NEW YORK – VCU’s bread and butter is the three.
Well, that’s not exactly true. They like to spread the floor and take advantage of the talented perimeter players on the roster. Joey Rodriguez, Brandon Rozzell, Brad Burgess, Ed Nixon. Even young guys Darius Theus and Rob Brandenburg stepped up and made some big plays this afternoon.
When you have that many good players on your perimeter, and that many players that are unselfish, what you end up with is great ball movement and a lot of open looks. And this group is going to knock down those open looks. They did just that tonight, banging home 10-22 shots from beyond the arc in their 89-85 win over UCLA.
The problem with having so many talented back court players is that, at times, the ball fails to make its way into the post.
Jamie Skeen made sure to address that problem.
“We were at dinner. I just made a joke about it at first,” Skeen said with a laugh after the game. “My coach took it seriously. He said ‘Okay, we’re going to get you the ball for real.’ I said that would nice.”
It worked out well tonight.
Skeen scored 10 points in the first five minutes of the game. He was the focal point offensively down the stretch, scoring and drawing fouls in the post and creating shots for his teammates. And not just the three baskets he created via an assist, but by forcing UCLA’s defense to adjust by moving the ball.
“Down the stretch, they ran a play for me I would say probably 10, 12 times in a row,” Skeen said. “The same play over and over and over again. I wasn’t complaining.”
“My whole life I’ve been playing inside-out basketball. You play inside-out and then the threes start coming because they start clamping down and double-teaming. So it opened it up for everyone else.”
All told, Skeen finished with 23 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 assists while shooting 8-13 from the floor and playing a major role in getting UCLA’s big men in foul trouble.
“Before the Tennessee game, Skeen said that he wanted the ball more,” VCU head coach Shaka Smart said after the game. “So we said OK. We’ll give you the ball more. But to whom much is given, much is expected.”
“He produced tonight.”
The most important stat produced for VCU tonight was one win. The biggest difference between tonight’s win and Wednesday’s loss was the perimeter shooting. And while Skeen did help to create open looks for the multitude of Ram shooters tonight, he also got them open looks on Wednesday.
The threes were dropping tonight.
And, as I said on Wednesday, when the threes are dropping, VCU is going to be able to play with anyone in the country. Tonight proves it.
UCLA has a way to go before they get back to the heights that this program expects. They are a younger team, one that has a number of talented pieces that head coach Ben Howland is still trying to fit together.
That said, this is a Bruins team that many expected to be a sleeper in the Pac-10. (Isn’t it a bad sign for UCLA that they are now disappointing when they are not a sleeper in a bad Pac-10 conference?) A team that some believe was in the running for a potential second tournament bid coming out of that league.
VCU blitzed them. The Rams jumped out to an early lead riding Skeen’s coattails, and they held that lead throughout.
Sure, UCLA got close. They cut it to three at the half. They got the lead down to one with early in the second half, missing a chance to take the lead with Malcolm Lee missed two free throws. After VCU built the lead back up to 11, the Bruins made another run, once again getting to within one possession.
And, once again, the Rams held them off. With the score 80-79, VCU forced Lazeric Jones into two turnovers, both of which led to dunks. The lead was pushed to five, and while a couple misses at the line made things interesting, the Rams were able to hang on for the win.
“I thought UCLA did a great job of making shots and rebounding and usually if we give up that many points its going to be a losing night for us,” Smart said.
“I’m proud of our guys. They stepped up. Showed a lot of fight.”
The experience of playing on national TV in an arena like Madison Square Garden is great and the confidence boost of competing with, and beating, two of the top programs in the country is invaluable.
But how much value with this win have come March?
UCLA is a bubble team at best. While it is no doubt a good win for the Ram program, will it be as good of a win in the eyes of the tournament committee?
It may only be the day after Thanksgiving, but for a team with tournament aspirations — like VCU has — that is a questions that has to be asked. VCU still gets South Florida and Richmond in non-conference play, but neither of those teams would be marquee wins. If VCU doesn’t win their conference tournament, they better be rooting for UCLA to have a resurgence.
But, for now, VCU just wants to enjoy this win.
“We had a seven, eight hour drive up here,” Skeen said.
“We didn’t want to go back down the road on two losses.”
Can’t blame him for that.