The Rematch: Defensive Keys
Last Friday night, Saint Xavier Basketball showed a lot of people that it can play with anyone. The Tigers fell to the Rocks by a final score of 57-47, but they were in it until the very end. It would be very hard for St. X to play better tomorrow night, but it could be done. From a defensive standpoint, St. X played outstanding; however, there are still some points the Tigers need to remember.
1. Don’t forget about Ray.
Lucas Miller did an outstanding job limiting Shamrock star Raymond Spalding in the first match, holding him to just 10 points and 7 rebounds. It will be an even tougher task for Miller this time around, as Mike Szabo and his staff have almost assuredly made some changes to their offensive plan after seeing how the Tigers guarded Ray the first time out. A key stat to remember concerning this matchup is fouls, as St. X was able to send Spalding to the pine for almost the entire second quarter because of foul trouble. (The Tigers would take full advantage of his absence by winning the second quarter en route to a halftime lead.) If St. X can get Spalding to commit cheap fouls early in the game again, it puts them in great position. We have yet to see how the game goes with Spalding on the court for his regular amount of minutes, and we don’t want to find out how it goes, either. Spalding must be fronted at all times, doubled immediately when he has the ball inside the arc, and soundly boxed out every time a shot goes up.
2. Keep an eye on Jax.
Jax Levitch, as expected, hit three pointers when Trinity needed them. He finished 3 for 4 from outside, and all them were too open due to split-second mental lapses on defense. The Tigers need to eliminate those mental mistakes and cling to Levitch like white on rice. Levitch is a smart player, and if he is feeling it, he will without warning drain a long ball in someone’s grill; he might get one or two, but St. X has to keep him uncomfortable. His outside shot cannot be the reason St. X loses.
3. Don’t sleep on D’Angelo West.
In my preview of the last matchup on Friday, I described West as arguably Trinity’s best offensive player. He did not live up to that title on Friday, managing 0 points on 0 of 4 shooting. But don’t write this guy off after one terrible game. He is still a “heat-check” slasher who can score 20 points on any given night; and for all we know, this could be that night. St. X needs to continue to guard him tough, because holding him to a big, fat donut in the box score will go a long way in the Tigers’ pursuit of revenge, just like it did on Friday.
With so much length, athleticism, and talent on the other side, St. X has to win this game as a team; that’s how it was so close the first time. It’s especially important on the defensive side, where you have to call out picks, slips, cuts, and many other movements throughout the possession. If the Tigers are talking on defense, it means they are locked in to what Trinity is doing. Talking keeps everyone focused on his assignment; if St. X wants to beat Trinity, each player must have a laser-focus on what he needs to do on the floor at all times.
5. Be tough.
Playing against a more talented team also means you have to do the dirty work. You have to fight for every rebound, every loose ball, and pounce on every opportunity that arises. The Tigers would do well to turn the game into a controlled street-fight. No easy layups. No dunks for Spalding. If the Rocks know that they will be met with force if they try to enter the paint, they will go there less often. If St. X can channel its inner Bad Boy Pistons and get Trinity to focus on the players in front of them instead of the game being played, it will be on the way to a victory.
If the Tigers can capitalize on these points and weather a few Shamrock runs, they can do this. They almost won the first game, and defense is what got them to that point. St. X isn’t scared or worried about guarding the other team; if the guys stay on their toes, drop the mental lapses, and leave every drop of energy on the court, they can win this battle.
This game is huge. If St. X can topple the giant, they can win the LIT and make an enormous statement in the process. The Tigers are ready.