Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Live from Atlanta

The Recap: The MTAC crew stormed Atlanta for the Georgia Tech/Kansas tilt at Alexander Memorial Coliseum. The building is kind of cool. You come in at the top of the arena and walk down. I'd say it holds about 10,000. Until the second half, i'd say it was maybe 65% full. By game's end, it was close to 85% but the crowd was very loud. 26 NBA scouts were on hand to watch the game. We spotted such luminaries as Hawks GM Billy Knight, Former Tech star Dennis Scott, and former Jayhawk Jacque Vaughn. We also saw an unconfirmed Suge Knight.

We feasted on some BBQ pulled pork pregame and strapped it down to watch our boys for our annual non-conference road trip. The way things started, I thought it read like a KU blowout. Georgia Tech's lack of a real point man was evident from the first minute. Starter Matt Causey looked like a deer in headlights under the KU fullcourt pressure. Russell Robinson and Mario Chalmers were up to their usual tricks, causing turnovers from the start. Then came the foul trouble.

I'm never one to bitch about officiating, but the refs, Teddy Valentine in particular, were whistle happy all game long, on both sides. It seemed as though any time anyone went to the hole, they were fouled. Touch fouls were happening way too often. Darrell Arthur picked up two quick ticky tack fouls in the first five minutes (Jeff Graves style) and headed to the bench. Darnell Jackson too picked up two in the first half, forcing Bill Self to go to Sasha Kaun early and often. Sasha played a season high 26 minutes. Chalmers and Robinson also had two fouls at the half.

With all of that, Kansas still led at the half 36-29. Led by Robinson's deep shooting, Sherron Collins' penetrating, and Mario Chalmers and Brandon Rush's break away dunks and layups, the Jayhawks were in control. Rush's reverse cradle jam with 12 minutes to go put KU up 12. back and forth ensued, but with just over five minutes left, a Shady Arthur tip in put KU up 61-48. Georgia Tech seemed sunk when Collins hit a floater for a 63-52 lead with 3:32 left.

Then it was as if Bill Self called for Joe Borowski to close the game out (I gotta give credit to my brother for that line. Like so many games last year, turnovers and poor free throw shooting late suddenly turned this blowout into a game. Causey hit a three with 55 seconds left to cut the KU lead to 67-62. Chalmers missed a front end of a one and one. After two missed shots, Collins ended up with the ball falling out of bounds. He broke the cardinal rule, never save the ball under your own basket. Causey ended up with a layup and it was suddenly a one possession game.

I was stunned. Was this really happening? After all MTAC was in attendance. In the end, Collins sank two big free throws to put KU up three with nine seconds left. But showing their youth and their lack of a true point guard, Causey threw the ball right to Collins before they could even get a shot off. Collins raced to the other end for a layup and a KU five point victory. Robinson led the way with 17 points. Chalmers, Rush, and Collins all scored 11.

The Whup:

Sasha on the defensive. You all know I'm no fan of the big Russian, but with Shady and Darnell in foul trouble all night, he came through in a big way on the defensive end. He was by far the most physical big man on the floor. He made his only field goal attempt and shockingly buried 5-6 from the line to go with three blocked shots.

The Swarming Full Court Pressure. KU was at their best when they slapped on the full court pressure. Chalmers, Robinson, Collins, Rod Stewart and Rush swarmed the Yellow Jacket guards as much as they could. Foul trouble really stymied their efforts as the whistle brigade was in full effect. The hurried Tech offense forced a lot of bad shots in the post that were swatted by KU defenders who registered nine blocked shots. Rush had four, Kaun had three.

The go-to guy. When the game is on the line, KU has a lot of options. We learned tonight that the man who should take control is Sherron Collins. He is KU's best free throw shooter, best penetrator, and loves taking the big shot. While Chalmers likes the spotlight as well, he is prone to making a bad decision here or there. In the end, it was Collins who knocked down both freebees in a one point game with nine seconds left. It was Collins who stole the ball and layed it in to clinch the KU win. Interestingly, after his big jam with 12 minutes left, Brandon Rush didn't score another point.

Dunks. If you see the highlights, don't miss the tip jam by Chalmers and Rush's breakway reverse. There are some kind of athletes on this team.

The Weak beav

Closing it out shouldn't be this hard. I saw this way too many times this year and I don't like this disturbing trend. This game should have been an easy 20 point win. KU's talent was far superior and they held leads as high as 15 points. But for some reason, its almost as if they feel they can coast to wins and not close it out. A 12 point lead with less than four minutes left turned into a one point game with nine seconds left. They have got to play smarter down the stretch.

The Halfcourt offense. One of my boy Sean's pet peeves with Self is that he has never installed any sort of half court offense. Tech went into a half court trap in the second half and this turned into a problem after made baskets. KU only seemed to score off of Yellow Jacket turnovers or fast break opportunities. We saw it in the tournament against Southern Illinois and UCLA. The way to beat Kansas is force them to play a halfcourt game.

Worst game of the season for the man crush. I pumped him up on the blog today, I couldn't wait to see him live, but our boy Darnell Jackson played his worst game of the year. He fouled out with just four points, which he scored in the first five minutes. He only was able to play 21 minutes and grabbed just two boards. His foul trouble contributed to the Jayhawks being outrebounded 31-27 by a much smaller team.

Game Quotes (from

Bill Self on deciding to defend rather than foul on GT’s last possession: “We talked about it. I asked the guys what they wanted to do, and they said ‘Coach, lets defend ‘em.’ And then, with the small lineup and then missing the free throw and playing small, that was probably the percentage play in that situation. But they did not want to foul, they wanted to defend.”

Bill Self on Brandon Rush: “Defensively he was pretty good, offensively he wasn’t very good tonight. He was very passive, and it started on the first play of the game, loose ball halfway between he and (Jeremis) Smith, and Smith comes away with it. So I just felt like he played on his heels. He wasn’t aggressive at all tonight. Health-wise, he’s close, but emotionally and mentally, he’s got to trust it more.”

Bill Self on whether he got what he expected from Georgia Tech: “I expected it to be a close game. I didn’t expect it to go down to the wire when we were up 13 with about six minutes left, or 10 with five or whatever it was.”

Bill Self on Russell Robinson being the team’s sixth different leading scorer this year: “That’s who we are. We’re not going to have a guy who’s gonna make first team All-American or anything like that because his stats aren’t going to be that. For the most part, we didn’t show it tonight, but for the most part we’re a pretty good passing and unselfish group where different guys lead us in scoring. You can ask our guys, they get more hung up on guys scoring on them than they do on actually scoring points, which is a pretty good sign I think.”

Bill Self on his team executing late in road games: “You don’t coach free throws. You’ve got to step up and make your free throws late in the game, and certainly if we did that, then the other things aren’t magnified. So you don’t make your free throws, so now you throw it in under your basket, and now that’s a real bonehead play or whatever. So we’ve just got to tighten up a few things, because I’m a firm believer that you play well or your play poorly not based on whether the ball goes in the hole. So forget that we missed the free throws. How did we defend behind the free throws? And we made some bad plays with that.

Russell Robinson on his game, despite missing late free throws: “We won the game, so can’t complain. I’ve got to make those free throws, it’s no excuse, no doubt about that. Luckily I had Sherron come back and make up for me.”

Russell Robinson on the second half comeback by GT: “We beat an ACC team on the road, and the crowd got behind them. The main thing is stay aggressive late. The halfcourt press slowed us down, took us out of our rhythm, which left us being less aggressive offensively. We’ve just got to be more aggressive late.”

Russell Robinson on the team’s decision to defend rather than foul late: “I spoke up right away. He actually wanted to play defense, and I said ‘Hey, we need to guard ‘em.’ We can grind it out for nine seconds. We’re a good defensive team, we had a good defensive team out there, I just didn’t feel too confident trying to block out free throws and them getting a luck shot.”

Sherron Collins on the game’s final play: “I was just carrying out an assignment guarding him, and the ball came loose. I think him and Smith made a mistake who was going to get the ball. It was just there and I was gonna go get it.”

Mario Chalmers on what the team takes from two close road escapes in two tries this year: “We’ve been in this situation before, so we knew how to handle it. Sherron did a good job, Russ did a good job, we just did a good job of focusing in.”

Mario Chalmers on how to improve on executing late: “I would just say keep attacking the rim even if we got a big lead at the end. I think that’s how they got back in in the end, we started making turnovers because we weren't’ being as aggressive as we normally are, so I think that’s how they got back in the game.”

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