Bumped. GO BRUINS. - N
Frustrating. That was the word I kept coming back to last night. Frustrating. Another close game, one we had every opportunity to win, but just couldn't pull out. I'm not mad, and the loss wasn't devastating. But it was incredibly frustrating.
Credit to ASU
Nestor pointed this out already, but I think you have got to give a truck-load of credit to ASU. They came out ready to play, and stepped up huge in a big game. Glasser is not even close to Collison in talent, and he took his lumps late in the 1st half. But when all was said and done, Glasser was hitting a back-breaking shot and getting key assists. Pendergraph was also huge, rebounding and finishing. And Harden showed why, unfortunately for guys like Collison, he is the best player in the league. They were just better.
I also think Sendek deserves a lot of credit, and I think he might have got the best out of Howland last night. There is no question that Sendek had offensive and defensive schemes ready for us-and they worked. I'm not sure the open threes were so much poor defense, as they were the result of a concerted effort to definitively counter-attack the double team down low, and then efficiently pass to the open man. It was good offense.
ASU played well under the bright lights last night, and they are deserving of all the accolades. They were the better team. And unfortunately, given that we have now lost all of our big games and against the best teams, I am torn as to whether they might not be the better team outright. If it's us, we'll need to prove it at some point.
Big Games Against Top Teams
If there is one thing this year puts in perspective, it is the undeniably outstanding performances this team has delivered over the past three years in huge games against top teams. No, we haven't won them all (West Virginia x2, Florida x2), but it always seemed like we were going to get it done-there was just a sense of quiet confidence in late game situations, especially after Gonzaga 2006. See, e.g. (at USC, Afflalo dagger!; at ASU, Farmar runner; at Oregon, Love Delivers; California, Shipp Horse Shot; Western Kentucky, Keefe is awesome!, Texas A&M, Collison digs deep). It was easy to take those games (and others) for granted, and easy to assume that our late game magic would just continue indefinitely. Well, for now, it looks like the magic is waning ever so slightly. However, instead of crafting some sort of criticism of this team, I really think it just highlights the magic and incredibleness of the last three years.
It's not that we are wilting this year. No way. This team has played good games against Michigan, Texas, ASU x2, and against Washington. But, there is a difference between playing well, and pulling out a victory against the best teams. It takes a little something else, some kind of something which we haven't picked up this year. Not yet.
We have beaten the teams we are supposed to have beaten this year-and that is a sure sign of discipline and good coaching. But, when the lights have gone up in a Big Game Against a Top Team, we have been unable to win. Looking at the Pomeroy rankings, it is so very frustrating to see that all five losses were against Top Teams in Big Games. According to Pomeroy's rankings, Texas, ASU and Washington are the best teams we've played-and we know each of those was a big game for the Bruins, highly anticipated with a big audience. And I am also counting Michigan as a Big Game, because it was at MSG and was clearly an early season test that the entire country was looking at.
I don't mean to discredit our wins against USC x2, at WSU, and against ND. I think those were all nice wins which we played well to earn. They were good wins for us, and in a sense, each of those was a Big Game for us. But, for better or for worse, those teams just aren't quite as good as the other teams. I know, USC, WSU, and ND are each statistically better than Michigan according to Pomeroy. But, and partly for the purposes of this argument, I still think the Michigan game was relatively bigger at the time it was played, because of the New York scenery and early season expectations.
Our youth at key positions is a likely factor for some of these tough losses. I don't know. I, for one, have no idea where or why a team develops magic and pulls out these tough games. But we do have key seniors, it is undeniable, and I am a little surprised they have not been able to get it done against the best. That is not a criticism (I'm not sure we can expect to win any 50-50 game, which is what each of our big games probably was), but just something I've been thinking about.
We are a good team. However, I am utterly without a good reason for our inability to step up against the best this season. We have coaching, key seniors, and talent. The only thing I can come up with is that our previous good luck is trying to even out, and we have yet to put the correct ingredients into our potion. Maybe we should add a wildcat leg, or some husky fur to the mix-god knows we could use a little magic.
I don't think this team misses anything, so I'm sure they understand that they are now 0-5, or at least 0-4 (taking away Michigan), against the best the schedule had to offer up to this point. As I said before, this team is still very good, and beating teams we are supposed to beat is a huge accomplishment that most teams can't claim. Still, it will be easy for this team to hang its head after the ASU game. It is frustrating when you come up just short in these types of games, and given that the Bruins haven't played poorly in their losses, I'm sure they are wondering (at least in part) what else they have to do to get it done. I am. I could be wrong about where the team is mentally this morning, but I feel confident saying that, at the very least, we will need a little bit extra mental toughness today.
Arizona is a talented team, and as Nestor noted, they can easily win on Saturday. Indeed, I'd say this is a 50-50 game for us. Arizona is at home, and we are dealing with another close loss which, if we aren't mentally tough, has the ability to affect our pysche. I do think we are better than Arizona, but we will have to dig deep. Even though we've dominated them recently, I'll never be comfortable against them, particularly when we are playing in Tucson. That is a tough place to play. And while Arizona isn't highly ranked (and therefore can't get us over the big-game-win hump), it is still a huge game for our team right here right now. Not make or break, not season-defining. But just a big confidence game.
We have won all the games against teams we are supposed to beat because we are well coached and have very good players. It's going to take some more grit and mental toughness, but let's hope that trend continues.
Big games against Top teams sometimes are not just about effort and coaching. Sometimes, you need a little luck, or a little magic to get you started-and this team is due for both. So we got that going for us, which is nice!