US Women vs Angola

Yes, Angola was outgunned in every way, but for their first ever Olympic games they showed up with plenty of spunk.  Q1 ended 22-12 and never got better from there, but it was fun to watch.  The Angola players stole the ball, drove to the basket, and never played like women intimidated.   Bravo to to them, the first game is under their belts, and hopefully we will see more from this country in future play.

Team USA played a solid game, but as gold contenders and #1 seed there is always room for comment.  I know that these women have had less then 2 weeks of practice time together and each of these games in pool play is time for them to coalesce as a team.  This game was a meditation in making shots from the foul line (89%).  These are the numbers I like, and expect, from professional ball players.  This game was also a study in the mid-range jump shot, an often underutilized skill that overshadowed by the want of flashy threes.  While not all were mid-range, they did have a 54% two point stat this game.  It was nice to see this kind of game executed as well as the strong team play that goes into its success.  The one weakness, that may be linked to this mid-range style, was the three point shot.  If they are going to work and improve, this is an area to concentrate on.  This game they were 2/17 for the three (12%).  The only players to find their shot were Catchings and Augustus, while Bird was 0/4 and Taursi was 0/5.  Clearly this team has a pocket full of skills, but if you are going to attempt that many you should make some.

This is a great time to remind ourselves Team USA is on a “drive for five.”  That is they are going for their fifth straight gold medal, a feat not done by any other basketball team, women or men.  It may be easy to let this team play second fiddle to the men’s Team USA, with names like James, Bryant and so forth.  And we know those men are extraordinary in basketball, but they are not going for their fifth straight gold.  These women hold more NCAA titles, none were drafted less than 4th, and some, like Maya Moore, hold amazing win records like going 115-4 at UConn while holding the 90 game undefeated streak for the NCAA.  I am not trying to create a pissing game of who have more accolades, but rather just a gentle reminder that not all greatness is held in one way.  Team USA is going for gold #5 and reminding ourselves of that will let us cheer them on a little louder!

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US Men’s vs France

This game was almost a study of NBA athletes.  Almost every player on the floor had NBA experience, including three SA Spurs players on the French team lead by Tony Parker.  Team USA won 98-71, but they looked a little wobbly to start the game.

After missing their first 3 foul shouts, they were okay in that department.  However, the Q1 ended with a three pointer by France (to put France only down by one 22-21) and that was the ONLY three point shot made by either team in that quarter.  Team USA was looking a little peaked.  By halftime, the score was 52-36 (USA on top), but our guys were playing sloppy and flirting with foul trouble. (Just remember, they only get 5 fouls not the NBA 6).

Team USA got it together and played more cleanly in the second half, but it was not a game they ever ran away with.  The final shooting stat was 43%, but for the longest time they were in the mid-30% range, leading to be sure but not inspiring greatness.  They have Argentina to look forward to, as well as probably Spain and others, where 43% shooting will not lead you down the path to gold.

Coach K got credited with a technical in this game.  The only explanation I heard for this penalty was “talking.”  I don’t know if the talking was on the bench or on the floor.  I would hope that it was some friendly banter on the floor as they all play each other and I am sure that they have plenty to say about it.  The technical was not a big deal, but if your gonna get one, get it for a good reason.

All in all, Team USA is fun to watch, especially Anthony Davis getting some floor time in Q4 and Kevin Love above the basket, but I want to see fun basketball as we race towards the gold!


US Women’s Basketball vs Croatia

My cable box chose the first day of Olympic play to poop out, so I missed the first half of this game.  When I came in at half time, the US was up by three.  Not super hopeful against #31 Croatia.  The US pulled out a solid win, but was not stellar in their free throws or their turnovers.  Both of those are important parts of the game.  It only takes  a bad day at the free throw line combined with a good day for the other team and our women will be looking at a rare mark in the L column.

Geno has stacked the deck in his favor though.  With about half the team being UConn alumnae and all of them being starters for their professional teams, he has a powerhouse to work with.  These women are a rare combination of youth and experience!  (Only one woman on this team is older than me and that is only by 4 days)  In this game he pulled a masterful turn by opting to (at least in the second half) substitute his teams in blocs.  His five starters played and then the next five (not really second string) would come in at one time.  Other teams should watch out for this strategy.  Using this method, Geno always has reasonably rested players that are used to working as a team.  I look forward to Women’s Basketball…Go Team USA!


Finally!

Some of you know that I have been talking about writing a basketball blog for a long time.  I love to watch the game and this is a great outlet for me to talk about the game.  All around, I think basketball is a great team sport and when all the parts- players, coaches, refs, and audience- are working together there is nothing better.  Those 40 minutes can fly by or the last few seconds can be agonizingly long, but it is all part of the game.

The free throw in basketball is one of the features of the game that I love.  Making a few key shots can pull you out of reach for a last minute three pointer by the other team’s star shooter or missing some shots from the line can make a game that should be in the bag interesting in the last few minutes.  One thing I believe is universal is that all players, especially at the college level, should make most of their free throws most of the time.  Free throws are a skill and as such can be practiced and improved.

This week I was excited to read an article out of NCSU called, Nothing but net?, where scientist Larry Silverberg finally did a proper analysis of the free throw.  His work is a study in improving free throw shots and the more I read the more exited I got.  Essentially, a player needs to aim for a particular place (that is not always the intuitive spot on the basket), they need to practice this skill, and his work is a training tool for players and coaches.  Validation!  Someone else thinks even more about foul shots than me and has found a way to improve, in his estimation, all players foul shots up to “twenty percentage points.”  If you are a 68% (insert head shake here) shooter you could be hitting 88%, if you are a 75% free throw shooter you could be at 95%!  This is a game and I don’t expect perfection, but close to it in your free throws comes with practice.  That practice pays off on the court when each of those shots from the line goes in with a satisfying swish!

On a side note, the London 2012 Olympics start tonight and I am ready to cheer for Team USA on the basketball court as well as the track, the pool, the gym, and all the other places our Olympians will be competing.  While I don’t usually pay much attention to players once they turn pro, I am pumped to watch, and comment on, our women’s and men’s basketball teams as they fight their way to gold.  Coach K and Geno both have strong teams made of strong players and I expect nothing but the best!