While Gay vs. Morrison may not have lived up to the pre-game hype that had developed from their play earlier in the tournament, there was a lot to learn about both prospects on the whole.
Maui Classic Championship Game.
Rudy Gay 69, 220-pound small forward, sophomore, Connecticut
21 minutes, 5-10 fgs, 0-1 fts, 0-3 3-pt, 10 pts, 2 reb, 0 ast, 1 to, 0 blk, 0 stl
Adam Morrison, 68, 205 pound small forward, junior, Gonzaga
36 minutes 8-19 fgs, 0-0 fts, 2-3 3-pt, 18 pts, 5 reb, 1 ast, 1 to, 0 stl, 1 blk
As do many highly touted individual matchups, Gay vs. Morrison proved to be somewhat of a letdown right from the opening tip. Both coaches wanted to protect their star players, and they spent little time guarding one another. Jim Calhoun gave the unenviable task of guarding Morrison to the physical Denham Brown, while Mark Few stuck with his zone defense against an interior-oriented Connecticut team. Both moves paid off, as Gay struggled to find his offense, and Morrison got very few good looks at the basket.
Neither player made much of an immediate impact in this one.
Brown played Morrison aggressively, denying him the ball at every turn. While Morrison has mastered the art of coming off of screens, the 53 minutes he spent doing that the previous night looked like it was catching up to him a bit. He still worked tirelessly, but he might have been a step slow compared to what we saw in his historic 43-point outing against Michigan State. Perhaps even more importantly, Morrisons teammates were even more noticeably gassed, and the quality of screens he received was also a bit lacking.
Morrison connected on a contested 3-pointer nearly three minutes into the game for his first points of the night, but struggled to find his jumper throughout most of the first half. He was successful on several of his trademark, body-contorted fade-aways, but missed several of these that normally would have dropped for him. Brown received plenty of help when Morrison attempted to attack Connecticuts defense off of the dribble, and in typical Morrison fashion, he didnt force the action much. There wasnt much of a drop-off in terms of defensive physicality or team focus when Brown was relieved by fellow senior Rashad Anderson for large stretches. Morrison finished the first half with 9 points on 4-10 shooting.
Gay struggled to find the feathery touch he displayed in his 28 point outburst against Arkansas on Monday night. The Gonzaga zone was daring Connecticut players to shoot outside, and Gay missed an early 3-point look quite badly. Aside from an impressive soaring lay-in early on, it was an almost invisible first half for the sophomore. He appeared content to float around on the perimeter, and never really involved himself in the offense. Gay picked up his second foul with 9:39 to play, and sat for the remainder of the half. While Gay might be the biggest name on Jim Calhouns roster, Connecticut didnt appear to miss him all that much, as the Huskies took a 33-31 lead into the locker room.
Gay found more success in the second stanza, as he brought his game closer to the basket. Unfortunately, he picked up his third foul with less than three minutes gone by, and again spent large chunks of the half watching from the bench. He was able to use his athleticism, length, and body control to convert on several shots around the basket, and electrified the Connecticut faithful with a highlight reel dunk around the five minute mark. Gay has drawn high marks at Maui for his improved passing ability, but made a poor decision by electing to pass the ball to big man Josh Boone on a 3-on-2 fast break midway through the half. The result of the play was an offensive foul on Boone, who essentially bowled over a defender after receiving the ball.
Connecticut continued to make Morrison work for every touch. The smaller Brown and Anderson were able to largely contain Morrison off of the dribble, but Morrison adjusted at took his game to the post. He scored on one eight foot turnaround fade-away over both Jeff Adrien and Gay, and later converted on an incredibly difficult floater from the baseline. With Derek Raivio and JP Batista both clearly sapped of energy, it was up to Morrison to keep Gonzaga in the game. He cut the deficit to 50-48 with his second 3-pointer of the game at the 10:17 mark, but Brown came right back and hit one of his own.
With Connecticut clinging to a slight lead down the stretch, both Gay and Morrison were involved in plays that directly affected the outcome of the game. Morrison finally got a chance to defend Gay in several one-on-one situations down the stretch, and actually looked fairly good doing it. Gay attempted to put the ball on the floor several times, and couldnt get the step. This is in stark contrast to Morrisons usual habit of saving his energy for the offensive end. Throughout the game, Connecticuts shooters received good looks when Morrison was slow to react to the Huskies swinging the ball around the perimeter.
Gay missed a crucial free throw with 28 seconds to play, which allowed Morrison and the Zags one last chance. Morrison put his head down and attacked the heart of the Connecticut defense, only to see his shot thrown right back in his face by the athletic Husky front line. A physical fight for the ball ensued, though the end result sent JP Batista to the foul line, where he tied the game. On the ensuing possession, Denham Brown was able to get Morrison in the air and connect on a 10-foot hook/floater to seal the game for Connecticut.
Both Gay and Morrison were considered high lottery picks headed into the season, and nothing that happened out at Maui appears to have changed that.
Despite a fantastic sophomore season, Morrison might have been the less exposed of the two players. His incredible 43-point performance against Michigan State has ended that for good. Over the course of the tournament, Morrison proved that he can put the ball in the basket in almost every conceivable manner. He is no less comfortable slashing to the basket as he is pulling up for a contested 3-pointer, and has an unnatural ability to read defenses and take advantage of whatever they are giving him. Despite going up against some of the toughest wing defenders in the nation, Morrison proved to be unstoppable all weekend. He displayed improved range on his jumper, and his usual smattering of doing the little things, leadership, and clutch play.
Perhaps one difference between the first two games and the final loss to Connecticut was Morrisons inability to get easy looks. Maryland defended Morrison well in one-on-one situations, but was helpless when he began to move off the ball. He scored countless times on back door cuts, flashes into the paint, and simply beating the opposition down the floor in transition. Connecticut did a great job of denying Morrison these easy opportunities, and also kept him off of the free throw line after he got there 19 times in the first two games. With the way that Morrison contorts his body to take fade-aways and floaters, there may be times where he denies himself free points at the stripe.
While Morrison emerged as the early season favorite for national player of the year, the results for Gay were somewhat mixed. After a freshman season in which he displayed a tantalizing blend of athleticism, length, and skill but also proved to be somewhat raw as a pure perimeter player, Gay wowed the scouts with a downright beautiful display of guard skill in Connecticuts opening round win. He hit the 3-pointer, scored off of the dribble, and dazzled in the open floor, looking every bit the potential #1 pick he has been touted as.
However, Gays play fell off significantly in the final two games. Both Arizona and Gonzaga played zone, and didnt give Gay the space he needs to create for himself. His perimeter touch abandoned him, and he didnt contribute in other ways. It wasnt until the second half of the championship game that Gay again found a way to make an impact. He decided to take advantage of his size, and found success closer to the basket. Thus, despite clearly having added polish to his perimeter game, Gay remains very much a 3 / 4 at the college level. If he works on dragging post players out to the perimeter instead of negating his height advantage by attacking other guards, he will look much better. Gays overall game remains somewhat raw, and he could learn a lot from taking a look at all the little things Morrison does to help himself. When defenders take away an aspect of Morrisons game, he adjusts and finds a different way to beat you. When defenders key in on Gays scoring game, he has a tendency to disappear.
In the end, dont expect the stock of either player to change much. Morrison has captured the attention of the nation, but scouts already knew he was capable of putting up 25 points in his sleep. The questions about his athleticism and effort on the defensive side of the ball wont be answered until he puts on NBA uniform. Gay didnt prove that he is a consistent go-to scorer on the wing at the college level, but continued to show in flashes why he is considered by many to be a future star. Both players are tall for the small forward position at the college level, and will benefit from the extra space an offensive player gets in the more one-on-one oriented NBA.
If scouts believe Morrison is just capable of creating his own shot in the NBA as he is college, he is a candidate for the #1 overall pick. And as long as Gay continues to flash the kind of upside he did in the first round of this tournament, he will be very much in the mix for that top spot all season long.