Commentary

Patient approach can still entertain basketball purists

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

A full page of boys basketball box scores in the Jan. 18 edition of The Columbus Dispatch yielded few surprises.

It was easy to tell which teams like to set a fast tempo right out of the gate. Thirteen teams in ThisWeek's coverage area put up at least 70 points in wins, led by 84 from Gahanna, 83 from Northland and 81 from Brookhaven.

There was another score that stood out: Upper Arlington 36, Thomas Worthington 30.

The tone was set right after the tip-off in that OCC-Central Division clash. Thomas missed its first shot and UA spent almost an entire minute surveying the Cardinals' defense before taking its first shot.

This went on for much of the night. Patient approaches outnumbered spurts to the basket in which only cursory surveys of the opposing defense were made. That takes place in a lot of gyms in this age even though run-and-gun basketball -- outscoring your opponent, not necessarily stopping it -- seems more popular than holding your ground with sturdy defense and clock-milking possessions.

"Every game takes on its own life," said UA coach Tim Casey, whose team entered the week 12-1 overall and 6-1 in the OCC-Central. "If you weren't at this game (Jan. 17), you might think the teams never shot the ball. It was played at a very high level. It was physical, fast and competitive. Guys didn't shoot extremely well, partly because of defense. It was a good, high-level, competitive game."

It certainly was typical for that rivalry.

Before UA visited Thomas for the second half of a rare back-to-back series Jan. 21 -- a situation created because their Dec. 6 game was postponed because of bad weather -- the winning team hadn't cracked 40 points in three of the previous five meetings. Three of those contests were won by the Cardinals. The scores of those five games were: 36-30, 60-58 in overtime, 49-43, 39-37 and 34-30.

Like run versus pass and designated hitter versus pitchers hitting, defensive-oriented basketball versus track-meet basketball is one of those debates that isn't so easily settled. Neither side would be all that comfortable in the other's shoes.

"I don't think a 90- to 100-point game would fit us well," said UA senior guard Kevin Vannatta, a University of North Carolina-Asheville signee and one of the area's top scorers at 16.2 points per game entering the week. "It's not our personality."

Just as a 36-point game might be a first-half output for other teams. For example, Pickerington Central put up 98 points on Jan. 14 in an 18-point win over Groveport and 97 in an eight-point win at Cleveland Benedictine on Jan. 18.

The Tigers, who are pursuing their second Division I state championship in three years and third consecutive district title, had scored 90 or more points five times entering this week.

It's not that up-tempo games are bad. Often, they're pretty fun to watch and a great exercise for reporters' wrists as they try to keep up with the scoring.

It's that there also is beauty in games in which the winning team doesn't crack 50 points, or even 40.

In fact, UA senior center Logan Richter acknowledged that he takes pride in seeing a 36-30 score in the paper.

"It feels really good, actually. Thirty points against us ... that's good defense," Richter said. "In today's game, people just run up and down the court and score so many points. We're able to draw the line in the sand every possession and just make hard baskets. That translates so much to offense. The better defense we play, the better our offense. It tires them out. It's definitely an underrated aspect in today's game."

Which approach works best? Let's head to the Fairgrounds Coliseum in six weeks or so for the district tournament and maybe we'll get an answer.

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