2014 Nationals: Day #5 British Columbia

I’m skipping the day #4 update. It was an off day with a players banquet during the evening. Nobody wants to here about that.

Monday was the day we’ve been waiting for since we lost to Manitoba on Saturday. There is no shame in loosing but it was disappointing to following up our opening night victory with a poor performance. With our 84-72 victory over British Columbia yesterday we were able to reestablish who we are as a team.

BC is a big team that is built around a strong low post game. Like most teams here they look to push the ball hard in transition but they primarily run half court sets to isolate their best players on the right-hand low block. Unlike other teams, however, they don’t use pick and roll to accomplish this. Instead they run a number of weak side screens and high-low passes for their paint touches.

This was a major concern for us heading into the game. Most of our guys are not are not great one-on-one low post defenders especially our wings who give up several inches in height to the BC forwards. With that said, our team does have two guys that are excellent paint protectors.

Ethan O’Neil and Gbemi Oguntona, who are only 6’4″, provide us with two low post defenders that are not only agile enough to defend pick and roll, but typically require very little help defending one-on-one in the low block.

Ethan approaches this by giving up his body. He protects the rim by taking charges anytime an opposing perimeter players attempts to drive to the basket and he defends the block by taking away the offensive player’s space. Gbemi is more of a traditional rim protector who plays much taller because of his ability to play above the rim.

Once we were able to establish that we could defend BC’s low post game one-on-one without helping this allowed the rest our team to stay are home on the perimeter keeping everyone in excellent rebounding position.

On the offensive end we were pretty confident heading into the game because of how BC defends ball screens. Watching them on tape we felt there was going to be lots of opportunity for our shooters to get free. We also thought that our smaller 6’2″ wing players would have an huge advantage over the bigger BC wings in transition.

As the 1st quarter began our assumptions proved correct but we didn’t convert. It was much like the Manitoba game as we were getting good looks but the ball wasn’t falling. We ended the quarter shooting only 30% (6-20). Fortunately our defense held BC to about the same percentage (28% on 5 for 18) allowing us to take a 17-13 at the quarter break.

In the 2nd quarter the shots began to fall (9-15 for 60%) including a couple of key threes. As our shooting percentage climbed it opened driving lanes which allowed us to get into the paint and to pick up some fouls on key players for BC. Despite the much improved offense in the 2nd quarter we were not unable to get much separation from BC as they too started to get easier looks. The 1st half end with us holding a 39-31 led.

By half time heat was also becoming a big factor. The temperature on the court was well over 30 and very humid. The physical nature of defending the bigger BC players was definitely starting to have a toll on our team. To compound the problem the venue ran out of ice so there was no ice packs available to help the players reduce their body temperatures as we tried to re-hydrate during the break.

The 3rd quarter was much the same as the second quarter. We were able to get open looks off our ball screens while BC was able to get into the paint for easy baskets. It was a true battle of style and neither team was backing up. BC won the quarter but we still had a 7 point led heading into the final 10 minutes.

As the 4th quarter progressed BC’s shooting percentage had fallen off but they were getting more shots than us either by crashing the offensive glass. BC also started making some defensive adjustments to take the ball out of Jack Tilley’s hands and to take away his open looks off our high ball screen action. But in true team fashion we took what the defensive gave us which was pick and pop for our screener. Ethan O’Neil and Zac Foster both seized the opportunity to knock down a couple of huge three pointers to kill any BC momentum.

Up next for us in Tuesday’s semi-final is Ontario. Game time is 6:00 pm (9:00 pm Atlantic). This is a rematch of last year’s semi-final at Canada Games which we lost by 12. The big challenge for us is recovery. Ontario will be well rested as Monday was their off day. How we mange the 20 hours between these two games will be the difference of playing for gold or bronze.