Blogging Through the Elite Eight

Blogging Through the Elite Eight
Mar 29, 2008, 06:44 pm
Two all-important games kick off the Elite Eight tonight. We’re expecting two superb matchups between some very well coached teams. UCLA-Xavier kicks things off, followed by a fascinating matchup between North Carolina and Louisville.

6:48- Athleticism is the name of the game here early on. A quick steal and flush by Russell Westbrook kicked off the scoring for UCLA, while Derrick Brown has come up with two monster slams in the early going, one off an offensive rebound, and one after beating Kevin Love off the dribble badly from the perimeter. That will give his detractors some more fuel for the fire when considering his poor lateral quickness and his limitation on the defensive end. UCLA already reacted by switching Luc Richard Mbah a Moute over on Love. The score is 7-6 early on with 16 minutes to go in the first half.

6:55- We’ve typically seen better performances from players in the second games of the weekend rather than after having an entire week to think about their matchups and overanalyze amongst the swirl of media hype—and this game’s early start appears to be no exception. The players look loose and are executing pretty crisply so far—hitting their shots and appearing very confident in themselves. Still, both of these teams play outstanding defense, and that’s obviously going to be a big factor as well. The score is 14-11 UCLA 7 minutes in.

7:05- Russell Westbrook has showed off his athleticism early with some scoring in the paint and even a nice drive and dish play, but with Darren Collison on the bench for one possession, he did not give Ben Howland great faith in his ability to run an offense full time by pulling up off the dribble wildly from behind the arc for an ill-advised 3-pointer, which he could not even catch rim on. Howland saw enough, and quickly brought Collison back into the game. Westbrook’s defense has been top-notch, though…Josh Duncan is struggling with his jump-shot and just turned the ball over trying to slash into the paint. He then tried to surprise Kevin Love with a spin move into the paint, but Love managed to recover and forced him into a very tough shot. He’s also struggling defensively, showing questionable lateral quickness. Its 18-15 UCLA with 8 minutes left in the first half.

7:15- UCLA’s struggling holding onto the ball continues after Western Kentucky—they have 9 turnovers 15 minutes in already. Darren Collison’s decision making has been pretty shaky here at points. Kevin Love is starting to get going. He’s made some fantastic passes in the half-court, has grabbed a few offensive rebounds, and just took his man off the dribble and finished with a nifty floater, showing nice body control avoiding the charge in the process. Russell Westbrook just looked very much out of control forcing his way into the paint in transition after a great outlet pass from Love. His shaky ball-handling skills just got exposed a little bit more. The score is 24-20 UCLA with four minutes left.

7:30- If there is any one player who may have surprised NBA scouts and execs with what he showed in the first half, it’s probably Derrick Brown. He just had another emphatic dunk, his fourth this half, on an impressive alleyoop lob catch from Stanley Burrell. His length and explosiveness were on full display as he sprawled out and got eye-level with the rim on the finish. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute was probably UCLA’s top performer in the first half, surprisingly. He was a beast on the glass, picking up four each on both ends, and scored 9 points on sheer hustle, with one short mid-range jumper mixed in for good measure. The score is 33-24 UCLA at the half.

7:55- Kevin Love has gotten off to a strong start once again, scoring four points in the first two minutes, off a post-up and offensive rebound. He also drew Josh Duncan’s third foul, sending him to the bench.

8:03- After picking up an offensive foul in transition, Russell Westbrook again got out in the open floor after yet another steal, his third, and managed to score while shielding the ball with his body from the defender and dribbling crudely with his left hand. Kevin Love got his team an extra possession with an offensive rebound tipout, which led to a wide-open 3-pointer by Darren Collison, and then got himself two points in the paint off a left-handed jump-hook. He’s just dominating inside with his ability to clear out defenders in the paint, time his jumps perfectly, and get his phenomenal hands on the ball. He just stepped outside and knocked down a 3-pointer as well. Unfortunately, this game looks over, as the score is now 48-28 UCLA. Love now has 13 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks and 3 assists on 5-7 shooting.

8:22- Xavier is frantically trying to get back into this game, mostly on the defensive end, where they have really picked up the intensity level. They’ve cut the lead to 12 now, mostly with the guard play of Drew Lavender and Stanley Burrell. Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook are definitely intent on keeping this out of reach, though. The score is 55-43 UCLA, with about 10 minutes left.

8:30- Kevin Love just knocked down another 3-pointer, to stretch this lead back to 20 (65-45) and bring his personal tally up to 19 points on the evening. Russell Westbrook hit a 3-pointer himself a few possessions ago, in a game that is turning out to be somewhat monumental for him, with 15 points on 6-9 shooting. Luc Richard just picked up his 10th rebound, to go along with 11 points—he’s been a big key here, although that really doesn’t tell us much about his NBA draft stock since it’s pretty obvious to anyone who understands basketball that he is a power forward and a power forward only. There’s 7 minutes left in this one.

8:46- This game is pretty much a formality at this point, as the lead is still hovering around 17-19 points, and there is less than 2 minutes remaining. Josh Duncan has suffered through a miserable shooting outing tonight, but just knocked down a mid-range jumper and a 3-pointer to help make the boxscore look a little less ugly. He has 11 points now on 4-11 shooting, but managed to collect just 3 rebounds, getting outhustled quite a few times by Kevin Love and Mbah a Moute on the offensive glass, which is one of his biggest weaknesses as an NBA prospect.

Darren Collison deserves a mention for his performance tonight. Even though he had 4 turnovers (three of them in the first 10 minutes of the game), he was very steady from that point on, running UCLA’s half-court offense patiently, getting everyone involved, knocking down shots, and playing excellent defense as always. He finished with 19 points on 7-12 shooting, to go along with 5 assists.

The final score was 76-57. Kevin Love was easily the MVP of this game, and probably of the NCAA tournament so far, besides Stephen Curry of course...

9:13- The North Carolina-Louisville game just started a few minutes ago, and it already looks like it’s going to be a war of will and contrasting styles. Whose will win out? It’s been a very physical, well-played affair so far. Louisville’s defense looks solid in the half-court, but UNC is getting good looks by pushing the ball forward in transition and getting it inside to Tyler Hansbrough and Deon Thompson. Ty Lawson has been pretty solid so far for Carolina, and Terrence Williams is off to a fantastic start for Louisville. He already canned a pair of pull-up jumpers, one from 3-point range, and made a phenomenal pass in transition to a streaking Earl Clark after a big stop. It’s 9-8 five minutes in.

9:23- UNC’s players are not hesitating in the least bit with their decision making, which is exactly how you need to play against this swarming 2-3 zone. They are taking quick shots, and crashing the offensive glass when shots aren’t falling, getting plenty of extra possessions in the process so far. Louisville’s turnovers aren’t helping matters much either. Carolina is spreading the wealth around—all five starts have scored already. Its 17-12 UNC eight minutes in. Derrick Caracter picked up his second foul, which is a big blow for Louisville.

9:35- Carolina is killing Louisiville in transition and on the offensive glass, the two places where most of their 27 points have come from early on. Louisville just can’t contain them from getting out and running, and Marcus Ginyard seems to be the biggest beneficiary from that so far, with 6 early points and 5 rebounds. Danny Green has been outstanding so far as well, on both ends of the floor. Carolina has 8 offensive boards. Pitino needs to make some adjustments before this gets out of hand. UNC is up 10 with eight to go in the first half.

9:53- Louisville’s adjustment has been to put on a full-court press on made baskets, to instill a sense of confusion in Carolina’s half-court sets. The problem is they haven’t had enough opportunities to set up their press, since they just aren’t scoring enough…They seem to be pushing the ball forward and getting out in transition themselves on Carolina’s misses, but still can’t limit their unforced errors, which is killing them. They have 11 turnovers already, and are getting absolutely nothing inside, as both David Padgett and Derrick Caracter have combined to score two points and have two fouls each. Carolina’s offense looks too powerful for them at the moment. They scored an amazing 44 points on Louisville’s fantastic defense, and gave up just 32. It’s halftime.

10:19- Tyler Hansbrough kicks off the second half by knocking down two incredible shots—his specialty. One was a falling away one-handed baseline half-hook/half-force right on David Padgett’s head, and the other a spinning layup in traffic. Terrence Williams has hit a few short-range jumpers, and David Padgett looks more intent on making his presence felt inside, showing more aggressiveness in the paint than he has all game long. Louisville is definitely not going to let this one get away, but Carolina’s offense is just such a well-oiled machine. Carolina is up 9 with a little over 16 minutes to go.

10:33- Louisville is storming back and looks intent on making this a game, cutting the lead to 3 at the under 12 timeout. David Padgett has been a big key to the comeback, as he’s come out of the locker room looking like he doesn’t want to end his college career without a fight. He’s crashing the offensive glass, establishing himself inside and making terrific passes out of the high post. Louisville is doing all the things Carolina did better than them in the first half, getting out in transition, knocking down shots, and dominating the offensive glass, grabbing 6 in the first 8 minutes of the second half. This is a very high quality game.

10:48- Tyler Hansbrough has stepped up to the plate in these tough moments for North Carolina, hitting a pair of mid-range jumpers, posting up strong inside, and crashing the offensive glass to accumulate a game-high 21 points and 10 rebounds. Earl Clark is really trying to help out on the other end, but he’s been called for two traveling calls on post-up moves inside, negating baskets both times. He’s been extremely aggressive facing the hoop and with his back to the basket regardless. With that said, Jerry Smith has been Louisville’s best player, especially now that Carolina has gone to a zone that has eliminated David Padgett’s ability to get the ball in the high post. It’s 63-59 Carolina with 8 minutes to go.

11:02- Ty Lawson hasn’t scored a ton—he only has 7 points, but his 9 assists have been huge for Carolina to dictate the kind of tempo they want to play at. He’s made mostly quiet, simple passes, within the flow of Carolina’s offense and without trying to get overly spectacular. He had some bad moments early in the second half when Louisville was pressing full-court and managing to turn the ball over (he has 4 so far), but he’s been mostly solid so far, particularly with the big spot-up 3-pointer he just hit to bring the lead to 8 momentarily. Louisville can’t quite manage to shake the turnover bug themselves, every time they make a run, they seem to come up with a costly error that sets them back. It’s 71-66 Carolina, with 2:56 to go.

11:06- We can officially erase the “perimeter shooting” entry from Tyler Hansbrough’s weakness tab. He just drained two huge pull-up jumpers from 18 feet to put Carolina up by 7, and then 9 now. One of them came with the shot-clock running down. He’s hit four mid-range jumpers tonight. Earl Clark proceeded to travel in the post again on a back to the basket move, the third time he has done such tonight. Carolina looks good now, up by 11 with a minute to go, after Ty Lawson confidently hits two free throws.

11:16- This game is over, Carolina and has advanced to the Final Four, after sustaining a great challenge from a very tough Louisville squad. The Final score is 81-73. Tyler Hansbrough showed why if NBA GMs want to pass him up in the draft in favor of projects like JaVale McGee, they are going to have to do it after thinking long and hard about it. He finished the game with 28 points and 13 rebounds, on 12/17 shooting, to go along with 1 assist and 5 turnovers. David Padgett had 6 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals and 4 turnovers on 1/5 shooting, Earl Clark had 12 points (5/7 FG), 9 rebounds, 1 assist and 7 turnovers, and Terrence Williams contributed 14 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 turnovers on 6-12 shooting.

Elite Eight Day Two Final Recap:

Stock Up:

Kevin Love (UCLA)
Russell Westbrook (UCLA)
Darren Collison (UCLA)
Tyler Hansbrough (North Carolina)
Ty Lawson (North Carolina)
David Padgett (Louisville)

Stock Neutral:

Danny Green (North Carolina)
Earl Clark (Louisville)
Terrence Williams (Louisville)
Wayne Ellington (North Carolina)

Stock Down:

Josh Duncan (Xavier)

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