The Jay vs. Wagner game summary can be described by the individual performances and important aspects that shaped it.
-Erica Donavan: “E.D.” would not be denied! She put her stamp on the game early by hitting two jumpers to start the game and hitting Wagner Big, Arielle Roberson, with full body collisions to keep her off of the block. The Ohio native went east coast on Wagner. She banged, she boarded, she bullied and she BALLED! She was a female version of Anthony Mason. She was Ron Artest. She was Bruce Bowen. She was the leader of the 1989 Pistons, too tough and too good to be stopped. The previous meeting with Jay saw her productivity hampered by a swarming Wagner defense that limited her touches. Donovan played the majority of that game in the post, where the long Roberson and her athletic T-Bird teammates bothered her into a difficult shooting game. That was not the case on Saturday. Donovan was the ultimate leader as she implored her team to jump on her back and ride to Austin. Unlike the earlier Wagner game, Jay made sure to flash Donovan to the high post and run the offense through her. Almost every possession included a touch by Donovan. She hit jumpers from 15 feet, she pump faked and finished big buckets in the lane, and she found open teammates while helping break the stingy pressure of the T-Birds. This was the best performance that I have seen from Donovan. Her will to win was incredible. Her teammates drew inspiration from her confidence and commanding presence. Her 25 point and 12 board performance was “Beasty”, as my young one would say!
-Mike Floyd: A team is said to take the characteristics of its coach, and if that is true, Mike Floyd is extremely tough! Coach Floyd is focused, driven and has his eyes on the prize; Austin.
I heard an interesting rumor that if true, best describes Coach Floyd’s philosophy of living in the moment. A former Jay Lady Mustang described visiting the campus last year and seeing one of the trophies that she worked so to hard to earn defaced and replaced with a foreign object. The trophy was won a long time ago and had been sitting in the trophy case of the long time Jay coach. Apparently, Coach Floyd removed the name plate indicating what year the trophy had been won and inserted a plate describing his current team as the recipients of the trophy. This type of ‘seizing the moment’ may not appeal to the sentimentality's of some, but it illustrates that he is on a mission! He understands that this type of team, lead by fearless Donovan, comes around ever so often. He understands that he must motivate and inspire his squad to dream big. Obviously, he knows what he is doing.
Coach Floyd flipped the script in the Wagner game on Saturday. In the previous meeting between the two schools, he almost exclusively zoned the T-Birds. This time he went in to a sagging man defense that protected the paint and jammed the middle. It has been said that “a good man defense LOOKS like a zone while a good zone defense LOOKS like man defense”. That was surely the case in this game.
Floyd had an answer for the dreaded full court press of the T-Birds. Most teams succumb to Wagner’s press because they fail to use the pass to break it. Plenty of hapless dribblers fall victim to the Wagner’s press but Floyd’s girls did not. They passed the ball against the match up zone press instead of dribbling into hot spots, where the T-Birds trap and cause turnover for teams. Floyd positioned Donovan in the middle of the court to exploit the gaps in the press. Floyd was also sure to drill home the philosophy of getting back to stop transition baskets. The Lady Mustangs played transition defense beautifully.
Coach Floyd’s real gem was the mentality that he instilled in his girls for the night. On paper, Jay was supposed to lose this game. Coach Floyd and his “Us against the World” philosophy understood that the game is not played on paper. He balled up the paper and threw it at the T-Birds. His girls played “Bully Ball”. They did not dive for loose balls; they dove on players while going for loose balls. They contested every shot and boxed out on rebounds without much regard for their on bodies. The game was very physical and it wore the T-Birds down. Boxers are told to lean on their opponents so their legs will grow weary in the latter rounds. Sure enough, The T-Birds got tired as layups, open threes and free throws came up short. Coach Floyd knew that the referee’s whistles’ would get tight in the late stages of the game. Fouls that were called in the first half would not be called as such in clutch time. Any referee that worth anything does not want to be the deciding factor in a game that decides a state tournament berth and the crafty coach from Jay obviously realized this fact.
-“Bully” Ball: The Lady Mustangs played a brand of basketball that some call “Bully Ball”. Bully ball is NOT dirty, but is very physical. It is like a speedy wide receiver going across the middle and getting whacked on the first play of a game. For the rest of the game, that receiver has his head on a swivel, anticipating the next hit. Better yet, trying to avoid the next hit. The wide receiver becomes so preoccupied with not getting hit that catching passes become an after thought. His effectiveness has been limited due to the defense imposing its will on him. That is exactly what Jay did Saturday. Point blank layups became 10 foot misses as the T-Birds were anticipating when and where the next blow was coming from. This physical brand of basketball was smart and effective in neutralizing the more athletic T-birds.
So how do you defeat Bully Ball? Hit them back! Harder! The Detroit Bad Boys of old tormented the Chicago Bulls and particularly Scottie Pippen for years. Not until Pippen learned to give the front line of the Pistons some of their own medicine did the Bulls overcome Bully Ball.
We all remember the ‘Malice at the Palice’. Please recall what immediately precipitated Ron Artest’s outburst on the innocent fan? It was a well timed message to Ron Artest from a more physical Ben Wallace. Wallace let Artest know who the real Bully in that scenario was and he would have to take his aggression out elsewhere. Artest is no dummy and knew that he ran up against a bigger bully. I love Ron Artest as a basketball player and believed that he, like Bruce Bowen, is a defensive genius. That being said, the only language that Artest and Bully Ballers understand is the language of force.
Bully Ballers catch the ball on the block while being closely guarded and instantly think “bucket”! You can here the admonishment of all the Bully Ballers across the globe as they score easily on defenders while yelling “Weight Room!” or “Too Small!” Lebron James is the King off Bully Ball right now. The way he dominates and imposes his will on opposing players is almost unfair.
Two particular sequences sum up the physicality and mindset of Jay in this game. Donovan grabbed a rebound in the middle of the key and her teammate was in her way. Donovan pushed off her own teammate with a forearm ‘chuck’ and hit a 10 foot jumper. She forearmed her own teammate! The other scenario included the very talented Jay freshman Aleyah Harris and Wagner’s Arielle Roberson. Harris fouled Roberson on a layup attempt and both players exchanged elbows after the whistle. What is remarkable and indicative of the mindset of the Jay team is that Harris could care less that Roberson is one of the best and most sought after players in the city. Few know that a young Harris is a former cheerleader and a very talented volleyball player. She is quite delicate off of the court but transforms herself into an enforcer during the game. Harris was putting everyone on notice that she too, is for real. Both players received technical fouls. Obviously the technical foul on Roberson was of more consequence to game than the tech on Harris. The underlying message in this scenario illustrates that Jay was going to be the aggressor and disrupt the continuity of the high scoring Wagner offense.
-Destiny Amezquita: The freshman standout for Jay was clutch. Her big three and free throws helped seal the deal. As I sat on the Wagner side of the fans, I heard faulty instructions from the crowd. I heard a gentleman continually shout, “Let her shoot it”. He believed he was giving great advice because the young gunner had missed badly on a couple of early shots. However, had he known Destiny and her father, he would have realized the error in his advice.
Destiny plays summer ball for her father and his version of the “Lady Mustangs”. My daughter has played with him and against him on many occasions. In a game where repetition is king (queen), Destiny has shot the ball close to 10,000 times in games! No exaggeration, her father routinely plays her in close to 100 games a year on the club scene. She rarely shoots less than 20 times a game for her father. That equates to 2,000 shots a year for the last 5-6 years. She also has the ball in her hands almost every possession. All these games reps have created a scoring machine. And in terms of toughness, I have personally witnessed Destiny playing in 5 games in one day! I knew she was going to get stronger as the game progressed. Her demanding father reportedly trains her by making her run sprints while dragging a tire. How about that for toughness?
-“Too many sweets will make ya Fat”: This is an old school saying from all the Big Mama’s across the globe. This advice was not concerning nutritional heath and the dangers of sweets. It was frequently given to put a life lesson in perspective. It applies to this game in this way; Len’Nique Brown is the “sweets” that made her team fat.
Having the best pure point guard in the city has allowed the T-Birds luxuries that most teams do not have. The majority of the time, all her teammates have to do is, get open and she will eventually find them. She runs the T-Bird attack with the precision of a fighter pilot landing on an aircraft carrier. She has had thousands of touches this season alone. She has had to make hundreds upon hundreds of decisions. She also has been able to turn the ball over a lot. EVERY good guard has had the opportunity to make mistakes. It is these mistakes that allow for growth. Great guards learn about the importance of time and score. The great Morgan Wooten would drill “time and score” into his players constantly. Simply put, there is a time to make certain plays and take certain chances and it inevitably depends on the score of the game and how much time is left. This all important on-the-job-training is instrumental in developing an elite guard. Nique is as elite as gets in this city and her competence at being an elite guard has made her fellow teammates “fat”. I am not calling ANY KID physically fat; I am just illustrating how the saying applies to the game. The brilliance of Nique has had some unattended consequences for her squad.
Jay would put pressure on Nique and she did what a point guard is supposed to do; pass. They then started denying Nique when she gave up the ball and making the other T- Birds make crucial game changing decisions. The very sweet Nique has shouldered the bulk of the pressurized decisions for the last few years for the T-Birds and the Jay coaching staff understood that. They forced Wagner's’ shooters to make crucial passes. They made Wagner’s slashers shoot contested jumpers. The made Wagner’s improvisational and creative scorers make fundamental plays. Things like faking a pass to make a pass or looking off defenders to finish a set play. Or reading the weak side defenders to truly see if Roberson was open and immediately analyzing the probability of the pass leading to a successful score. Just because a pass gets to the attended target does not make it a good pass. Nique understands all these things and processes them in an instant. All the reps have allowed her to do this so well that she will do the same for the USC Trojans next year. However, this is the downside to having your best player as a point guard. When they are forced to give up the ball, things change. And change is not good for a team that thrives on the consistency that a great point guard gives them. Not in the clutch with a trip to Austin on the line anyway!
-Smile Now Cry Later: While watching the Jay kids celebrate, it was impossible not to feel happy for them. All their hard work and sacrifice has paid off with a trip to the State. Their efforts are historic and their elation was motivating for any young player in that building. Seeing the excitement of dreams being realized and goals being fulfilled was a thing of beauty.
Conversely, watching the pain and agony of defeat for the T-Birds was difficult to stomach. Anyone who understands how hard these kids work and believe could not help but feel bad for them. Nique, Chelsea Solis, Michelle Rodriguez and Ashley Cattlin deserved to go back to Austin. Coach Tina Camacho is as passionate about her program as any coach in this state has had her eyes on Austin since last years defeat to Pflugerville.
However, when both scenarios are put into perspective, this is how this beautiful game goes. You win some and you lose some. Wagner’s 2008 joy was Jay’s 2009 pain. Both schools have immensely talented kids in the high school and middle schools programs that ensure that this will not be the last time these two lock up for a berth in Austin.
We should all get behind Jay and cheer for them to rep San Antonio to the fullest! Next up is a very good Hightower team at 8:30 on Friday night. Hightower better get ready for a fight, because Jay is coming is coming out swinging!