Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Second Half of the First Half, Part 1

The Coors Event Center was loud.  The student section was impressive.  It was the kind of atmosphere that creates home court advantage.  Around the 8:45 mark of the first half, I vividly recall a moment that in my mind was the turning point of the game.  Solomon Hill had the ball at the top of the key, but offset to the right side.  Andre Roberson was guarding him.  Solomon prepared to drive the lane using his usual but effective technique, a couple of cross over dribbles.  He drove to his left, and near the free throw line, spun on his pivot foot as if preparing for a fadeaway.  Askia Booker reached in and poked the ball away.  So begun the fast break.  Nick Johnson and Angelo Chol positioned themselves in the key to stop Booker with the ball.  Neither saw Xavier Johnson streaking down the left side of the floor. Bounce pass.  Dunk.  The loud of the arena became LOUD.  It was a tough place to play.

The Cats hung in for a few more possessions, but about three minutes later, Xavier Johnson hit a three pointer to give Colorado a 23-20 lead, a lead which the Buffs never again relinquished.  At halftime, I spoke with a woman in front of me.  She said she went to every game, at least at McKale.  She and her husband, though, were traveling with the team to Boulder and Salt Lake City.  Despite a 20-3 record (the game wasn't over yet), she was pessimistic about this team.  "They never smile," she said, "They don't play like a team."  It's interesting how different people perceive the game. I have given some thought to that statement, and it seems to be mostly true, at least the smiling part.  I remember Nick Johnson grinning after accidentally banking in a couple of shots a few games back, but other than that, I recall non-smiling faces.  When teams are playing poorly, everyone inevitably looks for cause and effect.  What's broken, and how can we fix it?   Is it the starting lineup?  Is it the inexperience of the freshman?   Is it that Colorado played so well that no team could have beaten them?  Is it unhappiness in the locker room, as my nearby game watcher surmised?

Just compare the number of comments on the stories on the Daily Star after a win to the flood that comes in after a loss.  Everybody has an opinion.  Usually the "fire Miller," "bench Lyons," and "give York more time" guys come out after any loss.  I understand the need to seek explanation for poor play.  I seek it myself.  Just consider Colorado's three point shooting on Thursday night.  They shot the ball better from behind the arc than in front of it.  Was this because they were "hot" or because our defense was not good?  Was it just bad luck?  There is no easy answer to this. From my perspective at the game, it seemed like many contested three's went in, for whatever reason, especially at the end of the shot clock.

I am not going to tell you why the Cats have now dropped two straight because I don't know.  Rather, I am going to focus on one particular time of the game, the second half of the first half.  At the 10:00 mark, the Cats were leading 15-14.  At the end of the half, they were down 30-23.  If you think that poor play in minutes 10-20 is unusual, just check out what I wrote more than two months ago after the Clemson game.  This part of the game has been a problem area for a long time.  Here is how Arizona and their opponent's have shot per 10 minute segment for all of our games this year:

Notice that for every segment but one, we have shot the ball better than our foes.  The exception?  The first half of the second half.  Here's the same chart just for the Colorado game:

The most embarrassing thing about that graph is how Colorado shot the ball after the 10:00 mark, at or above 50% for each game segment.  But the second half of the first half again stands out as an area where there is a huge disparity in shooting.  If you are looking for a problem area in this team, it might be worthwhile to further examine this segment of the game because generally speaking, it looks like after the third or fourth TV timeout, the Cats have not been playing well.  Why?  I'm not sure, so I will crunch some numbers and see what I find.

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