Saturday, January 31, 2009

Stallings sticks with his lineup — and Dolla Beal sticks the three

Just got back from Auburn — the loveliest village on the Plains, etc. — where Vanderbilt picked up an 82-75 victory over the Tigers.

It was a big, big win for Vanderbilt because we need all the SEC road wins we can get, our young guys only get more confident and more dangerous when they win on the road, and we were on the verge of a full-blown collapse.

I think Stallings is a very good coach when the hour seems darkest, and he's turned the season around on numerous occasions when things looked bleak. After the South Carolina loss, which gave him a personal worst 1-5 SEC record, he was talking about how bad he felt for his players because they were working hard and doing what he asked and showing great attitude and character.

Anyway, Auburn is an athletic, physical team that before the Vanderbilt game hadn't given up more than 81 points all season. Last week, the Tigers pounded Arkansas 73-51 in Fayetteville. Based on that game alone, I expected us to lose today.

Auburn's also the kind of team that either gets hot and wins big or runs cold and loses. Today they got hot, with senior guard Rasheem Barrett stepping up and hitting five treys — and Lucas Hargrove and Tay Waller combining for another five down the stretch. I really like Korvotney Barber, their 6-7 senior forward who's a tough defender, quick leaper and trash scorer and would be incredible as a power forward for a college team like North Carolina that has a legitimate big man.

Auburn fans didn't seem too torn up about the loss. The loudest moment during the game was when new football coach Gene Chizik strolled out to midcourt during a timeout. The place went nuts. Imagine what they would have done if he'd won more than five games in two years at Iowa State.

Anyway, back to Stallings' lineup. Instead of the crazy fruit-basket turnover substitutions he's used most of this season, Stallings settled on this lineup, with these results:

• BEAL: 37 minutes, 7-8 three-pointers, 21 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal
• TINSLEY: 35 minutes, 13 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal
• TAYLOR: 34 minutes, 6-7 field goals, 14 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal
• DRAKE + MCCLELLAN: 40 minutes, 5-7 field goals, 13 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 9 fouls
• OGILVY + EZELI: 40 minutes, 21 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 7 fouls

It worked very well. When A.J. got in foul trouble or needed a breather, Festus came in and played his position. When George got in foul trouble or needed a breather, Darshawn came in and played his position.

Beal and Tinsley handled the ball against the break and at least one of them was in the game for its entirety. Taylor played under control and knew when he was expected to go one-on-one and score some points and when he was supposed to set up somebody else — he had five assists.

When Beal, Tinsley or Taylor left the game, they were replaced by either Lance Goulbourne or Steve Tchiengang. Meld them together into one super sub and you've got Leve Goulgang or Stance Tchienbourne.

Both Goulbourne and Tchiengang are good-looking players who can do some things that nobody else on the team can. But what matters now, I think, is that Stallings has chosen his starters and now the guys know which position they'll be playing and what their role will be.

I could see that today: A bunch of guys who knew their roles and played together as a team.

The highlight was obviously Beal's three-point shooting. He was 7-8. Also, Tinsley was 3-6. When those guys hit their threes, it frees up Ogilvy down low and Taylor on the wing and it makes us a tough, tough team. We beat a physical Auburn team that was burning up the nets and getting some highly dubious calls from the refs, including a walking call on Ogilvy when he was pivoting late in the game and some no-calls when he was getting hacked inside by Barber.

Other high points:

• Ogilvy had five assists.
• Taylor had five assists, too, pulled down nine rebounds and showed the quickness and athleticism to shoot 6 for 7 inside and mid-range against a tight defense.

Some low points:
• Ogilvy had five turnovers, but I attribute most of them to no-calls when guys were grabbing his arms or smacking him upside the head. One of them, though, was an awful outlet pass on a rebound that hit an Auburn player on the numbers.
• Horrible free-throw shooting — 16-31 — including 3-8 from McClellan. But Auburn went 7-15 from the charity stripe.

All in all, a great effort. Like I've been saying, these young guys will come together before the season's over — and that may have started today.

By the way, don't expect this sort of analysis after every game. I was there today and thought what the heck.

Have a good Saturday night.

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