Washington’s flaws show clearly in loss at Texas A&M

Dec 12, 2010, 3:58 AM | Updated: Apr 5, 2011, 11:20 am

Washington lost to Texas A&M 63-62 in College Station TX on Saturday in a game that was as expected a close one. What made this a tough one for UW was that the Dawgs couldn’t seem to overcome it’s weaknesses, despite a great effort on the road.

The Huskies lack of a go-to-guy in crunch time and a complete big man were on full display for a national ESPN 2 broadcast. Also, coming out of halftime, UW has shown a tendency to not have anything to counter the halftime adjustments of their opposition.

In the key sequence of events in the game, UW had the ball with the Aggies up 63-62 and 37 seconds to play. Washington called a timeout and the Dawgs got an open C.J. Wilcox three. Wilcox, who didn’t have a great game but is still a great choice in that situation, missed with 12 seconds left on the game clock and nine seconds on the shot clock.

UW put together a good play to win the game and it didn’t work. They played the odds well and came up short. That’s not bad play, that’s just bad luck.

Thomas rolled the dice in the next sequence and this time he got lucky. After UW unsuccessfully tried to foul for five seconds, according to coach Lorenzo Romar after the game, Thomas got a miracle steal with five seconds to play. The obvious would have been an immediate foul to set up a three attempt to tie the game, but Thomas’ play made things even better.

But then Thomas made a very poor play by ignoring a wide open Darnell Gant after speeding up the court for the final shot. Thomas forced a three that was blocked with one second on the clock by Gant’s man, 6-foot-9 forward David Loubeau. Loubeau had rotated onto Thomas to stop his shot, leaving Gant wide open.

It was a very poor choice at the end of a sub par game by Thomas in which he committed six turnovers. He seems to have corrected his free throw shooting, this time going 8-for-8 for the game and going 11-15 in the last two. For some reason against Texas A&M he was turnover prone and when Loubeau rejected his shot that was worse than a turnover.

It was the key play with the game on the line, as UW was unable to get another shot off.

Delivering the ball to a wide open Wilcox should have meant that A&M was down two and the game was UW’s to lose, but as luck would have it that didn’t happen. Luck smiled UW’s way when Thomas got the steal to make up for Wilcox’s miss, but Thomas made a blunder (which had little to do with luck) by not giving up the open shot to the wide open Gant.

There is nothing more to say about this one other than Thomas made a play that a heady point guard would not make on the last shot. Maybe Thomas can be a shooting guard in the Pac-10, but for a career he will have to play like a point guard and that he did not do in the final seconds.

Thomas is too short to be that go-to-guy at the end of games. It is his role in the game of basketball to wear teams down with his relentless penetration, drawing foul after foul and racking up points throughout games at the line and whatever open jumpers he can muster in between the trees.

He then did a great job against A&M – as he always has other than for short spells this year – of making teams pay at the line. He did not do a good job in that last attempt, though he did do a good job of delivering the ball to Wilcox and did things that you just don’t see often by stealing the ball.

With Thomas, what you see if what you get and what you get is pretty good, but is pretty good enough for UW fans who want to see their team advance past the Sweet 16 and win another Pac-10 title? Is pretty good enough for Thomas to make it as far as the NBA?

I don’t think so. He is going to have to do better than that. He is going to have to come in after a tough six-turnover game and deliver that pass to Wilcox when a good team is giving him their best shot defensively. Then he is going to have be that awesome warrior that creates that steal and finally he is going to have to have the presence of mind to find Gant.

In the last moments of a game Thomas has be looking more carefully for someone else to take that shot. It is going to be contested by a guy taller than him, even if it is the other team’s 5-foot-10 guard. Thomas is only 5-foot-8.

He is not Brandon Roy or Quincy Pondexter, who can create a shot over players. If Thomas were a few inches taller he could do that with his world class ability to handle the ball. Sadly he is not and this is the crux of one of Washington’s biggest problems this year. Thomas is not a good choice to take the proverbial “last shot”.

It is good for him to have the ball in his hands as he can make smart plays, but this time he made the wrong play. He’s an exciting player that should break all of the school’s all-time scoring records. In that sequence he tried too hard to do something that he shouldn’t have done.

Thomas has the ability to be the go-to-guy when the game is on the line, but his height negates his viability in that role. When Pondexter shot into the teeth of Jajuan Johnson’s block in the last sequence against Purdue in the second round of the 2009 NCAA tournament he made a mistake to not pass to Gant, who was also open in almost the same way.

The difference is that most players in college are not going to be able to block Pondexter’s shot, with his 6-foot-6 frame and ability to elevate. Thomas needs to be thinking about passing first, then doing the magic that he does when he plays all out and does the impossible. That is what he has to do for UW to go further or even continue to stay at the top of a rebuilding Pac-10 and being pretty good is not enough.

Another player that some feel might be the “guy” on this year’s Dawgs is Justin Holiday. I’m not that convinced that he is that player, though not having his presence overall in the game because of foul trouble was a big problem for UW. With 3:52 to play Holiday got his fifth foul and was held to four points in a terrible game for the senior guard.

Holiday is tall and long enough to take “that” shot when there is 10 seconds or less and the game is on the line, but does not the ability to create it by himself like Roy or Pondexter before him. Holiday is one of the best defensive players -if not the best – in D-1 this year and has improved his overall game as much as anyone in the nation.

He is still not the guy that I have seen take the ball and create a score in the final seconds in big games against anyone. I feel that Terrence Ross or perhaps Scott Suggs could become that guy in time, but they are still works in progress and certainly didn’t seem the obvious choice for that role against A&M.

According to Percy Allen of The Seattle Times, “(Romar) hinted earlier in the week Wilcox may develop into a go-to guy late in games” and added that “Wilcox also took UW’s last (ill-fated airball) shot in the loss to Michigan State”. Wilcox may be too nervous at this point to fill that role for a while yet.

I think that Venoy Overton may actually be the best Husky now for the last shot, but his inconsistency and lack of size makes Overton less than a slam dunk in that role. Someone needs to be that “guy”, but also players like “that” are hard to come by.

So are well rounded big men, unless you are John Calipari, Ben Howland or Steve Lavin and the budget is there, but that’s a topic for another day. Though Washington has a great roster of talented players they really have neither a “go-to-guy” or a “well-rounded big man” at this point.

Washington’s front court is like the school yard game “rock-paper-scissors”. Aziz N’Diaye can rebound and is a big obstacle for teams to deal with in the middle defensively, but he is learning how to shoot and is a liability on the offensive end with his play at this time. He’s like the “rock” who can bust the “scissors”, but is not able to deal with the “paper”.

I can see why Coach Lorenzo Romar chose to barely play N’Diaye in the 2nd half, but compared to the alternative he may have made a mistake by benching Aziz. In the first half Aziz had 7 of UW’s 21 rebounds. Later though in the second half Aziz was not doing a great job of keeping his man off the glass.

That said, the other guys were doing worse so I would have rather seen N’Diaye a lot more. However, Aziz needs to focus hard on getting better in scoring the ball close in. His life should be all about free throws and shots in the key until he gives his game much more balance.

It makes sense to play N’Diaye early and Matthew Bryan-Amaning late, but neither Bryan-Amaning or Gant were great at boxing out. In the second half UW was pummeled on the offensive boards time after time. It didn’t make sense to not play N’Diaye more in the second half, but the point is that he is not able to help much offensively regardless and that is a problem.

Bryan-Amaning was able to hit his foul shots and had a few scores in the game, totaling eight points, while N’Diaye was 1-2 on gimmies, at least having the sense to not shoot anything else. That is not good, but it probably beats the alternative, which was giving up one offensive rebound after another, as Gant and Bryan-Amaning did.

Gant, who was only 1-3 from three and 1-7 from the field, can shoot better than that. Gant, like all three post players is an athletic presence that can block shots spectacularly. What he really needs to focus on is blocking out. He has solid work habits, so it is something that can be done in his career at Washington.

The problem is he did not do it in a very big game, nor did he in quite a few other big games. He needs to do it this year for UW to compete for a Pac-10 title and advance past or even to the Sweet 16. It is not enough for him to have greatly improved his shot that Thomas hasn’t improved enough to allow him to take.

If Gant had been able to use his D-1 level post size to block out, no miracle steal or Wilcox three would have been necessary either. When Bryan-Amaning and Gant were brought into UW in the fall of 2007, there was the hope that both would become an awesome front court tandem.

It may still happen this year, but not if they don’t keep guys off the offensive glass. Gant is like the “paper”. He can best the “rock” by bringing him out of the paint, but is not the “scissors” who can score inside against most players unless they are really good defenders or “rock” like.

Gant can shoot, but he can’t be depended on for easy baskets down low. At his size he should be able to do that. Instead it seems he’s always the one on the outside waiting for a kick out. Not a bad thing if someone else is manning the middle, but UW is short of bigs. Gant needs to become a greater force in the middle.

Is he intimidated? He shouldn’t be. He is plenty big enough, especially after a summer where he put on good solid muscle weight. He may not be big enough to be an NBA PF or C, but he is big enough physically to play the post in D-1 at a high level and he needs to for the sake of the team..

Bryan-Amaning is another story. Sometimes he really comes to play, but against A&M and in some other big games he has played tentatively. He looks great and plays with much confidence against smaller players, but against other well-rounded bigs (something he really should consistently perform like as a senior) he plays with less confidence.

He will often be seen flexing and chest pumping against lesser players, then hanging his head and losing focus, once someone on his level shows him up. He needs to overcome this weakness in his mental approach to the game. He is UW’s only low post scoring threat and he needs to be able to do it against everyone he faces with an equal level of confidence.

He also needs to continue to use his head and make the smart pass out of double teams. He should never take the ball up the court. Those skills that he has in transition need to be limited to something other than him leading the break. He has legit skills in that area, without question, but he should always give the ball to a guard unless it is a run out.

Bryan-Amaning can “scissor” though “paper” and score down low and has some real gifts with his back to the basket. He really needs to focus on rebounding, avoiding his problem areas, while keeping his confidence high. He is not like “paper” in that he cannot draw bigs out on the perimeter with his outside shooting skills.

He teased UW fans with a mid-range shot once last week against Portland though. It would be great to see him do more of that, but what UW really needs right now is tough guys that block out and he almost needs to focus on that as much as Gant.

Finally, there is one problem that seems to always come back to haunt the UW team in big games and that is half-time. When UW plays in big games, they have been able to mount solid comebacks to go ahead at the half. It happened in the Michigan State and A&M games and a fatal run after an in-game adjustment did them in right off the bat in the Kentucky game..

At halftime Tom Izzo and Mark Turgeon have come back with adjustments. MSU (12-5 run to bring an 8-point lead to one) and A+M (6-0 run to make a 3-point half-time lead into a 3-point deficit) put on runs early in the second half that allowed those teams to negate or surpass all of UW’s first half gains. In the Kentucky game after a 4-0 start in the first half, Calipai took a time-out, made an adjustment and Kentucky went on a 20-2 run, which basically made UW play catch-up for the rest of the game.

Why doesn’t Washington make adjustments to do the same to them at half-time to mitigate or even reverse that result? Why didn’t Romar figure out an adjustment to slow a Kentucky run before it gets out of control, like Calipari turned around a hot UW start with his adjustment?

Trying to offer my opinion as to what those adjustments is a completely different and complicated topic, even for my column, but this seems to be a trend.

Can UW do a better job of coming out of the half after they have led and doing something to take advantage of what they saw in the first half? Could they do a better job of making adjustments, or reacting to their better opponents successful adjustments more swiftly and efficiently?

If they continue to do what they do they will still be pretty good, but for the last time, not good enough.

Husky Huddle

In the latter stages of the first half UW was getting called for a lot of fouls. It was a game where TAMU played very hard and physical and the refs were letting it go. Finally the refs called a T because of woofing on a block shot of an Overton lay-in. Thomas made both technical foul shots and then Wilcox hit an open three to go up 32-29 at halftime.

It was unclear what was done or said to cause the technical, but it may have been an attempt on the part of the refs to send a message that the teams needed to put the physicality in check.

Washington then put on a 6-0 run to come within one point with 1:33 to play after Holiday was disqualified. Khris Middleton, one of A+M’s best shooters, missed an open three as UW’s gamble on a surprise zone worked out.

Washington missed a runner on the wing by Scott Suggs on the other end, but UW got a huge and sorely needed offensive rebound by Wilcox, leading to the sequence in the last 37-seconds.

The Aggies honored a fallen recruit Tobi Oyedeji before the game, according to a tweet from Coach Turgeon.

“Aggies, We are honoring Mike & Nikki Oyedeji by remembering Tobi before our game vs. UW tomorrow. Tip is 3:30, get there early.”

Tobi, who was a highly ranked PF prospect, would have been a freshman Aggie player at the game on Saturday had it not been for a fatal car wreck.

It was not surprise to a lot of people that A+M beat Washington, as the Aggies have now won 70 straight home games against non-conference opponents. Almost everyone picked the game as a close one.

Seth Davis of CNN/SI picked A+M, as did many others, but Ken Pomeroy’s magic computer picked UW 77-75. Either way, many analysts felt it would be a close game.

UW’s fine showing at home, post Maui against LBSU, Texas Tech and Portland inspired many a Husky fan to dream of Final Fours and to assume that another Pac-10 Championship was to be had. One unlikely believer was regular 710-ESPN radio guest Jim Moore, the “Go-to-guy” at the Seattle P-I for many years and a notorious Husky Hatin’ Coug.

Moore talked about UW in the championship game against Duke on Thursday on seattlepi.com.

“I’m guessing they (UW) win the rest of their non-conference games — the biggest test coming at Texas A&M on Saturday • and go 16-2 in Pac-10 play, losing at Arizona and Washington State. They’ll finish the regular season at 25-4 and win five more games in the NCAA Tournament before falling to Duke.”

I think that Jim should take the time to read my column above at least twice before he embarrasses himself in front of his Coug buddies again.

Sportspressnw.com is a fine new site run by Art Thiel and Steve Rudman, veteran Seattle sports columnists. Todd Dybas, who has also written for the Seattlepi.com and mynorthwest.com, also wrote a piece for sportspressnw that projects the Dawgs into the Elite-8 on Thursday.

I won’t be as hard on Dybas as I was on Moore, but it wouldn’t hurt him to read my column just once. Don’t get me wrong, I really respect both of these guys for what they do, but I have been saying that UW has these problems for a while now, both here and on “Talkin’ Hoops” and I hate to see people get their hopes up too high.

I hope that people here realize that I mean that in a good-humored way and am not saying these critical things about the Dawgs because I don’t wish that UW was great or something insane like that. I’m the biggest Husky Basketball homer there is and there’s nothing I can do about that, but I am capable of being objective at this point, believe it or not.

This week on “Talkin’ Hoops” we will be featuring former 1969-73 Husky forward and current coach of Seattle WA’s Cleveland High School Reggie Ball and 2011 UW signee Jernard Jarreau.

Holiday has started to get a number of glowing mentions on draftexpress.com and was being projected into the 2nd round of this June’s NBA draft.

Overton didn’t get a steal against A+M and still needs six steals to move past Bryant Boston into fourth place on UW’s all-time list.

Former Dawg Elston Turner spoke to the Morning News Tribune’s Don Ruiz about things in general on Thursday. Turner seemed to feel pretty good about his decision to transfer to Texas A+M. He was on the A+M bench at the game wearing a nice suit.

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