Friday, December 29, 2006

CU 68, Valpo 43; CU 80, Houston 72; CU 60, Hawai'i 76

Mele Kalikimaka

It wasn’t quite Christmas, but it was Christmas Break, and the Bluejays left Fresno after arguably their worst performance of the year and touched down amongst the palm trees and island breezes to take part in the Rainbow Classic. Dana Altman’s team was guaranteed three games in three days against the likes of Valparaiso, Houston, Charlotte, Nebraska, San Francisco, and host team Hawai’i.

Signs of Christmas were plentiful during the three broadcasts beamed back to the Omaha area on Cox Cable, including a television announcer who looks like Santa Claus, Nate Funk and Dane Watts dropping stocking stuffers left and right on opposing defenses, and a second half lump of coal in the tournament championship game.

Creighton 68, Valparaiso 43

The tournament started slowly for the Jays, as yet again they failed to crack the 40% shooting mark in the first half of the first round game against Homer Drew’s Valparaiso Crusaders. In fact, Valpo shot over 40% in the first half while the Jays continued to misfire from the field, including a 1-8 effort from three-point range. However, Creighton made a concentrated effort to work the ball down low, which resulted in 12 free throw opportunities to Valpo’s zero foul shots.

The Jays made 8-12 from the charity stripe, which resulted in taking a 7-point halftime lead into the locker room.

The rest of the game can be summed up with four words: “Nate,” “Funk,” “Pressure,” and “Defense.”

After halftime, the Jays forced 4 Valpo turnovers and 4 Valpo missed shots, while Creighton made 6 of their first 8 shots and moved to an 18-point lead with just under 16 minutes to play.

It was a flash of offensive prowess and defensive intensity rarely seen by this team so far this season, and it was sparked by quick hands and steals by Anthony Tolliver, Josh Dotzler, and Funk.

Oh, and Funk scored 20 of his game-high 22 points in the second half, including a ridiculous near-half court bomb with the shot clock winding down. Funk finished the second half 8-10 from the field and 4-5 from long range for 20 points in 14 minutes, and he paced a team that shot 59% in the second half, including 50% from three-point range.

There was little Valpo could do, and it showed exactly what could happen if this Jays team could play on the same page for the majority of 40 minutes of action. Creighton forced 19 turnovers while only committing 9 themselves, and recorded 14 assists.

And with that, the Jays moved along in the winners bracket to take on a Houston team that had the entire wrath of a conference breathing fire at them.

Creighton 80, Houston 72

Whether it is correct or not, Tom Penders and his Houston Cougars basketball squad has become a lightning rod of criticism for Missouri Valley Conference basketball fans specifically and mid-major basketball fans in general. Toward the end of last season, when his Cougars were passed up by numerous Valley teams for NCAA tournament at-large births, Penders had this to say in the Washington Post.

“Penders praised the Valley as a conference but added that it does not include a
team he would be afraid to play on a neutral court. "What is RPI, garbage in and
garbage out?" Penders said, speaking in general about the formula. "How do you
build RPI, go out and play no one? If it's just a computer thing this year, I
was born in 1945, I don't know much about computers. . . . The committee will
dictate what guys do the next few years. If teams are rewarded for playing no
one in the computers, then we should all do that."

It was also said by Mr. Penders that a Valley team couldn’t break his team’s half-court press, a crazy statement made to look tame only by the incessant ramblings of Maryland Terrapin head coach Gary Williams.

But despite countless rumored phone calls from the Little General, Barry Hinson, neither Maryland nor Houston scheduled MVC schools this year, and so it was up to Creighton to stick it to Penders on behalf of the conference brethren.

Trouble is, Houston’s roster looked extremely similar to the Fresno State Bulldogs, a team that shot 30 three-pointers and made 13, burying the Jays in California right before the team left for sunny Hawaii. Houston came into the Rainbow Classic semifinal as one of the flashiest offensive teams in the country, both in scoring potency and the ability to shoot (and make, on occasion) the three-point shot.

And shoot from long range they did; 19 three-pointers, in fact, making 6 of them en route to a 2-point halftime lead over the Jays. Creighton stayed in the game behind the hot strokes of Dane Watts (11 points) and Isacc Miles (10 points), and the team made 6 of its 10 three-point attempts in the first frame.

Little did Bluejay fans on the Island and back in The Big O know that Watts was just getting started, and that it would mark the junior forward’s greatest performance in the White and Blue. Watts connected for 10 more second-half points, finishing with 21 points, 10 rebounds, 4 rebounds, and just 1 turnover in 30 minutes of play.

And little did Jays fans know that Miles, the strong but still-learning freshman guard, would put up 16 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 steals in 23 minutes of play.

And little did Tom Penders know that not only could the Jays break his team’s press, but that Creighton could stifle Houston into shooting less than 40% for the game and just 30% from the three-point arc.

The most interesting part of the entire evening — it didn’t look like Penders called an offensive play the entire game. His players literally ran the ball up the court and immediately shot a perimeter jump shot. Sometimes they were covered. Sometimes they were open. Almost all the time it was a quick, ill-advised three-pointer. And before he knew it, his team was headed for the consolation bracket.

And the RPI had nothing to do with it.

Hawai’i 76, Creighton 60

Call it running out of gas or running into the hot hand, or call it anything but pretty. The second half effort against the host Rainbow Warriors on the eve of Christmas Eve left much to be desired, and the tournament that started out on such a high note for a Jays team looking sorely for some bright spots ended with a thud.

All you need to know about the Rainbow Warriors are the names Ahmet Gueye and Matt Lojeski. Gueye had the game of his life, scoring 19 points and grabbing 8 rebounds while outplaying his counterpart Tolliver for the majority of the game. Lojeski was simply unstoppable — 12 of 15 from the field, including 5-6 from long range, for a game-, tournament-, and career-high 33 points and Rainbow Classic Most Outstanding Player honors.

The Jays and Warriors played virtually even in the first half, but then Creighton’s offensive woes crawled out of their luggage and jumped back on to the court. The Jays shot 28% in the second half while allowing Hawai’i to shoot 57%, and they were outscored 45-30 in the second frame to gather runner-up accolades at the holiday tournament.

Funk had another solid outing, going for 25 points on 8-19 shooting, but he made just 1 of 5 three-point shots and couldn’t hit some buckets with the Jays still in the ballgame late into the second half.

Creighton suffered some of the same frustrating trips on offense that they experienced in the losses at Nebraska, Dayton, and Fresno State, with Altman unable to get clutch baskets from his perimeter players when he needed them most.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Creighton 73, #24 Xavier 67; Fresno St. 69, Creighton 54

How does it go? “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”?

That pretty much sums up the past couple of weeks for the Creighton Bluejays.

(Sidebar: You might be asking yourself, “Geez, where has this guy been? It’s been like two weeks since Creighton and Xavier played.” Well, I have an excuse — it’s called vacation. And, as for the Fresno Fiasco, as everyone knows I hate writing about losses.)

When I last checked in with you, my cousin was in town for the big weekend showdown against the Xavier Musketeers. He lives in Austin and attended the University of Texas, so he is no stranger to how good Xavier has been in the past (see: Xavier defeating Texas to reach the Elite Eight in 2004). And while this year’s X team might not be in the same category (yet), Xavier has come to embody what a quality basketball program at a Jesuit institution should look like.

But Creighton knows a thing or two about that, too, and everything that is right with the Bluejay basketball program was in full on display in a crucial win at The Phone Booth against the Musketeers. The largest crowd to see a basketball game in the state of Nebraska (ever) packed into the newly expanded Qwest Center, and the atmosphere was electric.

I turned to my cousin during a decisive second-half defensive stand and simply said, “This is how it is supposed to be.” Led by our three rows of Phone Booth Phanatics who sit in front of section 123, our entire area — check that, the entire arena — stood with every defensive stand from the 6 minute mark on. The crowd noise was blistering at times, as it matched Creighton’s defensive intensity in the first half. The Jays held Xavier to just 29% shooting in the first stanza, and took an 8-point lead into the locker room.

And even though Xavier fought back in the second half behind 52% shooting, the Jays did what they had to do; they hit some big shots (none bigger than Nate Funk’s NBA-range three-pointer with the shot clock expiring) and drew fouls (they shot 21 free-throws in the second half, more than X shot for the entire game). Balance was the name of the game, as Dana Altman’s substitutions seemingly paid off every time he went to the bench. Anthony Tolliver (17 points) and Funk (15 points) led the way in the scoring column, but Isacc Miles (9 points), Dane Watts (8 points and 10 rebounds), Nick Porter (7 points), Josh Dotzler (7 points), Nick Bahe (5 points), Ty Morrison (3 points), and Manny Gakou (2 points) all tallied points.

For one Saturday night, all was right for a Creighton team that has struggled out of the gate in almost every game and failed to live up to lofty preseason expectations heaped on them by, well, almost everyone who pays attention to Creighton basketball.

And then, a week later, it all came crashing down.

The above review of the Xavier game is a little tame, considering how exciting the game was and how, at the time, it seemed to destroy some of the badmouthing and depression among fans and pundits about this Jays team.

Had I wrote it immediately in the days following the game, I could have painted beautiful imagery of Morrison’s steal and spinning, fade-away baseline jump shot during a critical point of the game. I could have found illustrative ways to describe the rabid crowd, a group that seems to almost feel cheated by the fact that the Jays have yet to play a complete game so far this season. The Xavier win was the closest they’ve come to it all year, and it was because the effort (especially on the defensive end) was there from the opening tip to when the lights shut down over the First National Bank of Omaha Court.

But, I was in Las Vegas. So, the only imagery I was concerned with was the bright lights and copious amounts of excess one can only experience on Las Vegas Boulevard.

And all things were right in the world. A big win for the Jays to send me out of town on a positive note, sunny weather surrounded by endless sources of entertainment, and even a lucky strike on my first slot machine of the trip. The week was just what I needed.

And, what’s more, we’d get back to Omaha just in time to drive home from the airport and hit up a Christmas party with fellow Jays fans that was planned around watching Creighton’s visit to Fresno State.

And, after two hours of some of the most frustrating basketball I’ve witnessed in awhile, I was seemingly in the same mood as I was following the Dayton Disaster. Where to begin?

Another horrible start to a game offensively (27% shooting in the first half). Wide-open looks from long range for the Bulldogs, who made the Jays pay (8-19 from three-point range in the first half). Numerous Creighton shots blocked or altered in the lane, which kept the Jays from attacking the paint in the post offense for the majority of the evening (Fresno recorded 10 blocked shots).

All of this, and just like in the Nebraska and Dayton losses, Creighton was still in the contest midway through the second half.

It is becoming a torturous cycle of events for this year’s team: Get out to an early deficit, partially because of poor shooting and partially because of big shots falling for the opponent, go on a run right before half to get some momentum back, hit some big shots to open the second frame and get right back in the ball game, and then continue to misfire from the field and turn the ball over down the stretch as the home team capitalizes and records Creighton as a win in their record books.

The Jays tried, but their effort against Fresno didn’t seem to match the intensity of either the Xavier game or Altman’s ranting and raving on the Jays bench during timeouts. They continued their errant shooting — just 31% for the game, including 17% from three-point range (with a big, fat 0% in the second half) — while the Bulldogs hit big three-pointer after big three-pointer (43% on the game, with 13 total makes from beyond the arc).
Rebounding was even, and Fresno turned the ball over more than the Jays, but when it came down to it, the Bulldogs hit big shots, Creighton couldn’t, and the Jays looked to be in slow motion during all of it.
Back to Dickens

Could things be better for the Jays right now? Yes. Could things be worse for the Jays? Yes. They’re spending the week in Hawai’i, so that’s a start. They’re guaranteed three games in three days in the Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic, which includes no doubt some time to sit on the beach and relax. News of players-only meetings and renewed vigor at practices this week give hope for Jays fans, but the attitude amongst die-hards surrounding this team is noticeably different (and depressed) from initial feelings from before the season started.

Fans of every ilk need to realize, however, that this team is a couple of made shots away from being 5-2 or 6-1 or 7-0. Have they played below their potential so far through one-quarter of their season? Yes. Are there still a lot of big games they can win? Yes. Are they picking a horrible year to struggle, with the Missouri Valley Conference about as deep as it has ever been in recent memory? Yes. Are fans getting tired of asking these and other questions? Um, yes.

The Xavier game was a taste of what fans expected from this team. And while maybe fans’ expectations were a little high, I think the players would be the first ones to tell you that their final goals and expectations for the season are still intact.

As Tolliver and Funk and others have said all year, they want to be playing their best basketball at the end of the season. And while that’s still certainly attainable (largely due to the fact that they haven’t played great for any sustainable period so far this season), they need to play better now, so that any run they make in February or early March isn’t halted by random selection committees due to inefficiencies suffered in November and December.

Maybe a trip to a warmer climate is just what this team needs. My trip worked out OK; I came back to Omaha a little richer in the pocket and in the soul than I was before I left. Maybe Creighton’s trip will work out similarly; 3-0 and some good effort, anyone?

At this point, it almost needs to.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Dayton 60, Creighton 54

I have a cousin coming into Omaha this weekend, and he’s going to the Xavier game with the Section 123 crew. I’ve been mulling over how to answer his inevitable question: “what’s happened to the Jays?” College basketball fans who fall between the team-based fanatic level and the casual, only-tune-in-for-March-and-The-Big-Dance level couldn’t read any preseason magazine or Web site without being hit over the head with mentions of “mid-major success” generally, the Missouri Valley Conference specifically, and teams like Creighton and Southern Illinois and Wichita State more specifically. My cousin is no exception.

Well, the Valley is holding true to form. Of last season’s 50 starters — a year that was arguably the Valley’s brightest in recent seasons — 38 returned to the 10 MVC schools. That experience and quality depth shows; before the weekend, The Valley was in the top five conferences according to many calculations and projections of the Ratings Percentage Index. Granted, it is still early, but teams like the Salukis and the now-top-10 Shockers have some quality wins and are the current torchbearers for mid-majors across the country.

But that was supposed to be us. At least, that’s what Bluejay Nation, the Phone Booth Phaithful, the local media, the regional media, and the national media though. Heck, it’s even what the coaches thought — the Jays were in both the Associate Press and Coaches preseason polls. Were they wrong? Not entirely, I still think. Is this team making them look wrong? Um, yeah.

So when my cousin asks me, “What’s going on with these guys”, it will be hard to answer. I mean, our only two losses are on the road to decent teams in front of packed houses in games where we were within one or two possessions as late as the 4 minute mark. But yet it seems like we’re a world away from being Dance-caliber. When I finally stop flashing back to the painful first half against Dayton and muster up an answer, I’ll probably explain a combination of a few things, including:

  • We’re just standing around. The offense looks completely out of synch, no matter who is out on the floor. Altman’s starting lineup was different again on Wednesday, as Nick Porter took back his starting off-guard spot after returning from a minor knee injury. But Porter was just as guilty as anyone for the stagnant offense, as his knee problems have taken an obvious toll on his speed and agility. His inability to score or draw the foul on two breakaways coming from steals gave away scoring opportunities on the fast break, and he once again proved he is not a viable scoring threat from the outside.

    As Dana Altman said after the game, they seemed to be standing straight up and down on the court, with no one poised to make an aggressive move and make their own offense. Nate Funk is struggling with health issues, but he again was really the only consistent threat to penetrate with the dribble. However, his energy seemed a little off, his outside shots were short (1-7 from three-point range), and he finished with 15 points on 5-14 shooting from the field and 4-5 from the free-throw line.

  • The Jays half-court defense continues to get lost, while the offense isn’t exactly finding gapping wholes in opponents’ defenses, either. Against teams with talented, athletic players who love to fly up and down the court, I have no problem with the coaching staff asking our guys to slow things down, run some time off the shot clock, and create a good shot within the set offense. I do have a problem, however, when our guys can’t run the offensive sets without looking confused or slow. And then, on the other end, even after the Jays keep the other team from getting out in transition, Creighton is still getting caught on picks or three or four steps too late recovering from screens.

    Whether it is knowledge of the offense, experience running it with all of last year’s missing pieces in place (Funk, Josh Dotzler, newcomers Isacc Miles and Ty Morrison), or communication breakdowns, the switching on defense and timely passing on offense need to get better if the Jays are going to play their usual half-court system.

  • We’re simply not hitting shots, regardless of whether they’re contested or wide open. Creighton finished the Dayton game shooting 37%, which is the fourth time in five regular season games they’ve been held under 40% shooting for an entire 40 minutes. Typically, the first halves are worse than the second stanzas, but they Jays have shot above 50% for a game only once — an even 50% in a win against George Mason.

But I’ll also try to convince my cousin just how close their losses have been, regardless of all these stats and stumbling offensive sets. Funk kept the Jays in the Nebraska loss, and Anthony Tolliver did the same against Dayton (13 points, 13 rebounds in 34 minutes), but the Jays couldn’t get the one or two buckets or big stops they needed to complete the momentum shifts in the second halves of both of those contests.

I’ll tell him that this team’s goal was to be playing its best basketball at the end of the season, and that there really is nowhere to go but up. It starts with Xavier, whose name would look good in Creighton’s “Good Wins” column come March. A difficult game, no doubt, but one the Jays can win at home.

At least that’s what I told my cousin to get him up here from Texas in mid-December.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Creighton 74, Arkansas-Pine Bluff 39

How'd They Even Get 39?

It wasn’t even that close.

Seriously, this was one of the ugliest games of basketball I’ve seen played outside of the Saturday morning intramurals league at St. Pius X/St. Leo grade school in the mid 1990s (Go Panthers!). As my dedicated buddy, and fellow resident of section 123, Panon said, “I kinda felt bad cheering for the Jays in the second half, because Arkansas-Pine Bluff was so bad.”

Apparently a couple thousand people felt the same way as Panon, because that’s how many people started leaving the seventh-largest paid crowd in Creighton basketball history with more than 5 minutes to play in the game. I haven’t seen a mass exodus like this since all the paparazzi left Italy after the Tom-Kat wedding.

People had good enough reason to leave, I guess. I, for one, would never leave a game early, but I’m obsessed so what do I know. No snow was imminent, although we wouldn’t have known it because Jays games no longer feature Bill Randby’s post-game forecast on the Qwest Center Jumbotrons, one of the original in-game promotions since The Phone Booth’s inception.

But it was frigid — both outside in the late November wind and inside on the court. The Golden Lions suffered one of the worst offensive outputs in Creighton basketball history, scoring a Qwest Center-low 39 total points and shooting 24% for the game. Creighton started the second half on a 19-0 run; a development that was at the same time both exciting (as a Jays fan) and excruciating (as a basketball fan).

(Side note: I think a real pack of Golden Lions probably could have shot more accurately than Arkansas-Pine Bluff. I felt bad for them. They flat-out struggled. Then again, this teaches a lesson to everyone who sits at the Qwest and says things like, “man, I could have done that”; you probably are not even good enough to play on a team like Arkansas-Pine Bluff. So don’t complain.)

There are no creative puns or flashy imagery to gussie up this review of the game; Creighton looked pedestrian in the first half, as they also struggled through yet another half of sub-par offensive execution. But the second half showcased some of the defensive pressure and overall hustle and effort that most expect from this team. Everyone who donned a jersey for the game saw action, which calls for the season’s first delve into the statistics.

Inside the Box Score

Starting Lineup:

A new look in the starting lineup, one that I hope stays in place through the end of March. Isacc Miles started for the second time in his short Bluejay career (at the off guard), joining quickly-healing Josh Dotzler (running the point) and Nate Funk (battling a cold) in the backcourt. Anthony Tolliver secured the post and led the team with 17 points and 11 rebounds (his sixth career double-double), doing so with some great low post and mid-range moves and a flurry of impressive caroms. Dane Watts, last game’s hero, struggled through another performance (4 points on 2-4 shooting, including 0-2 from three-point range and 0-2 from the free throw stripe; 4 rebounds, 4 personal fouls, and 4 turnovers), although not because of a lack of effort.

Telling stat: Miles and Dotzler combined for 12 assists and just 2 turnovers in 34 minutes of game action. That is exactly the production needed from Creighton’s point guard position. Miles took more shots than he had in his previous games (3-10 from the field; 2-7 from long range), but he has a great shot and he looks confident in every aspect of his game — whether he’s breaking pressure in the backcourt, trying to feed the high post, or spotting up for a shot. Dotzler looked to be smoothing off the rough edges as he continues to fight back from his knee injury; he was even toppled to the ground during the first half but showed no ill effects as he rose from the floor and stayed in the game. J.D. didn’t play much in the second half, but he was able to get some experience playing with his new, huge robot-like brace on his leg.

Former Starters (this and last year):

Nick Porter, Pierce Hibma, and Nick Bahe were each on the court about the same amount of time (11-14 minutes each), with Bahe producing the most eye-popping stat between the three of them: he pulled down 6 rebounds in 12 minutes of action. Porter continues to look slowed by a knee injury sustained in the week leading up to the George Mason win, as his explosiveness just doesn’t seem to be from this team’s slasher/scorer, a roll he played so well last season (he didn’t attempt a shot in his 14 minutes of play). Pierce is still rounding into form after missing time because of a preseason practice collision with The Big Man — Manny Gakou.

Young Fellas:

Rumors surrounding the playing time of Kenny Lawson Jr. swirled around the lower bowl of The Phone Booth before Wednesday’s game like, well, something else that swirls around a bowl. Why no action against Nebraska with the A-Train in foul trouble? Why no minutes to give Tolliver a rest against George Mason? And maybe most important, why did he cut the mini-afro he was growing?

(Side note: We need more mini-afros. Or, we need someone to step up and grow a real afro. Has anyone seen Sean Ogirri yet this season? His ‘fro is EPIC. I’m not kidding. The second best thing about playing Wichita State on Senior Day this year [aside from the win, of course] is going to be seeing Ogirri’s afro in person. I want to touch it as he runs past our seat before and after the game. Look it up on the Internet. The 'fro is that good.)

Seriously, though, people were asking whether or not a red shirt would be in order for the young man. However, he played 12 hungry minutes, showing all-out effort and tenacity whenever he touched the ball or defended a Golden Lion (the players, not the real lions that they may or may not schedule for next year’s meeting). He attempted 6 shots in his 12 minutes (made 3), was 2-3 from the charity stripe, grabbed 4 rebounds, and missed the handle on one alley-oop dunk.

He is still developing as an offensive player, but you cannot coach his size or proportions. He just LAYS on top of the post he defends; he got called for an over the back foul even before the ball was passed to the guy he was guarding. He looks like a 6-foot-9 blanket. Plus, with his wing span, the guy he guards isn’t going to get anything resembling a comfortable shot in the paint.

Unless Lawson falls for the head fake. Which he did. A couple too many times. But, it is all part of the learning process, being out on the court and getting comfortable at this level. During the post-game radio show, Dana Altman said Lawson’s battling some tendonitis in his knees. Hopefully he is able to see more minutes as the season progresses, because for as great as Tolliver plays in the paint, Lawson has the prototypical arm length and frame to spell the A-Train in the post this season.

That is, unless The Big Man continues to throw defenders around like they are grade-schoolers (again, Go Panthers!). Gakou is so freakishly and naturally strong that he threw two defenders to the ground with ONE box out move in the second half. They tumbled like dominoes. The line for The Big Man: 11 minutes, 3-5 from the field, 0-2 from the free throw line, and 3 rebounds. Plus, one big amount of excitement; he just seems so happy to be out on the court, playing, throwing his weight around. He has worked hard to get himself into better conditioning, and he displayed a couple of full-court sprints during the contest. He’s no Justin Gatlin, but he makes an effort, and The Phone Booth Phaithful really appreciate him and show him the love.

His fellow French-speaking Jay, Brice Nengsu, also had a breakthrough game, but not statistically. A simple stat line (17 minutes, 2 points, 4 rebounds, 1 turnover) might have been lost on the crowd, but his one hoop was aggressive. After struggling for a couple shots late in the game, and after catching a grazing elbow from a Golden Lion (they sound fiercer if I refer to them as their animal mascot), he furrowed his brow, what looked like steam rose from his ears, and he looked like he was going to engage in the game. He took the basketball on the left wing of the court, pounded two strong dribbles, and took the ball to the backboard for a lay-up. Considering Jays fans haven’t seen even the beginning of this kid tapping his athletic ability on the court, it was a good sign from a guy who will be relied on to translate his talent into court awareness and the ability to make plays.

Perhaps the biggest spotlight of the night, though, fell on junior college transfer Ty Morrison. Much has been made of his struggle with Graves Disease, which was diagnosed after he arrived at Creighton as one of the most heralded recruits in school history. The coaching staff say he is still about a month away from getting his stamina and energy back to his pre-diagnosis level, and that is what makes his brief appearance Wednesday night that much more important.

Morrison has “it.” In 16 minutes of game time, he scored 8 points, grabbed 5 rebounds, blocked 3 shots, and recorded 1 steal. But the way in which he accomplished these was different than in his previous appearances this season. Although he got called for carrying the basketball once, he sized his defender up on the perimeter a couple of times, mixing a couple of shifty moves with strong drives to the hoop. It clicked on the third drive — the quickness everyone talked about during the recruiting process was there, and he completely blew by his defender and finished at the hoop with an arm in his face. His blocked shots showed good anticipation near the hoop (read: they weren’t cheap ones), and he and Nengsu teamed up for some imposing traps at the front of Altman’s full-court press. As they were with The Big Man, the crowd was appreciative.

But not as appreciative as they were to see Dustin Sitzmann play 3 minutes. He even got a shot at breaking the Godfather’s Pizza Mark, but his three-point attempt from the far corner just missed. Sitzmann represents what is great about college basketball — a student athlete busting his hump to continue playing a game he loves, regardless of whether or not he sees playing time, on a talented team in one of the most challenging conferences in America.
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