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How Big Are You?

December 28, 2001 Columns No Comments





How Big Are You?

by Bill Thayer


“Big players make big plays.”

It’s a simple phrase. I don’t know who coined it, I don’t know when it started, but dammit, it’s one of my favorites.

While watching the Duke/Kentucky game, something crossed my mind – Jason Williams is ready for prime time, while Tayshaun Prince is not. When the Blue Devils fell behind, it was Williams who came to the rescue, hitting shot after shot. Williams led the charge and in the end, it was the Blue Devils who came out on top.

But where was Tayshaun Prince? Prince did his part in helping Kentucky jump out to a quick lead. He made some great plays in the post as well as helped control the boards. When push came to shove and Williams had guided Duke back into the game, Prince never stepped out and made plays. Prince was not dominating the glass, nor was he demanding the ball the way a star should.

For Kentucky to be successful late in the season, it will be up to Prince to sack up and make things happen. While Cliff Hawkins and Keith Bogans are more vocal leaders on the court, Prince’s array of skills makes him the go-to guy. There is no reason Hawkins should get more shots than Prince in the last two minutes of a tight game. The ball starts in Hawkins’ hands, but it is up to Prince to go get it.

I have to admit, Prince showed something in the first two rounds of last year’s NCAA tournament. In the first round, Prince led Kentucky in a late run as they held off pesky Holy Cross. I’ll never forget the shootout Prince had with Iowa’s Dean Oliver in the second round. Prince was on fire from behind the arc. It was that game in which I fell in love with the lanky power forward’s game.

Prince hasn’t been the only star who has faltered in big game situations this season. Missouri’s Kareem Rush played well early, but was invisible when the Tigers were dominated at home by Iowa. Luke Recker, a senior leader (read: experienced big game player) led Iowa as they ran roughshod over the Tigers. While Iowa was up big early, if Rush had hit a few shots in the second half, he could have awoken the crowd and his teammates.

When Missouri battled rival Illinois, Frank Williams showed why he is an All-American as he repeatedly took the ball to the Tigers, leading the Illini to their first win over a top 25 opponent this season. The game was huge for Illinois, who looked less than impressive in losses to Arizona and Maryland in recent weeks. Once again, when the Tigers needed him, Rush could not hit a shot. And, instead of trying to go to the hoop, Rush stood outside the three-point arc, lofting threes that were nowhere near the mark.

Sometimes though, one man cannot carry a whole team. In my last column, I sang the praises of St. Joseph’s Marvin O’Connor. While O’Connor had a huge season last year, his Hawks have started slow, losing to Eastern Washington, Georgia State and a slumping North Carolina squad. In the loss to Georgia State, O’Connor scored 33 points, hitting 7-of-13 from behind the three point arc, but missed what would have been a game tying three with 6 seconds left.

The Hawks problem was not O’Connor, who was double teamed when he attempted the game tying jumper, but their inside game. Georgia State’s sophomore center Nate Williams scored 27 points and pulled down 13 rebounds. Against Eastern Washington, the Hawks were killed on the glass, getting out rebounded 39-28. And the loss to North Carolina came without O’Connor, who sat due to an injured toe.

For all of these teams to be successful in March, it will be up to the entire team to play at their best for the team to be successful. It will be up to the star to determine how they fare when push comes to shove.

ASSORTED MUSINGS:

• I’m sick of hearing Big East fans complaining about UConn not playing Syracuse this season. The conference had to add teams to keep the football schools from leaving. The conference added some awful basketball schools in Miami, Virginia Tech and Rutgers, not to mention teams that have been down recently (Notre Dame and West Virginia). It’s ridiculous to make every team play each other. The SEC has made it work, there is no reason the Big East can’t.

• Three places I want to catch a game before I die: The Palestra, Allen Field House and MacArthur Court in Eugene, Oregon.

• Freshman of the year? I’ll take Chris Thomas from Notre Dame.

• I wanted to write a column about “mid-majors” but that’s too played out. My 2 cents is to just drop the term “mid-major”. The term is too generic, there are no defining factors. Hell, in terms of mid-majors vs. majors, I’ll take the MAC over the C-USA, the WCC over the WAC and the MAAC over the Atlantic Ten.

• The orange shirt/blue shirt thing at Florida thing looked great on TV. If you saw it, you know what I’m talking about.

• I hope Omar Cook is closely following Jason Gardner’s progress this season.

• I’ll admit that I never thought Jason Kapono would play as well as he has filling in for Cedric Bozeman at the point. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with that team when Bozeman comes back. Obviously he has to step back in to run the show, but I’ll be keeping an eye on how long it would take Steve Lavin to put Kapono back in if Bozeman struggles.

• I still don’t understand why Jan Van Breda Kolff would leave Pepperdine to take the St. Bonaventure job. I don’t think the A-10 is better than the WCC, while it has to be easier to attract recruits to Malibu than to Olean, NY.

• With home and home games left against Maryland, Virginia and Wake Forest, as well as a road game against Boston College and a pair of always-tough battles with North Carolina looming, I would be SHOCKED if Duke stayed undefeated the rest of the way.

• Jason Williams, you proved me wrong. I’m still not sold on Chris Duhon however…

     

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