Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Utes over SMU: Defense, Rebounding, and Freshmen Stepping Up

Utah beat SMU on Tuesday night because of defensive adjustments, solid rebounding (for the most part), and solid play off the bench.  This was a solid win against a well-coached, athletic team.  This is how I break down the win.

Defensive adjustments.  With about seven minutes left in the first half, SMU opened up a 21-13 lead.  Utah was struggling to score, and SMU looked to break the game open.  At that time, Coach K put his team into a 1-2-2 three-quarter court press and a 2x3 zone.  Over that seven minute stretch, Utah went on an 18-7 run and took the lead going into half-time.  During that stretch, Utah forced at least six SMU turnovers -- some off the press, some off the zone.  By half-time, Utah had regained the lead 31-28 and had the momentum going into the second half.  Also, Coach K went into a zone during in-bounds plays under the basket.  BYU killed Utah's man-to-man on in-bounds plays under the basket.  SMU did not have nearly as much success.  Utah continued to mix it up in the second half, and these adjustments really made it difficult for SMU to score.

Rebounding.  Utah out-rebounded the Mustangs 30-21.  On the key play of the game, Jordan Loveridge  got a tip-in off the board to put the Utes up by 5.  This play led to two SMU technicals and put the game away.  While SMU had 4 more shots than Utah (53-49), Utah shot nine more free throws and made ten more free throws than SMU (the technicals obviously had an effect on this statistic).  If Utah had not had such a huge advantage on the boards, then SMU could have controlled the pace and got to the line more than the Utes (as happened in Dallas).  But with Utah's solid rebounding, the Utes could run their offense, tire out the Mustangs in high altitude, and control the tempo.

Bench Play, especially from the Freshmen.  Besides Tucker, who had a rough night, Utah's bench played exceptionally well.  Senior Washburn and Freshmen Seymour and Taylor kept Utah in the game when they were down, and then hit some key shots in the second half to help the Utes keep the lead.  Taylor's play down the stretch in the first half (as described above) was excellent.  He led the Utes defensively when they went to the press and zone, and he made some big steals and hit some huge shots.  Washburn and Seymour also hit several big shots out of offensive sets in the second half.  I didn't make practice this week, but I can bet that Coach K saw some things in practice this week that gave him trust in all three of these players.  Taylor especially surprised me with his defensive poise and his efficiency in running the offense.

Overall, I thought this was Coach's best performance this year.  His defensive adjustments, his substitution patterns, and his play calling helped put his team in a position to win.  While SMU may be slipping a bit, this was a solid win and bodes well for the Utes as they prepare for conference play.

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