I don’t care how we get them. A win’s a win! Was that not a 40-minute microcosm of our season, though? Play really well for 20 minutes and then struggle for the next 20. Play really well for a couple games, and then struggle for the next couple. Unfortunately, for highly stressed people like myself, that’s what this team does. We put our foot on the gas, but too many times we let up on it before we arrive at our final destination.
We did it again Thursday night after the first half and let South Carolina right back in the game. With 7 minutes left, our lead evaporating to 4 points and the pressure mounting, you could sense our bodies tensing up. At one point, our body language got so uptight I screamed half-jokingly and half-serious, “All we have to do is win by one! Relax, we are still up eight!” With SC nipping at our heels and the weight seemingly mounting on our shoulders, we went made good decisions, our best players made big-time plays, and we did the things necessary to pull out another road W.
This was accomplished largely because of our great defensive effort in the first half. The players executed our defensive gameplan precisely while our offense executed very efficiently despite our 11 turnovers. Then the tide turned. South Carolina began to post, drive and out-rebound our smaller lineup time and time again. Rather than switching out and building a wall against this struggling outside-shooting team, we continually extended and didn’t switch out, get around in the post or check out. Our urgency had been left in the locker room.
But, as I said, we made enough plays down the stretch to get that win. Scotty and Tobias’ finishes around the basket, clutch team rebounding, efficient free-throw shooting and the big shot by Melvin late got it done. We were all happy with the win, but the post-game locker room was very subdued. There was no celebrating. Smiles were far and few between as the guys listened tentatively to Coach Pearl’s postgame speech. Coach started out by congratulating our team. The pressure was high, and no matter what people say, you can never take a win for granted as road wins are tough in this league. He then began pointing out the many positive things we did, such as our ballscreen defense, rim attacks and transition defense. He soon moved to our struggles with some of the sets that Kentucky will run that are similar to South Carolina’s. Those, he said, are things we can fix–and must fix–to beat Kentucky. I could tell by their attentiveness, our players had shifted their focus to this weekend. It’ll be tough, but we can do it.
Our preparation for the Cats will begin bright and early Friday morning. Coach Shay (who missed Thursday night’s game because of recruiting) will implement a new gameplan that will surely include a few tweaks from our previous matchup. One adjustment that I can assure you we will make is the way our team gets ready for our last home game of the season. With our obvious struggles at home compared to our road success, we are going to make some adjustments to our pregame preparation. A change in the way we practice, our shoot around or our pregame meal may not make a difference but at this point, we need to try something different. With that said, the biggest difference I want to see from our last couple home games is the outcome. We want a home win and we want it bad!! Lets chalk Thursday night’s game up in the win column and prepare to BEAT KENTUCKY!