There's really no other way to put it. There are different ways to look at the loss, though. From one side, we gave that thing away. USC came back over a span of seven minutes and barely had to make a field goal to do it. The Trojans wasted us at the line, with 31 total attempts to 10 attempts for WSU. Of course, this game highlights the importance of making free throws. The Cougars made all 10, while USC made only 19 of their attempts, good for a rather pathetic 61.3%.
Of course, this just emphasizes the fact that we HAVE TO start getting to the line in crunch time. That means - and I'm looking your way, Mr. Rochestie - that when you drive the lane you should be looking to initiate contact without getting snuffed out or committing an offensive foul. This is much easier said than done, obviously, but that's why Taylor Rochestie is out there and not me. Meanwhile, as much as I love Klay Thompson's game, the one thing he hasn't done well is put himself on the foul line. For a 100% career free throw shooter (18 for 18), Klay has a free throw rate of 10.1. For comparison's sake, DeAngelo Casto's free throw rate is 72.0. Baynes checks in at 53.7.
Ok, enough of that tanget. The other way to look at the loss is that USC should have blown us out of the water. After all, how many games do you win when you shoot 27.5% from the field? The saving grace for the Cougs was, believe it or not, three-point shooting, where we made a respectable 35.3%. But look at 2-point shooting percentage to see why we really lost this game: The Cougars were 8 of 34. USC was 12 of 33. Not great, but the Trojans only attempted 4 threes, making one. USC got the job done inside the arc, with four more makes and a 21 more free throw attempts.
What we saw yesterday were two teams attempting to deny everything inside and force the other to beat them from the perimeter. The problem is the Cougars gave up nearly everything inside in the final five minutes. Not buckets, mind you, but trips to the foul line, which are in many ways just as damaging.
The lineup I want to see
Tony finished this game the same way he did the Oregon State game - with what I call the "senior" lineup. Rochestie, Harmeling, Baynes, Forrest and Thompson. Thompson isn't a senior, but he sure as heck plays like one.
The problem with this lineup is that it's not a good lineup when it comes to getting to the foul line. Rochestie and Baynes are the only ones really capable of making it there consistently. Another issue is that if this lineup isn't making jump shots - which are the only source of Harmeling, Thompson and Forrest's offense - they aren't doing anything offensively. All you have to do is take Baynes out of the equation and hope Rochestie beats himself. Which is exactly what Tim Floyd did yesterday.
Rochestie has proven he can make plays down the stretch. There's no denying that, especially after the Oregon trip and the Stanford game. But he beat himself yesterday with turnovers and poor shot selection. It's just too bad USC actually made their free throws in crunch time. Because, if they had missed just two more of those shots from the charity stripe, then Taylor's three at the buzzer would've been for the win. Instead, we ended up with a close final score, 46-44. But close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
So who do I want to see starting at Arizona State on Thursday? Here you go:
This is a lineup capable of doing everything we need to do on offense. Sure, the burden of three-point shooting falls on Rochestie and Thompson, but with Capers in the lineup you can afford to move Taylor to the 2 on some possessions. Want the inside game? You have it with Casto and Baynes. Need to get to the line? Four of our five best players in terms of free throw rate are in that lineup. Rebounding? Casto and Baynes have you covered.
Defensively, it goes without saying what the advantage of this lineup is. You have Casto and Baynes underneath to swat things away. You have Capers, who as Jo-Jo pointed out in a wonderfully written fanpost, surrendered only 1 bucket in his time against UCLA. Rochestie has proven to be a very serviceable defender, only struggling off ball screens against Darren freaking Collison. Klay has been solid all season.
I think the problems Tony has with this lineup have to do with the fact that you only have two jump shooters (Rochestie, Thompson), and that it's a lineup at greater risk for turnovers. Right now, Caleb Forrest and Daven Harmeling lead this team in turnover rate (lack of turnovers, that is). In fact, through 1/18, Harmeling ranks 25th and Forrest ranks 28th nationally in turnover rate. That's really good - but as we saw last night, if the point guard turns it over it doesn't matter who else is on the floor.
And it's not like you have to play that lineup for 30 minutes. Just mix in healthy doses of Harmeling and Forrest. For reserves, you have Koprivica, Lodwick and Harthun. [Side note: please play Harthun, or invent a time machine to go back and not burn his redshirt. And while you're back in time, get Witherill his redshirt back, because that decision still makes zero sense] I would expect to see minute distribution like this:
Rochestie/Thompson - 35 minutes
Baynes - 30 minutes
Casto/Capers/Harmeling/Forrest - 20 minutes
Reserves - 5 minutes or less
The most variability would happen with those middle four, where Tony can go with the hot hand. Which in a lot of ways is what he's doing. Except, of course, for last night, when Harmeling and Forrest were definitely not hot shooting the ball.Of course hindsight is 20/20, and it's what we like to do here in the blogosphere.
The other thing that bothers me is that at the five minute mark of the second half, Tony stops rotating men and plays the same five guys until the buzzer. It's how we ended up playing the final minutes of the Stanford game with Rochestie/Thompson/Lodwick/Casto/Baynes. Actually I kinda like that lineup, save Lodwick, whose turnover rate makes him tough to play if he can't make a three or two.
Hope for the road trip
Looking ahead, we start out Thursday at Arizona State. Realistically we aren't winning that one. However, we've won the last two games in Tempe and seem to have ASU's number. So there's a possibility. There's also a good chance of knocking off Arizona on the road - they needed a miraculous comeback just to beat Houston at home yesterday.
Then there's the Bay Area the week after. Oregon State, in case you hadn't heard, swept there this weekend. That's not a typo. The Beavers beat Stanford by fifteen yesterday. I feel like I'm writing this in an alternate universe where Oregon State actually wins games and space and time don't exist.
Anyway, if Oregon State can sweep the Bay, so can we. Hey, we beat Cal on the road last year. And Stanford doesn't have the Lopez twins anymore, which makes me happy.
Cause for concern? Because Stanford lost to OSU, our three conference wins have come against teams with losing records in conference. Stanford (3-4), Oregon State (3-5) and Oregon (0-8). Speaking of Oregon, we are now accepting non-monetary bets on when Ernie Kent gets fired. My guess is right after the Ducks lose in the Pac-10 tournament At which point we will immediately hear Tony's name tossed out there as a possible replacement by Andy Katz, even though it makes absolutely no sense.