The Hoos squared off against Arizona State with the Air Force Reserve Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off championship up for grabs. As usual, StLouHoo did a stellar job previewing the championship game against the Sun Devils. His three key factors in this game were:
1) Ball Security.
2) Exploit the glass.
3) Pop the bigs.
After building a 26-16 lead with under a minute to go in the first half, the Hoos allowed Arizona State to score the next nineteen points across both halves. The Sun Devils eventually extended their lead to nine points with 13:32 remaining. But the Hoos corrected course from there and grinded their way to a 48 to 45 victory.
StLouHoo picked UVA to win 61 to 57. And while the teams didn't score that much, he hit the margin of victory within a point.
Were the Hoos as successful in their performance within the keys to the game?
1) Ball Security
In Arizona State's semifinals victory over St. John's, a win that featured a big second half comeback by the Sun Devils, they forced sixteen turnovers. In easy early season wins over Rider and Central Connecticut State, Arizona State forced twenty-nine and twenty-three turnovers respectively.
Turnovers translate to extra possessions and easy baskets for Bobby Hurley's squad. Against Rider, the Sun Devils scored thirty-two points off of those twenty-nine turnovers. Against Central Connecticut State, they again scored thirty-two points on the twenty-three forced turnovers. And against the Red Storm, Arizona State scored twenty-three points on the sixteen forced turnovers.
Playing against the set UVA defense is a slog in the best of times. So how did Arizona State do turning over UVA and scoring off of those opportunities?
UVA turned it over thirteen times. The Hoos were credited with fifty-six possessions in the game. That translates to turnovers on nearly one in four possessions (23.21%).
Arizona State was able to convert those turnovers into fourteen points. That accounted for nearly a third of Arizona State's points (31.11%).
Six Wahoos played double digit minutes in the championship game. And each one turned the ball over at least once: Clark (38 minutes, 3 turnovers), Key (38 minutes, 3 turnovers), Morsell (38 minutes, 2 turnovers), Diakite (36 minutes, 1 turnover), Huff (26 minutes, 2 turnovers), Woldetensae (15 minutes, 2 turnovers).
The only other players to play did not turn the ball over: Coleman (5 minutes) and McKoy (4 minutes).
No one player was to blame. The main rotation players were equal opportunity in their lack of ball security. You'd almost want one or two players responsible for them as that would be easier to mitigate as a coach.
2) Exploit the Glass
StLou noted that Arizona State was ranked sub 200 in both offensive and defensive boards. The Hoos' frontcourt of Key, Diakite, and Huff should control the glass and convert some of those offensive boards into buckets.
UVA won the battle of the boards thirty-one to twenty-six. Both teams secured twenty-two defensive boards. But the Hoos had a nine to four advantage on the offensive glass.
In a game with a three-point margin of victory where the loser had a shot to tie the game on the last possession, the five board advantage on the offensive glass may have made all the difference for UVA.
Braxton Key was the game's leading rebounder with eight. Jay Huff also contributed seven. Arizona State was surprisingly led by guard Rob Edwards with six.
Jay Huff and Braxton Key also led the Hoos that played considerable minutes in rebound rate at 18.9 and 14.8 respectively. And Justin McKoy's rebound rate, in only four minutes, was 17.5. He had a team leading 38.5 defensive rebound rate.
The Hoos didn't dominate the glass. But the nine offensive boards did result in six second chance points for UVA. In a three-point game, that's a pretty big deal.
3) Pop the Bigs
StLou was looking for the UVA bigs to exploit their advantages on the block and as perimeter weapons to carry the Hoos to this championship. Due to Arizona State's pressure, ball denial defense on the perimeter combined with the lack of consistency from UVA's guards this year, it was a logical focus heading into this game.
Both Kihei Clark and Tomas Woldetensae struggled in this game. Chase Coleman provided a spark off the bench, hitting a three in limited minutes. But expecting the walk-on first year to make a major impact against a backcourt the caliber of Arizona State's this early in his career is a bridge too far.
Braxton Key played well on defense and kicked in eight rebounds (1 offensive). But he struggled to score the ball shooting 1 for 7 from the field. Key is a tweener but in this game he could be quite effective in the paint and at the rim.
So how did UVA's bigs do?
Jay Huff was perfect from the field but only attempted two shots, scoring five points, in twenty-six minutes. Equally important were his seven rebounds and two blocks. Arizona State did a nice job limiting Huff's shot opportunities.
Mamadi Diakite wasn't necessarily efficient shooting the ball but the spark he provided on offense at times in the last ten minutes of the second half were vitally important in securing the win for UVA. He hit a difficult fade away with 10:56 remaining as the shot clock was expiring to spark an 8 to 0 run that eventually tied the game at 38.
During the final 10:56 of the game, Mamadi scored nine of his fifteen points. During that stretch he only missed two shots and went 3 for 3 from the foul line.
The only player to make a bigger impact for the Hoos on offense was first year guard Casey Morsell. He scored a career high nineteen points, scoring from all levels and at the foul line. Wahoo fans have been waiting for Morsell to make an offensive impact. He saved it for the right day as UVA doesn't win this game without Casey. Given the defensive reputation of Arizona State's backcourt, and their style of defense, hardly anyone could have seen this offensive explosion coming.
Due to Morsell's breakout performance, the bigs were played to a draw on offense. But once Mamadi found his stride, Arizona State had no answers for him. Had the guards and coaching staff found a way to get Huff the ball in scoring positions, he probably could have put up impressive numbers as well.
I think StLou was expecting more in total but Mamadi's stretch run holds a lot of weight in this win.