Our interior defense and rebounding was pathetic. Xavier is not known for their post play, but their front court killed us. We played decent defense on the perimeter, holding them to 5 of 15 from 3 point range, but we got killed on the offensive boards. Nick Jacobs is obviously still bothered by his shoulder, and Carl isn't physical enough to actually block anybody out. I wish we would have gave Jimmie Taylor more of a chance in the 2nd half.
What bothered me most about this game is the fact that nobody, not the players, coaches, or the fans in the stands seemed to appreciate what was on the line. To have any realistic chance of getting into the NCAA tournament discussion, we had to win this game and hope to pull off an upset in LA to turn things around. I did not see that sense of urgency from our guys. Conversely, you can see in their eyes that they are scared of losing these games now. This team has no confidence that they can win a close game. Even when we were up 10, I never thought we were going to win the game.
Xavier is a good defensive team, and it is difficult to score on them in the half court. I don't understand why we did not press or run some 1-3-1 half court trap that we've been successful with this season to try to force some turnover and get into transition and create a more uptempo game. We were forced to play somewhat conservatively due to foul trouble, Nick and Releford played much of the 2nd half with 4 fouls and Carl fouled out.
Free throws hurt us once again. As noted above, we foul a lot, and Xavier made their free throws, despite being one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the country coming into the game. On the other hand, we only made 20 of 30 and once again choked at the line late.
I think it's time to reconsider our goals for the season. This team isn't anywhere close to being an NCAA tournament team. We are now playing for a winning record and an NIT bid. That's not going to be an easy task; we are looking at a 6-7 record going into league play. Looking at the SEC schedule, I see at least 5 sure losses. Assuming we don't steal any against Mizzou, Florida, or Kentucky, we would need to go 10-3 against the rest of the conference.
There was another heated exchange on the sideline between Coach Grant and Coach Brannen. I am starting to believe that those two are not seeing eye to eye. It's also interesting to note that Trevor Lacey was in attendance for this game, and was seen hanging out with several current players in the parking lot about 4 hours before tipoff.
Despite the dirt cheap tickets, it being a holiday weekend with no students around and severe weather looming kept most fans away. I would estimate around 3,500 in the house, including about 200 or so Xavier fans. The atmosphere was dead and lame for most of the night. I know it's somewhat hypocritical of me to complain about the fans who actually show up, but we had the most annoying people imaginable sitting near us. First, there was the lady who screamed the whole game, when Xavier had the ball it was "No No No" on every pass, dribble, shot, etc, and when we had the ball it was "Yes Yes Yes, there it is!" (even if it was a contested, off balance jump shot at the end of the shot clock.) Then we had the people who inexplicably believed Carl Engstrom to be the second coming of Michael Jordan. They screamed at coach to put him in every time he came out, and cheered wildly for every little thing he did. Their basketball knowledge was lacking, to say the least. Finally there was a group of about a dozen or so teenagers who were cheering obnoxiously for Xavier, I'm not sure if they were related to some of Xavier's players or if they were local auburn kids taking advantage of the $1 tickets.
I am going to continue going to games to support the players. They are working hard, and I appreciate their contributions to our University. That being said, I don't blame anyone who chooses to spend their time and money on other things at this point. Furthermore, these recaps are likely going to get much shorter, and maybe even non-existent in the near future. Frankly, writing basically the same thing about loss after loss is getting depressing.
Up next, we go across the country to historic Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles to take on the UCLA Bruins. Tip off is set for 7 p.m. PST (9pm Central) and will be televised on ESPN2. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.