The Aztecs can grind out tough wins because they know what they are and everyone has bought in. Xavier Thames and Winston Shepard are going to carry the load offensively. Skylar Spencer and Josh Davis control the boards. J.J. O’Brien doesn’t care what he does. But he knows he’s helping his team when he answers the call on that given day. Need him to attack the Arizona bigs and get them in foul trouble? He did it. Shut down one of the best scorers in the conference? Done deal. While those guys in the starting lineup have nicely carved out roles, you could say, they aren’t limited just to one calling.
Shepard and Thames are expected to take on big defensive assignments as well. And a good job on defense isn’t enough. They’re expected to stifle all efforts to score by the guy across from them. Spencer and Davis clean the glass, but it’s just as important that they finish near the rim when Thames inevitably draws more attention coming off a ball screen late in games. That selflessness about those guys has trickled down all the way through.
Dwayne Polee, Aqeel Quinn, and Matt Shrigley all know they can get quick buckets off the bench to spark this team. But if their defensive effort is lacking, they’ll probably be asked to take a seat, no matter how hot they think they are. Dakarai Allen and D’Erryl Williams haven’t played as much as those three, but they know what is expected of them when their name is called.
That tells me there is great communication and openness between the coaches and players. Too many coaches are afraid to be frank with a player about his game. Some guys need to be told that they aren’t go to scorers or all-world shot blockers. Some guys are going to try to contort their bodies in the air on every drive like Derrick Rose until a coach flat out says to him, “You’re not Derrick Rose.” But nothing of that nature has ever come up with this team here. Guys know what they are. You might not agree with the diagnosis of your abilities, but the time to show that is in the off season and in practice.
These Aztecs get it. You wanna say they win ugly? I say this: Who cares? That is completely subjective to call a style of play ugly. Ask former NCAA and NBA champions about that style of play – where you do stuff like play defense and win close games. That’s not ugly. That’s the art of basketball in it’s truest and purest form. The Aztecs seem to have a winning recipe down and the sky is already the limit. Let’s see how high they’ll soar here in conference play.
Something I wrote wouldn’t be complete unless I talked some more about shoes, but I’ll keep the words to a minimum. Here are some of the best of what the Aztecs laced up on Saturday against Colorado State.