In the immediate aftermath of a loss like last night, it's tough to put into perspective what you just witnessed. But now that it's the next morning, let me make my case for what I think is being greatly overlooked:
That was one of the best games you're going to see all year, by any two teams, anywhere. It featured incredible stretches of fantastic offense and great defense by both teams, high drama and unexpected heroes.
Don't believe me that this was one exceptionally well-played college basketball game? Check out these numbers from kenpom.com (click here if you don't know what these stats mean):
Don't let anyone tell you that just because this wasn't a game in the 80s that it wasn't a great offensive game. People who appreciate good basketball appreciated what they saw last night. This game had just 49 posessions -- even at their slow down pace, the Cougs average 58.2, so this game was really slow -- but they were immensely efficient possessions, featuring good shooting, few turnovers, solid rebounding on both ends by both teams, and precious few fouls. And it's not like the great offense was because there was no defense; both teams had to work for their shots and made some amazing plays.
In short, the only way this game could have been better would be if we had won.
Other random thoughts from last night:
You should feel good about what we saw. There are so many more positives to take away from this game than negatives. A month ago, we would have folded up shop and gotten run off the floor, and we simply didn't quit. We stayed true to the Bennett system, realizing that you aren't going to get 10-15 points back quickly -- it's going to come over a long span of chipping away and chipping away.
As you saw above, this offense just scored 1.19 points per possession on the 47th best defense in the country. Things are really coming together. Now, whether they're coming together quickly enough to get us to the postseason is a matter for another time. For now, we just have to take Tony Bennett's approach and be content with the continued improvement.
Back to the final shot for a second. Another observer of the game pointed out to me that Capers probably was supposed to drive to the bucket, as the left side of the lane was more or less cleared out when he caught the ball, but the freshman kind of panicked. Makes sense, but I still don't like it.
First of all, Capers hasn't shown an ability to finish consistently around the basket, anyway. Plus, you've now put the ball in the hands of a guy who can't make a 3, which the other team knows, so now you've made it harder for him to drive. I maintain having Lodwick out there for a possible catch and shoot for the win -- with the strong possibility of an offensive rebound -- was the better choice.
But then again, if it had worked, or if Taylor Rochestie had seen Caleb Forrest under the basket, or if Dragovic hadn't been unconscious from 3, or if UCLA hadn't made any of a number of circus shots at the beginning or end of the game, we wouldn't even be talking about this. Such is life.
Can't say enough about what Forrest brought to the table last night. His offensive rating was an absurd 217.6 for a team that desperately needed a scoring lift. UCLA gambled that Forrest wouldn't be able to burn them -- get it, BURN ... FORREST FIRE ... get it? -- and they nearly paid dearly for it. I knock Forrest a lot for being a weak defensive rebounder (his DR% was still only 9.9 percent last night), but for a game, he was exactly what we needed.
Nikola Koprivica is a more or less useless basketball player at the moment. Watching him play is starting to become painful. He's clearly having a crisis of confidence where he's either thinking too much or not thinking enough. That 3 ball that Michael Roll sank over him was inexcusable. You've got to know who you're guarding better than that; Roll is not going to go by anyone, and if he is, he's certainly not getting to the rim.
To me, this exemplifies everything that Nik is doing wrong at the moment: He's just not making the right plays at the right times. He's a virtual black hole on offense, posting a 79.7 offensive rating -- meaning he's roughly 20 percent worse on offense player than the average Division I basketball player -- and his turnover percentage is sixth-highest in the conference. And his defense ... well, let's just say about the only compliment I can pay to him is that he's still a sound defensive rebounder.
What to do with him? Honestly, I don't think there's much else that can be done. Tony Bennett already has greatly reduced his minutes, and hasn't had him in at all down the stretch of the last four games. I imagine Tony is hoping that at some point the guy that we all know is in there starts to come back out, but I'm losing hope. His stretches of non-production are absolutely killing this team.
Personally, I'd like to see Harmeling get his minutes, although it certainly seems like the coaches have pigeonholed Harm into the 4 spot after last night. Forrest was giving them great offense, so there just wasn't a need to even get Daven in the game. Harmeling is a worse defensive rebounder -- at least in terms of going and getting the ball -- than Koprivica, but he'll do just about everything else better than Nik at this point.