One of the trends I've noticed from obsessively following a sports team for the past seven years is that I tend to find positives in the losses (hey, at least so-and-so played well...) and find negatives in the wins. It's the weird counter-intuitive stuff that creeps in to your head after you've over-analyzed something for long enough. I can only imagine how crazy most head coaches must be, since they think about this stuff 24 hours a day, and their teams almost never put together a completely perfect game.
Tonight, this is probably the angriest I've felt after a win in a long, long time. The Cougars had a 27 point lead in the second half. 27 points! Then, Ken Bone's brain took the night off, essentially playing our second team (with a starter or two mixed in) for the next ten minutes and letting Idaho creep back in. Worse, a running offense became a completely halfcourt one; the equivalent of when a football team that passes like crazy but runs the ball on three straight plays because they are trying to run the clock out. That's something called 'playing not to lose', and it is horrible. More teams lose playing to avoid a loss than teams that actually play win the game (of course, when they do go for the win, like Belichick on 4th and 2 - and fail - they get plastered by the media, creating hoards of spineless coaches who continue to give up on what their team does best in the name of "just hanging on").
Like we saw in the Gonzaga game, we can no longer feel safe with a large lead like we did in the clock-controlling Bennett area. This team can blow leads in games if they lose their aggressiveness or defensive intensity. And while Idaho never seriously threatened, they cut a 27 point lead down to seven with a minute left (darn you, halfmullet!). I would love to believe that our seven point lead with a minute left is safe, but you'll have to excuse me for not: I was at the Stanford game in 2004.
I get that Idaho is a very good team, and realistically we are only 5-10 points better than them. Problem is we didn't play our best team for a good portion of the second half, and it turned a big blowout into a semi-close game. Was Bone trying to rest players? Probably. But if so, it didn't matter since the starters had to essentially play the entire final five minutes just trying to hang on. Play those guys earlier, and you don't get into that situation in the first place. Sacrificing a lead in the name of rest is never a good idea in my opinion. Charlie Enquist and Mike Harthun got a huge number of minutes during a stretch in the game where quite frankly they didn't deserve it. Give them 8-9 minutes with a comfortable lead late, not with ten or fifteen left to play. That's an eternity in college hoops.
On the other hand: wow. This was a big victory. For a moment, we dismantled a very good ball club eight miles away from their home. A 21-2 run blew it open, fueled by what we had been craving: more three-point shooting. And it wasn't just Klay: role players like Abe and Nik got into the act, and in the blink of an eye the Cougars had almost built a 30 point lead. Of course in several more blinks Idaho had nearly erased all the goodwill we had built, outscoring us by 20 until the final minute. That's not great, but then again we aren't a juggernaut, and we aren't going to bury a team like Idaho by 30 points. It was just nice to think for a second that we could have.
Anyway, it's a great win. It really is. We took down the Vandals in all four factors, defended the perimeter, protected the ball and hopefully made Mac Hopson wish he'd never have transferred.
But for goodness sakes, please finish the job. Earlier.
Player of the Game: DeAngelo Casto - A dominating night on the boards with 14 rebounds (5 offensive) and 13 points, all against a physical Vandal front line. Great night for D.
Unsung Hero: Klay Thompson - That has to be about as quiet a 25 point night as you'll ever see. A lot of it has to do with an inefficient night shooting (9 of 21) and three turnovers. However, he wins this award thanks to his nine boards and overall point production. I can't give this award to Reggie Moore every time.
It was over when... Reggie Moore hit two free throws to put the Cougars up nine with under a minute to play. It's just so sad it took that long to get to our "It was over when..." moment. Ugh.
Play of the Game: Abe's back to back threes! (Klay missed one in between, but whatever) They were huge in the context of our ridiculous 21-2 run. Downside: they were the only two shots he made and for some reason Bone still thinks Abe is good enough to start but not good enough to get more minutes than Koprivica.
Stat of the Game: I'm not usually into plus/minus, but tonight it was very telling of how this ball game played out. It also features a ridiculous spread from top to bottom. Hat tip to BigWood:
Like I said, we aren't as good a team out there when our best players are on the bench. Duh. Now, Kenneth, please play Abe Lodwick more. He's actually pretty good.
One final thought: ZZU CRU - it would have been nice if you had shown up for this game. I get that it's cold, but this was a rivalry game against a quality opponent. I could tell the Vandal fans understood that, but outside of a couple key stretches, most of our student section didn't. Yes, I'm calling you out, because you're better than that.