Footnotes From the Road; The Huskies in Tempe

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You know, every time I go to see a game live, rather than watching on television, I always have mixed feelings about the experience. While I enjoy the opportunity to see the players up close and personal and to get a good view of the entire court to watch the movement of the players in space, I miss the certain things about the experience you get on television. You don’t get to see the replays, which means if something big happens, like Wroten’s monster dunk late in the 2nd half of the Arizona State game, that’s it until you get home. I noticed on the rare occassions ASU had a big play, they showed the replay. But, Wroten’s dunk? Nope. Also, anything remotely close, a foot on the sideline or a controversial call is not shown on the big screen. In addition, if your angle in the stands is not ideal and something big happpens, you often are left wondering exactly how it occurred. You are forced to ask fellow fans in the seats what happened. Lastly, there is no opportunity to take your eyes off the court, even for a second, or you might miss an important play. That being said, there are certain things you miss on television that you can only see live.

On Thursday night, I drove down from Flagstaff to Tempe to see the Huskies play Arizona State. While there were certainly some things that I could complain about in their grind it out 60-54 victory, there were also some glimpses into this team that you can only make in person that the television cameras do not show. These are glimpses that give me some reason for optimism.

Here are some notes I wrote down during the game of things that were not necessarily shown on TV:

1) First of all, for the 2nd straight year it appeared as though there was almost as much purple in the stands as red and gold.  There are lots of Washington natives and alums in Arizona and they were there in full support. Shortly after ASU had made a run and the 3000 or so gold-clad fans started making noise, Wroten had his big dunk and a sea of purple rose up and yelled in admiration.

2) I saw a lot of leadership by Abdul Gaddy at key moments in the game. Most people will focus on his stat line, particularly his impressive 39 minutes on the floor. But, there were some things that happened in the timeouts and breaks in the action that bodes well for his growing into this leadership role on this team.

One such moment occurred at the 10:23 minute mark of the 2nd half. After Austin Sefarian-Jenkins lost his defensive post position and then over-compensated with an unnecessary foul on the Sun Devil post player, Gaddy immediately ran over to ASJ to give him advice and instruction about how to hold his position in the post and deal with that situation. Gaddy was standing on the floor showing ASJ how to hold his arms and move his legs to avoid that foul. Gaddy was also active in the huddle and on the floor talking to his teammates.

3) Speaking of ASJ, it is quite obvious Lorenzo Romar trusts him much more than Kemp Jr. and Martin Bruenig right now. If the minutes played are not indicative enough, then Romar’s body language is a dead give-away. Bruenig sat way at the far end of the bench the entire game, even past Brendan Sherrer, with his warm ups on. He clearly looked like he knew there was no way he was playing in the game.

Kemp Jr. also sat unused throughout most of the game. At the 12:57 point of the first half, after some nice defensive plays, ASJ came running up the court trailing a fast break clearly gassed and gave a slight hand gesture to Romar that he needed a break. Romar immediately turned to Desmond Simmons without hestitation instead of Kemp.

Kemp Jr. eventually came in at the 4:04 mark of the 1st half. But, at the 2:33 mark, after just 90 seconds Kemp was owned by Bachynski on an inside move and a clearly frustrated Romar immediately turned to ASJ and told him to get back in there.

Amazingly, this huge looking tight end on the football team looks almost small out there on the basketball court. While he has more girth than many, his height puts him right in the middle of those on the floor. But, what I love about ASJ, and Romar clearly seems to as well, is that he doesn’t take a play off. He works hard to establish his post presence, is active fighting to defend 7-footers, and gives it his all on every play. Other than Wroten, ASJ was the difference maker in the game.

But, he is a freshman only in his second game and ASJ did make one big freshman mistake. With 49 seconds left, he was guarding ASU’s Jon Gilling, who had been hitting shots from long distance all night. ASJ was up on him tight when a Sun Devil post player slide in behind ASJ. While that ASU player was being trailed by Gant, ASJ backed up to cover him and left Gilling alone to drop in his 20th point of the night and cut the lead to four. At that stage in the game, up 7, you let the Sun Devils score the two-pointer inside instead of giving up the trey. But, he’ll learn. This was only his 2nd full game with the team. All-in-all, it’s nice to have a real inside presence to spell Aziz!

4) Clearly CJ Wilcox is not back and was very rusty. He didn’t seem to be looking for his shot and was a step behind on defense. But, I was really impressed that none of this mattered when it was crunch time. Romar alternated Wilcox and Simmons every possession in the final minutes of crunch time. He used Simmons on defense and Wilcox on offense. Despite CJ’s troubles during the game, his composure in shooting free throws was so smooth and he converted every one calmly.

5) As amazing as Tony Wroten was on his dunks and spectacular drives, I found myself impressed by Wroten for other reasons as well. He showed a great deal of composure and patience on offense. There were several times when defenders gave him space beyond the arc and he could have hucked up a quick 3-pointer. But, instead you could really see him surveying the court, watching how everyone was moving on offense and defense, and then waiting for his lanes to open up to attack inside. Wroten was active on the glass and really using his height to his advantage inside. There were even several times where he got into post-position.

6) I saw Romar preaching patience to the entire team on offense as well. A couple of times he pointed up to the shot clock after some quick shots informing them to take their time and look for their opportunities rather than just hucking up the first 3-point attempt that became available. While I don’t know the stats, I’d guess the Huskies had amongst the fewest 3-point attempts they’ve had this season.

While the Huskies did not play a spectacular game, they did what they needed to do on the road. Grind it out when the shots aren’t falling. Play smart, play patient, and play hard defense. Arizona State is not a very good team. The talent advantage of the Huskies really began to take its toll in the 2nd half. While the Huskies let the Sun Devils get close enough to make it interesting late through a combination of freshmen mistakes and some poorly defended fouls, overall I saw effort from the Huskies. They cared about winning this game. They showed composure in finishing off the game.

The Huskies are 13-7 and 6-2 in the Pac-12 right now, which is good enough for a 1st place tie. They have the talent and abilities to go on a run and challenge for the Pac-12 title. But, they will need to bring this effort every game and grind more out when the shots aren’t dropping or the opponent plays a difficult to crack zone like the Sun Devils did.