Chalk the Cal Win Up to Defense

For several days, the win felt too good to write about. It was solid. It was come-from-behind. It was legit. And it was directly attributable to Bill Self's trademark "rugged defense." True, the Cal win may have been C.J. Giles' coming-of-age party. After his manhood was challenged in the first ten minutes by Leon Powe, Giles discovered that he still knew how to block shots. Then after he got his house cleaned up a little, he remembered that he could also score on occasion. But as crucial as an active Giles will be down the stretch, this win wasn't really about him.

Of course, Brandon Rush came up big in the second half. I argued earlier that Rush is the key to this team, and I maintain my position. Heck, ESPN's Fran Fraschilla backs me up:

...One guy who continues to impress me is Brandon Rush. After opening some eyes at the NBA's Chicago Predraft camp in June because of his savvy play and off-the-charts athleticism, he continues to play with maturity and poise.

Rush, the Jayhawks' leading scorer, has been in double figures in every game but one and is averaging 13 points and five rebounds a game. More impressive, he is doing it on fewer than 10 shots a game and is shooting over 50 percent from both the field and from behind the arc. His defensive acumen could be better, as could his ball skills, because he will be a big guard at the NBA level -- someday. Patience, Brandon. Patience.

Of course, what Fran fails to mention is Rush's apparent inability to play a full 40 minutes. When the do-everything youngster manages to put two halves together, we'll find ourselves watching something like a reincarnation of Paul Pierce, with extra glide. But this win doesn't get put down to Rush's second-half surge.

No, this one should be attributed to defense. Tenacious, contagious defense. Moody entered the game and took a couple charges. Vinson came in, pulled groin and all, and started disrupting passing lanes and charging around the floor, jabbing at the ball. Giles, by this time, was playing D with a full head of steam, en route to five blocked shots and another half dozen altered.

Educated by its less-talented walk-ons, the team had an on-floor realization: Defense really can win games. With the benefit of a real-time illustration, here's hoping the ‘Hawks take Self's exhortations toward "toughness" and "defensive punishment" to heart.