A Needed Respite

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Without even realizing it, Tamir Jackson and Arsalan Kazemi revealed separate but equally endearing characteristics in the aftermath of the Owls' third consecutive loss on Saturday.

Jackson insisted on shouldering the blame for the Owls' loss to North Texas, referencing his exhausting average minutes per game (36.2) only to note how quickly he needs to learn in terms of proficient and efficient performances what takes point guards far longer than eight games to discover. Kazemi sat slumped in his chair, dejected by the defeat he single-handedly attempted to avoid with a rousing double-double (12 points, 11 boards) on a bum right ankle.

"To me it's just a learning experience. I've got to learn real quickly," Jackson said. "I'm playing a lot of minutes as a freshman."

Said Kazemi: "It (the right ankle) is still painful but I had to play for my team. I'm so sorry we lost this game. I'm so mad."

No need to apologize, young fella, not after that performance. The Owls lost their momentum en route to Boston for their non-conference showdown with Harvard, and they'll need the full 10-day break for final exams to reclaim it. Their defense was abysmal against the Crimson, and while the statistics from Saturday reveal a solid overall performance, the Owls' inability to contain dribble penetration cost them dearly late in the first half and set the stage for the Mean Green to hang around and ultimately swipe the victory. Given their effort against No. 3 Texas, it was difficult to predict the Owls closing the week with two additional losses, but that's what happened. And that sometimes happens when you lean on freshmen, no matter how fabulous.

Kazemi did not make the trip to Harvard - he had two exams last Thursday - and was sorely missed. Jackson lamented his recent spate of turnovers, but only gave passing reference to how ably he ran the offense against the Mean Green. His bitterness may have been most evident, but his leadership was there for the observing too. Jackson is always aware of the nuances unfolding on the court, with conversations on strategy revealing his knowledge of the game. He is thinking while in action, and it seems only a matter of time before he truly gets it and can pair his talent and tenacity with his cerebral approach. Patience must be his guide.

If Kazemi didn't realize how critical he was to the Owls' efforts, he should have no doubt after comparing his team's display at Harvard without him against their showing against North Texas. He is averaging a whopping 7.1 rebounds/game in just 20.7 minutes/game, and while the Owls got just seven total rebounds from Suleiman Braimoh and Trey Stanton on Saturday, they still managed to outrebound the Mean Green by seven boards. Kazemi had almost as many offensive boards (six) as the North Texas rotation (seven). He is essential personnel.

That doesn't suggest that he is indefatigable. Exams, basketball and college life weigh heavily on young minds late in semesters, and there is no shame in needing a break. The Owls are enjoying it this week, and perhaps the reduced mental commitment will serve their desire to get back on an ascending track. Connor Frizzelle and Lucas Kuipers have misplaced their shooting strokes, and both need relocating. A.J. Holland and Bryan Beasley have delivered uneven performances as reserve lead guards, and a trend reversal is in order. Cliff Ghoram is suddenly foul prone, and the Owls as a team aren't getting to the foul line nearly enough nor playing the aggressive yet smart defense that marked their earlier performances. There is work to be done to get this ship righted again, and this down time should aid that refocusing.

"Now they get a chance to get their finals completed and come back just a little stronger with a little more energy," Owls coach Ben Braun said. "We've got to come back and concentrate on some of the finer areas."

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We'll be okay. I think ultimately we're playing better teams than people realize. Harvard gave UConn a battle on the road.

But Braun needs to figure out a better rotation pattern. Why has Holland's minutes fallen by the wayside, for example?

Is there any chance Pirri helps us when he's eligible? Or is he strictly practice fodder?

The loss to Harvard won't appear as bad as the season goes on, however the performance was definitely lacking. Again playing defense is something that should never have a night off unlike offense and the ability to hit shots.

The loss to North Texas was more a sore point with me. The staff prepared the team to defend against #10 White but let #1 beat them in spite of the fact they appeared to basically be the same type of player.

The time off was needed but we need to come back strong against Santa Clara and get ready for conference play. Hopefully getting past finals will help Kuipers find his game again because as important as Jackson and Kazemi are Kuipers is the one that can created the best mismatches and difficulty for other teams.

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