Friday, March 23, 2012

Paul Westhead: March Madness Needs You

Posted By on Fri, Mar 23, 2012 at 1:29 PM

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On Thursday night, Louisville beat Michigan State 57-44 to advance to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament.

It was a defensive showcase, a real grit-and-grind effort, a slugfest, and a bore. That final score is more fitting to a football game. Greg Bishop of the New York Times described it as "a gritty, ugly, low-scoring affair" and he was being generous. The teams missed a combined 69 shots.

Such clangfests are not unusual in recent versions of March Madness. Last year's final was one of the ugliest ever, as U Conn beat Butler 53-41 and Butler shot 12 for 64 from the field. Memphis lost 61-54 to St. Louis this year in another clunker. Dribble, drive, work the clock, clang, dribble, drive, work the clock, get fouled, repeat.

And it brought to mind Paul Westhead, who used to coach Loyola Marymount. He is currently coaching the women's team at the University of Oregon. Too bad. Paul, your nation needs you. The problem today isn't just that teams don't make enough shots, they also don't take enough shots.

On March 18, 1990, Loyola Marymount defeated Michigan, the defending national champion, 149-115, and it wasn't that close. Westhead's strategy was first guy who sees daylight fires. Any shot inside of half court was OK with him. The shot clock was irrelevant. The guy who inbounded the ball got an assist.

Michigan was not a bunch of stiffs. The Wolverines started four players who would play in the NBA — Terry Mills, Rumeal Robinson, Sean Higgins, and Loy Vaught. Not a "D" in any of their names, and no "D" on the floor either. The score at halftime was 65-58, Loyola ahead. That's more points than most teams scored in entire games in this year's tournament. In the second half, Loyola turned it on, scoring 84 points, which is a feat rarely seen outside of NBA exhibition games and All-Star games.

Loyola attempted 40 three-pointers and made 21 of them. Jeff Fryer finished as high point with 41. Bo Kimble, the team's best player, settled for 37. The teams missed a combined 80 shots — 12 more than Michigan State and Louisville did last night. But both teams were firing.

Michigan-Loyola Marymount was ugly in its own way. Loyola's game plan was not exactly a secret. The team averaged 122 points that year. Michigan Coach Steve Fisher was clueless. But at least it was basketball, and entertaining for a half or so, which is more than can be said for some recent games.

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