Just got back from WKU men’s basketball awards banquet, and the mood was probably the lightest I have seen all season (after a season of lowered expectations being met with amazing results, I guess I can see why). A few awards and some thoughts:
E.A. Diddle Leadership Award: Orlando Mendez-Valdez
John Oldham Most Improved: Anthony Sally
Dwight Smith Playmaker Award: A.J. Slaughter
Clem Haskins Team M.V.P.: Orlando Mendez-Valdez
Another nice tidbit is that coach Ken McDonald announced at the end of the festivities and food (decent spaghetti and salad, all while the forensics team banquet apparently was having steak down the street) that he would be creating a $1,000 scholarship in Mendez-Valdez’s named for one child from the San Antonio-area, giving them the chance to go to college. McDonald said in his 15 years of coaching that he had “never been more impressed with a player” than Mendez-Valdez and after seeing the situation he came from, McDonald felt compelled to put this scholarship together. It’s a fitting end to the career of a player who made a name for himself this season.
The coming season brings more promise with the signing of the six incoming players, as well as what McDonald said might be “more on the way”. I’m not sure how that is possible with all scholarships given out currently, so that’ll be something to watch for. It will also be hard for Mac to top what he has gotten himself into, but he seems confident he can.
Time to sit back and watch it all play out this summer.
We’re early in the second half of the Purdue v. Washington second round matchup, and while sitting here taking in the game and the ear-splitting roars from the crowd (we are just three hours from Seattle, you know) I have a few thoughts and facts to shoot your way:
- Though Gonzaga is a team with freakish athletes with size to spare and that love to run, the trick may be to slow the pace. It took them 30 minutes in their first-round game against Akron to start pulling away from the Zips, and it was in large part due to Akron moving the ball around in the halfcourt. I had a first-hand look at that game, and even though Akron matched the Bulldogs’ size, they worked an inside-outside game to spread the Gonzaga defense thin in the post. Akron shot 46.7 percent in the first half, including 55.6 from three. The Bulldogs pushed them last, and Akron was held to 25.9 percent in the second half.
- Western has shown the ability to slow a game down and bang it out, something they can take from playing against Illinois. They mustered only 12 total fastbreak points in the Sun Belt tournament, but won it all.
- The Bulldogs, like the the Toppers, aren’t very deep and rely heavily on their starters in big games. Only one reserve played double-digit minutes against Akron, and that was guard Steven Gray, who played 24. He is the team’s sixth-leading scorer at 9.2 ppg. Though it evens out the battle a little bit, this means WKU’s bench is going to have to contribute more to wear down Gonzaga, and with D.J. Magley peaking at the right time and Anthony Sally taking good care of the ball, this could be a recipe for success tonight. WKU has the chance to shock a lot of people and put a big bright smile on Sun Belt commissioner Wright Waters’ face.
That’s all for now, but I’ll have more before tip-off at 7:10 CST.
Slaughter hits a three out of the timeout, giving WKU back the lead at 44-43. That score saved a dumb drive by Sally through a double team, in which he almost turned it over but manged to get it to Slaughter. An Evans rebound off a USA miss gave the Toppers an opportunity to get a little breathing room, but Slaughter missed a jumper. Kerusch hits a jumper at the foul line for a 46-43 lead following two missed FTs by USA’s Douglas. Sally hits a three to stretch it out to 51-46, Western’s biggest lead since the half.
Free throws could be big down the stretch. USA shoots 66 percent on the season from the line, WKU 69 percent. In the last two minutes, both teams have shot FTs: WKU was 2-2 (OMV), while USA went 1-3 (Coleman, Douglas).
Mendez-Valdez just picked up his fourth foul, and Sally’s in for him. It’ll be up to Sally (injured, remember) to keep the pace. Kerusch starts it off with a jumper.
Sally, who has been limping all game and favoring his hip after going down trying to fight through a double-team, is down, along with UNT’s Collin Dennis, after the two collided going down the court following a loose ball. Both are being attended to by trainers. This is bad for WKU, because Sally has been the lone contributor off the bench in terms of quality, long-term minutes. Both players are now up and being helped off the court.
It’s great to hear both crowds giving the players a standing ovation. Good to see that sportsmanship is still somewhat a part of March Madness. The call is a foul on Dennis.
- Someone in a red jersey needs to hit a three, and fast. WKU is 1-10 from three, while UNT is 6-15. Dominique Johnson is 3-4 from three himself.
- UNT’s bench, which has given them 27 points per game this season, already has 15 to WKU’s 5. All of Western’s have come from Anthony Sally. This HAS to change, either from WKU shutting them down or WKU’s reserves getting back on offense.
- The early decision by UNT coach Johnny Jones to sub in size for athleticism has WKU on its heels. UNT only leads the rebounding category 18-16, but there have been a number of batted balls out to UNT players on the perimeter while WKU has been on defense, leading to threes and midrange jumpers.
- Kerusch has 10 points and five rebounds for WKU, the next closest scorer being Evans at eight points.
- Another telling stat about rebounding: UNT leads WKU 11-8 on second chance points, and UNT has 13 offensive rebounds. WKU does lead 16-8 in points in the paint, so it’s not all bad up front.
Second half to start in seconds, so stay tuned.
This crowd is by far the biggest of the tourney, with maybe 1,000 fans here, but it sounds bigger because both fanbases travel better than any other in the tourney outside of UALR. Stewart picked up his first foul for UNT, and Anthony Sally hits two FTs.