Disturbing. Appalling. Unsettling.
That pretty much sums up my decision to re-watch Sunday's game.
Trips put a nice bow on it, except for the part about making me look at how open Gary Johnson would have been, had J'Covan Brown actually had on his point guard hat at the time. My only consolation there is that I don't think Johnson had made a dunk since February, and I'm pretty sure he would have thought that if ever there was a hammer time, this would have been it. Well, that, and the things I threw are replaceable, and I did not hit the screen of the new TV.
Some things surprised me. For example, if you'd told me when Tristan Thompson dunked the first basket of the game that he wouldn't make another field goal, I would have figured that watching the rest would have been a waste of time. And, while the officiating wasn't as horrid as I thought, there is no doubt that Derrick Williams received star treatment. Williams drew at least four fouls in the second half that were questionable, in comparison with some of the pressure that Hamilton and Thompson were under.
I thought that many (but not all) of the hedges on the Texas guards were blocking fouls, and there were a countable number of moving screens. If Texas had employed similar strategy, perhaps the game would have been called differently, but the Longhorns were content to go over screens and trail cutters away from the basket, and by and large were not hurt by that. In that regard, Arizona lummox Kyryl Natyazhko was notable for his clumsy, yet effective efforts, given that he was not called for a hedge foul in the first half, and also not whistled for a bump on Thompson that caused Tristan to fall out of bounds. He probably would have fouled out otherwise.
On the other hand, Arizona's Solomon Hill should have been thrown out of the game for the elbow he delivered across the face of Dogus Balbay with about 15 minutes to go. Trips, to his credit, suggested this right away. But even he did so without having seen what happened on the previous Texas possession. Balbay was on his way through the lane, without the ball, when Hill delivered a shot from a pass-block stance that sent Balbay flying back about six feet, and he tumbled into the key. Hill was on Hamilton at the time, and Jordan was about to get the ball for a shot at a three at the top of the key. As Hill attempted to recover, Balbay, looking a bit disoriented, nonetheless lifted his legs and tripped Hill. Considering how Balbay got there, that seemed fair, and nothing was called. But the next time down, Hill made it personal. He should have been tossed. I'm also not sure they would have given the flagrant foul, had Rick Barnes not yelled at Jim Burr to check the monitor.
Also, just for grins, check out the four-minute mark of the first half, when Johnson, not exactly under control while attempting to get a fast-break bucket, puts up a wild shot that bounces off the backboard. He's taken down below the knees on a trip by Momo Jones that is eerily similar to the bail-out attempt to draw the charge by Hamilton that gave Williams the winning free throw. Burr said, play on. Johnson missed three shots, and could have drawn fouls on two of them, as well as one that he made.
Complaining about whistles is not my style. Neither has been picking apart late-game coaching strategy. But I feel compelled to do it, because the strategy was so unusual and so ineffective.
I'm talking, of course, about the ill-fated inbounds play with 14.5 seconds left that gave Arizona the ball and caused Texas to have to put the game solely in the hands of J'Covan Brown. I'd also rip on Brown for lazily wasting time with the dribble at the end of both halves, but the game-ending situation wasn't his fault. It was his coach's. In trying to come up with a play that would confuse Arizona, Barnes inadvertently set up an alignment that would take so long to run that Joseph was almost certain to have to call time.
Trips pointed out what appears to be a general failure to think about the opponent's strategy. Here, there was a failure to realize that the opponent would not only key on J'Covan Brown, but would try to deny the ball in any situation. Barnes designed a play that would bring Alexis Wangmene across to screen for Brown. That worked fine until Williams, hardly unexpectedly, switched the screen. That made things worse, because a bigger, more athletic player now was trailing Brown and made the inbound pass harder. Williams also jostled Brown – some might call that a foul – as he looked to get the ball, but the bottom line was that the main option was taken away. Brown, the intended target, was all the way across the court when the ball was handed to Joseph. Brown had to wait for the screen to be set and Joseph had to wait for Brown to move toward him. All of this took about three seconds, and by the time Brown arrived, he was stumbling. No go.
What were the other options? One was Wangmene, who after setting his screen took off for the Texas basket. He was open for the long pass. But Joseph probably didn't see him because of Jamelle Horne trying to distract the passer or deflect the pass. Another was Johnson, who stood at the free-throw line and eventually cut toward Joseph and under the basket. He too was open, but didn't move until it was too late, about the time Joseph was turning to ask for time.
That left Hamilton, who took the long route to get from the opposite side of the court from Brown at nearly midcourt, to the opposite corner, again as a relief option. But at no time did he appear to move as fast he could, and by the time he got to the spot, not only would it have been a difficult pass, but his man had made up ground and was in position to knock away or steal the ball.
None of this was Joseph's fault. He, in fact, did was he should have done, and he should have gotten the time out. He didn't. Now, there's been controversy over whether the five seconds had elapsed, and it's pretty clear that the official, Dick Cartmell, did not give the full five. He operated basically on the old interpretation that permitted the official not to award the time out in the fifth second. (Under this, he could give the timeout, but he didn't have to, and Cartmell clearly did not intend to, as he stopped his signal count after four seconds.) He screwed up.
But the reason that interpretation was eliminated was because of the rule change that allowed coaches to call time from the sideline. The official doing the counting out of bounds could not know if a coach was calling for time before the official reached his four count. So the last option was for Barnes himself to call the timeout when he knew that the time had not elapsed. The problem was that the play was so complicated, and began so far from Joseph, that Barnes could not be sure that the play was messed up until the time had almost elapsed.
As I reviewed the game, I saw the State Farm commercial in which agents appear like genies and wishes are granted. (Amazing how none of the wishers ask for lower premiums, but I digress.) In the spot featuring former game-show host Bob Barker, one of the individuals requests and receives a giant, stuffed panda bear. The woman who summoned the agent turns to him, and mockingly asks, “That's what your going with?”
That's exactly the question to ask here, with the exact same attitude. This was a game situation in which the coach put players in positions that were going to make it difficult to succeed, if not impossible. Meanwhile, it turned out that he wasted a time out when Hamilton rebounded the Williams miss, but obviously Barnes had made it clear that he wanted time. Not only did both Hamilton and Johnson attempt to call time, but Hamilton clenched his fist, thinking that victory was at hand. It probably should have been, but when all you hear from commentators all weekend in close games is that coaches work on these situations every day in practice, I have to ask, what have they been working on? Barnes, for example, never wasted time this year pulling Brown from the game when he made fancy passes that went awry instead of easy ones that would have led to baskets. Here, Barnes designed a play that needed only a slight misstep to go wrong, and it did. There had to have been an easier option that could have been short-circuited sooner, if necessary.
And now the season is over. It was a really good season. This team won four or five games more than anyone had a right to expect. Barnes reshaped the attitude, made it into a defensive force, and redid the entire offense, although it's hard to explain why the offense disappeared in the last month. (As I watched Brown work dribble handoffs for the entire second half, I wondered how they'd regressed to the same strategy that Varez Ward worked against Duke two years ago. They lost that game, too.)
Now, there is very little a Texas fan can say when, say, a Kansas fan or a Bill Simmons fan suggests that Barnes is a bonehead when it comes to strategy. Until at least the next tournament (because the regular season will be prologue), in every close game, everyone connected with the team, and every team they play, will remember how this game got away. Those of us who are long-time fans will remember it at least until there is another chance at national championship. And frankly, with mistakes like this, I'm finding it harder to argue that there will be another chance with Rick Barnes in charge.