Rotation Building

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If I'm thinking about it from my couch, Ben Braun has rolled it over in his mind countless times and initiated the process to rectify the situation before it becomes a cataclysmic problem.

If Jr. G Bryan Beasley isn't the answer to the question of who will back up Fr. G Tamir Jackson at the point, then Fr. G A.J. Holland has to be. And while I was the first to laud Holland for his toughness and court vision before the season opened, I too saw how nervous he appeared during his jittery two-minute, two-turnover appearance at Arizona. Jackson might be spry but he can't average 38 minutes a game this season, and Braun knows this. So guess who was in Holland's ear in practice during the workouts between the Owls' setback at Arizona and their 77-65 victory over Furman, a contest in which Holland delivered a commanding performance?

"I had to stop turning the ball over because that's what was keeping me from playing so much," Holland said. "When I protect the ball I get my confidence and my teammates have confidence in me, and that makes everything a lot easier.

"Coach always tells me to play lower to the ground, and I focused on that and it helped out."

Holland took heed, maintained a low dribble, and logged a season-high 22 minutes. He scored five points, dished out three assists, notched two steals and - drum roll please - did not turn the ball over. Better still, he looked confident out on the court while spelling Jackson, who was quite effective in his subtle efficiency (10 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals). Jackson still played 36 minutes, but if Holland can keep developing, expect Jackson to get longer breathers and thus maintain a stronger wind when the Owls really require his services.

That Jr. F/C Trey Stanton (23 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two steals) came alive against the Paladins should further fortify an already solid frontcourt. So. F Lucas Kuipers was the lone member of the Owls' four-man frontcourt rotation who had shown a propensity for scoring inside and out, but it was no secret that Stanton should be the superior post player. The proof was in the pudding Tuesday night as Stanton scored via dunks, driving layups, hook shots and from behind the arc. His versatility was in full bloom, and was something to behold.

"I haven't always been a post player but I think I'm definitely getting better at it," said Stanton, who shot 9-for-15 against Furman after shooting 4-for-18 over the first four games. "I spend 30 minutes a day at least just on that alone before and after practice, so I'm getting better at it.

"It's always good to have a game like this, especially for your confidence. I knew it (a breakout) was going to come sooner or later, I just had to work hard and wait on it. I want to let the game come to me; I don't want to force anything. I've never been a player to force stuff."

Some of us wouldn't mind a more aggressive imposing of your will, Trey. Stanton started the second half in place of Suleiman Braimoh, who has been nothing short of brilliant thus far this season. Braimoh seems better suited as a reserve, with his infectious energy and unrelenting hustle providing just the spark the Owls need off their bench. Braun made a point of praising Braimoh for approaching the game with the same fervor in the second half as he did in the first despite the demotion. If both Stanton and Braimoh can keep producing like they did against Furman, the Owls will continue down the path of cohesion at an expeditiously satisfactory rate.

As for the ladies? Sigh. Your eyes might have blurred a bit when you read that the Owls were on the wrong end of a 30-2 second-half run against Arkansas-Little Rock in the first game of Tuesday's doubleheader, but unfortunately that little nugget was accurate. How does a team score two points while the opposition is rolling up 30 during one 10-minute, 18-second span? Well it helps when that team commits six turnovers and misses 11 of 12 shots while allowing the opponent to make 11 consecutive baskets and 14 of 16 overall. That will often do the trick.

Clearly the Owls are facing some defensive challenges - they were allowing 86.3 points/game on 43.9% shooting before UALR shot 69.2% (!!!) in the second half of its 73-54 victory. Playing exceptional defense is about effort, intensity and desire, and the Owls were lacking all three.

"I'm baffled by it and extremely disappointed, and we've obviously got a lot of work to do," Owls women's coach Greg Williams said. "We're not following our defensive game plans for the whole game; we did it the first half. That's frustrating. We're still struggling with rotations.

"It (second-half collapses) was a problem last year. We've pointed it out, we've addressed it, and it's obviously still a problem. When teams start cranking it up a little bit defensively, which they did the second half, we don't respond to that very well. And we've just got to fight through that."

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I'm impressed by our men's coaching staff. I'd say it's easily the most experienced staff we've ever had in hoops (and the largest too with a lot of suits on the bench). It's very obvious we're putting an effort into upgrading the program and making it into a money-maker.

The basketball staff reminds us of Wayne's in the way they approach practices, game days, and preparing the team for almost every situation they will face in a particular game. Listening to Coach Mouton or Roberts give the pre-game breakdown is a little like listening to Wayne as they provide insights beyond just the X's and O's of the upcoming game.

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