Lots of folks are going to want to find lots of faults in tonight’s loss to UCLA. And to be fair, there are points of concern that must be addressed. The team’s interior defense is still more than suspect and there still is a bit too much standing around and pounding of the dribble on offense for my taste. And if your predisposition is to take that tact and generally be upset about the loss, then that is fine. There are many places on the net where you can commiserate in pessimism. But I am going to look at the good that comes from this game, and I feel there is quite a bit:
First, the world met Derrick Jasper tonight and they need to get acquainted. Jasper showed all of the qualities that led my coaching friend to call him possibly the best college point guard in this class. He came in from the beginning and showed poise, defensive skill (by being tenacious and getting steals) and leadership far beyond his age. He made mistakes (remember that when the Cats were down two with two minutes to go, he made an entry pass to Morris that was picked off). But watching him is so exciting. The kid shows passion and an ability to lead, qualities you have got to have in your leader. Folks here know I am a big advocate of Jai Lucas. But Jasper showed tonight why a decision by him to go elsewhere is not the end of the world by any means.
Second, there is a lot positive to say about some of our grizzled veterans. Randolph Morris has developed on the offensive end as well as I could have imagined. His eight foot jump shot is consistent and is a reliable weapon that teams have to account for. I thought he had a very solid game. Same for Sheray Thomas who is cursed here more than most, but who played strong defense at the end of the game, keeping Bobby Perry on the bench and his man generally in check (although he got beat on the back screen as well….but not quite as much as Perry). And Joe Crawford, who too often pounded he ball a la Rajon Rondo, hit big shots down the stretch nevertheless and gave the Cats much needed scoring.
Third and maybe most importantly, the fact that this team came back after being down 17 is huge. The Cats were being embarrassed at the beginning and last year’s team would have quit……but this one didnt. This team never stopped with the intensity and the freshman, including Meeks and Porter, came in and brought much needed energy in the comeback. Folks this was the NUMBER 5 TEAM IN THE COUNTRY and the Cats were with them all the way down the stretch. A play here and a play there and we win…..that is a stark improvement over last year and cause for celebration.
Now lots of folks are ready to rant about Ramel Bradley….and yes he made a late turnover, and was inconsitent tonight. But folks that is what you get with Ramel. He is the team’s vocal leader and holds the key to motivation of maybe its most important player (Joe Crawford). He is the reason….almost solely….why this team has more chemistry than in year’s past. He will make mistakes, and tonight was one. But it was a mistake made out of excitement not lack of ability…..and thus it can be corrected. I am a huge SMOOTH supporter…..and this one will eat at him more than anyone. But he is the key to this team…..lose Ramel, you lose Joe, and you likely lose the team. He played well tonight…..just too many mistakes….over time, the good outways the bad for the Smooth.
Wednesday’s game is important. Memphis is a good team and this game will be remembered come tournament time. I hope the guys focus, because third place game or not, tomorrow’s game is important. Leaving this tournament 2-1 is a lot better than 1-2…..and that needs to happen.
All in all, I am relatively pleased. I liked the effort, the result was about what I expected and we took one of the best teams in the country down to the wire after a horrible start. Hopefully Wednesday will be even better.
For the comments, please no Tubby debates. Comment on the game and what happened, but Tubby rants will be deleted…..