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3/28/2008 11:23:00 PM
How Texas Took Down Stanford: An Inside Look
Freeing up D.J. Augustin (left) was part of the Longhorns' key to success.
HOUSTON -- An inside look at how two facets of Texas' scouting report of Stanford -- which SI.com was given an advance breakdown of on Thursday -- played out in the Sweet Sixteen:
Defending Brook Lopez:
"They don't play around. It's like Vince Lombardi back in the day with the Packers. I'm going to tell you I'm running right, and you're going to have to stop me from running right. Stanford is going to put Brook [Lopez] on the right block, and Robin on the left block, over 95 percent of the time, and they'll have three guards on the perimeter, backed up to almost where the hashmark used to be, and [Mitch] Johnson will throw a 30-foot post feed to a hand. And Brook will just turn -- without bringing it down or dribbling -- and get right into his shot."
Texas assistant Russell Springmann told me that on Thursday; he had handled the main scouting duties of the Cards, and how well the 'Horns defended 7-footer Brook Lopez would be a major factor in the game. There were two keys: Pushing him off the block -- "making him catch it out where the NBA lane line is, at least," Springmann said -- and pressuring their guards enough to affect the precision of their post feeds. But early on in Texas' 82-62 win on Friday, it was a task that seemed impossible to execute. Against the slender Connor Atchley, Lopez repeatedly caught entry passes in his comfort zone, then turned and kissed in short-range shots off the glass. He hit 6-of-11 shots from the field to score 15 first-half points and almost single-handedly keep Stanford in the game.
Plan A for the 'Horns was to use just one defender against Lopez, in order not to leave the weak side open for what essentially would be Lopez Volleyball -- Robin crashing the offensive glass for put-backs of Brook misses. Plan B, which Texas shrewdly switched to for much of the second half, was to fall into a combination of zones -- a 2-3 and a 3-2 that sent a multitude of bodies at Lopez. Dexter Pittman, a 299-pound reserve, was one of those bodies, and in the final nine minutes of the second half, he used his girth to actually move Lopez out of the lane on multiple occasions, making life tough for Stanford's star as other 'Horns ran down to double-team the post and push him even further away. "I always kept my leg higher than [Lopez's], and didn't let him get position," said Pittman. "Coach said we were going to attack him like an army. If you look back to Kansas State, that was the same thing we did to [Michael] Beasley ... we kept throwing bodies at him, and made sure we were touching him every time he touched the ball."
Lopez shot just 4-of-11 in the second half for nine points, and finished with 25. Facing that sagging zone, he did not make a field goal for the final 13:55 of the second half. None of Stanford's other interior players stepped up as he began to struggle, and the 'Horns raced away into the Elite Eight. "Having all those bodies rotated on him, especially from our bench -- Gary Johnson, Dexter Pittman, Clint Chapman and even Lex [Alexis Wangmene] played a big factor," said Springmann. "Some of [Lopez's] shots started getting more difficult because they were 2-3 feet off."
Freeing D.J. Augustin:
"We need to make both of [the Lopezes] go out on the perimeter, defending ball screens and handoffs. Our bigs need to play away from the basket as much as possible; we want to open up the floor so it makes it harder for them rotate, and get back and block shots."
This, Springmann said on Thursday, would be the key to Texas generating offense on Stanford's normally packed-in D. The 'Horns were able to spread the floor against a team with a decided size advantage, and hold Robin Lopez -- the Pac-10's leading shot-blocker -- to zero swats on the night (Stanford had just four as a team, compared to Texas' five). This was how the game turned into a blowout despite the fact that the 'Horns hit only seven of 22 three-point attempts.
All-America point guard D.J. Augustin, who had a team-high 23 points, scored just six of them from beyond the arc. Texas' offense relies heavily on random ball-screening action by its two big men -- usually Atchley and Damion James -- and how the Lopezes chose to defend these screens dictated the way Texas attacked.
While watching film of the Cardinal, Springmann had noticed that Robin Lopez tended never to "show" on the perimeter -- that is, jump out and cut off a guard's penetration, rather than sagging back behind the pick. "That allows you to get a guard coming of a screen when [Robin's] man sets it, because if you do a good job of screening and make contact with the guy defending the cutter, a lot of times you're going to be able to get a shot."
For the most part on Friday, neither Lopez brother opted to hedge any of Texas' perimeter picks. "They kept rotating back, or they'd space off and allow D.J. to come off the screen," said Springmann. "They had to make a decision whether they were going to going to go with the penetration, or stay [with their men], and D.J. was able to turn the corner."
Once he did get space inside the arc, Augustin was masterful, hitting floaters -- including one improbable moonball at the 8:39 mark of the first half -- and mid-range jumpers and layups to kill the Cardinal's shot at reaching the Elite Eight. When Stanford's other big men came up to cut off his penetration, Augustin dished off to create easy buckets, finishing with seven assists against just two turnovers. "All year long, he's a guy that when we give it to him, we know he's going to make something happen," Texas coach Rick Barnes said of Augustin. "But there's so many other things out there that are happening for him to do that." On Friday, it all started with the screens.