Get inside March Madness with SI.com's Luke Winn in the Tourney Blog, a daily journal of college basketball commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
3/30/2008 07:53:00 PM
Against Rose, Texas Simply Overwhelmed
Not even a glued-up welt slowed Derrick Rose against D.J. Augustin and the Longhorns on Sunday.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
HOUSTON -- Derrick Rose was doubled over, wincing, the bandage over his eye having come unstuck in a collision just one minute and 23 seconds into his first -- and probably, last -- appearance in an Elite Eight. Rose was sporting a glued-up welt against Texas, and the reason for this was one of those increasingly rare reminders that Memphis' point guard is only an 19-year-old freshman. He had evaded stitches for a bloody injury suffered in the Sweet 16 with the same strategy he evades most defenders: by being too fast to hold down.
"I'm terrified of needles," he admitted, saying that someone would have had to "strap him down" to sew up the cut he had been dealt by Michigan State. With the Tigers leading the Longhorns 5-2, Rose needed to leave the floor to have it re-bandaged. This, for Texas, was the only real reprieve it had from Rose's assault on its defense. The lone Longhorn capable of rattling him may have been their team doctor.
Rose was back on the floor one minute later, going from 0-to-130 miles per hour in milliseconds, getting on his way to scoring 21 points and dishing out nine assists against just two turnovers. Said Robert Dozier, "Once Derrick gets it going, there's not many players that can stop him." None of those players were in Texas' backcourt: Rose was the star of an 85-67 victory that saw the second-seeded 'Horns get overwhelmed by Memphis' athleticism, and he was also the Most Outstanding Player of the South Regional, from which the Tigers booked their first trip to the Final Four since 1985. In what was supposed to be a duel of the nation's best college point guard, D.J. Augustin, and the college game's best pro prospect at point guard, Rose actually looked as if he might own both titles. "Derrick is a much bigger, stronger guy than D.J. Augustin," said Dozier. "Derrick is a freakish athlete, he can get the ball up and down the court, he can get guys open, get to the rim, and when he jumps and gets to the rim, his head is at the rim."
Memphis' two resounding victories here in Houston -- by 18 over Michigan State and 18 over Texas -- were not only notices that the Tigers may be peaking more than any other team in the bracket, but also served as showcases for the full blossoming of Rose's game. He looked like the poised one while Augustin -- a consensus first-team All-American of whom coach John Calipari had said, "You're not taking the ball from him" -- was shaken in the early going.
Augustin committed four first-half turnovers against just one assist while being dogged by the bigger Rose (6-foot-3) and Antonio Anderson (6-foot-5). "I don't think we've seen as good a defense all year that we saw today," said Texas coach Rick Barnes, who had to watch as his team -- which averaged the fewest turnovers per game in the country (9.2) -- gave the ball away eight times in the first half alone. The 'Horns dug themselves a 39-28 halftime deficit that seemed inescapable.
When Texas did make its biggest run, scoring the first six points of the second half to cut it to 39-34, Rose was the one who turned the momentum back in Memphis' favor. At the 17:04 mark, he ran the floor with Anderson after a missed shot from Augustin, received a feed in the lane, and soared up for a double-pumping dunk on the break. It was a slightly less spectacular slam than the double-pumping reverse he had shown the Spartans on Friday to make the score 50-20 at halftime, but it was nonetheless awe-inspiring. Memphis' Tiger mascot celebrated the bucket by turning to the blue-clad cheering sections in Reliant Stadium, leaning over and cradling something imaginary below his shorts -- essentially, giving the message that Rose has some serious cojones for a freshman.
The dunk was part of a promise Rose had made to his teammates during the Conference USA tournament. "Everyone was saying to [Derrick]," reserve forward Pierre Niles explained, "'You've got too much hops to just be trying to lay the ball up.'" Therefore, said Rose, "I told them in the [NCAA] tournament, I was just going to dunk everything."
The first time Rose and Augustin met on a basketball floor, in the Summer of 2007 at the Adidas All-American Camp in New Orleans, Memphis' prize recruit did not possess the same kind of confidence, nor did he display the same brand of aggressiveness. In a scrimmage game among the counselors there, Augustin -- who already had a year at Texas under his belt -- took Rose to school. "I was just coming in, and he got the best of me," Rose said on Friday. He told reporters later that day that the game had stuck in his head, as evidence that he still needed to put in plenty of work to be a college star. But on a Sunday where he had starred and Augustin shot just 4-of-18 from the field, Rose no longer seemed concerned about his youth: "It doesn't matter what grade you're in," he said. "If you can ball, you can ball."
Calipari said that he told Rose before the game, "The more you do to run this, the less I have to do." What Rose did was knife into the lane repeatedly against (for the most part) Augustin, who at 5-11 was unable to counter Rose's package of size and speed. Rose got his 21 points by attempting just one three-pointer, and while Rose did not show off any shooting range, NBA executives considering drafting him No. 1 had to be salivating over his budding defensive skills and the fact that he cannot be checked off the dribble in Memphis' "Princeton-on-steroids" offense. The last great NBA player to come out of the Tigers' program, Anfernee Hardaway, emerged from the team's locker room following the postgame celebration, and when asked if Rose was as talented as himself, said, "He's as good as me, easily. He's athletic, he's strong, he makes it happen."
For Memphis, which already had versatile wing scorer (Chris Douglas-Roberts, with 25 points), a beast in the post (Joey Dorsey, with 11 points, 12 rebounds) and a glue guy defender (Anderson), Rose was truly the missing ingredient in getting over the hump and into the Final Four. In both 2006 and 2007 they had fallen one game short, and in both those years they did not have a point guard of Rose's caliber. One cannot fully appreciate his speed without seeing it in the flesh; teams that watch tape of Rose and think they can contain him are in for a harsh surprise. UCLA, and Kansas or North Carolina after that, should pay heed to the facial expressions of Texas' defenders in the first five minutes of Sunday's rout. "You could tell," Rose said, with his Final Four hat pulled down low to shroud his unbandaged cut, "that they were kind of stunned."
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.
HOUSTON -- We've entered the gridiron portion of this NCAA tournament, and here at Reliant Stadium the setup is technically of the basketball-on-a-three-foot-stage-in-the-middle-of-a-football-field variety. Had West Virginia's loose-ball kamikaze artist, Joe Mazzulla, been playing here last night, he'd have taken a dangerous plunge down into press row rather than colliding head-on with a table-top.
The two photos below should give you an idea of the setup, with the strange raised court set amid seats that gradually slope down from the edge of what's normally the Houston Texans' home field. I walked up on the floor a few minutes ago ... and realized there are only about 4-5 paces between the sideline and the edge, which is a little scary.
Minnesota -- whose home benches are below their court -- is the only team in the nation that would not need to get acclimated to this arrangement. For the rest of us, including Texas, Stanford, Memphis and Michigan State, this will be quite the experiment.
A few quick predictions before I leave you for a few hours, with the promise to check back post-game:
• Texas 74, Stanford 71. • Connor Atchley's perimeter game makes the difference for the 'Horns. • Memphis 66, Michigan State 56 • The Spartans hang with the Tigers for 30 minutes ... but just won't be able to score enough against Memphis' underrated man-to-man D.
HOUSTON -- The Memphis-can't-shoot-free throws thing is more than just a media talking point. It's now fair game as a topic for coach-to-coach ribbing.
Texas coach Rick Barnes was being interviewed by pack of local TV reporters on Thursday when Tigers coach John Calipari happened by and jokingly interrupted the scene. Barnes took the opportunity to offer Cal a job:
"Hey, coach, I'm running a camp in Austin," said Barnes, "and I need somebody to come in and teach free throws."
Calipari's rebuttal referenced D.J. Augustin's late-game performance against Miami on Sunday in Little Rock: "I think your point guard shot that airball."
Augustin did nearly give the 'Canes a chance to pull off a miracle comeback in the game's final seconds when he left a crucial shot about a foot short. And the Tigers are a horrible free-throw shooting team: They rank 339th in the country from the charity stripe, at 59.2 percent. It's a problem that Calipari doesn't really think is a problem -- mostly because Memphis has been bad at free throws for the past three seasons.
"With four minutes to go, we made the free throws we need to make," Calipari said Thursday. "Now, we'll miss some, but they don't play a factor. They make the game closer. I sweat a little bit. But [the players] are looking at it like, 'Coach, you trust us, we'll do what we have to do.' So the big deal about it, that's fine. If you look at our team, there's so many other good things to talk about how we play; how we play defensively, how we swarm, how we play offensively, it's different. People that don't know it, think that it's just throw the balls out and shoot layups. And that's fine, too."
Any team hoping to beat the Tigers by strictly winning the free-throw battle probably isn't going to fare too well. As we learned in Wednesday's scouting reports of the No. 1 seeds -- from actual opposing assistant coaches -- sealing up Memphis' driving lanes and preventing Dorsey-and-Dozier damage on the offensive glass is far more important.