the second.