Interesting things happen in Union’s basketball games that often go unnoticed. To help see these games more clearly, some of our writers (Logan Whaley and Caleb Lay) put together their thoughts on Union’s last game.
Editor’s (Caleb Lay is the editor) Note: J-Term is a great time for students to take some classes and move at a slower pace for the month. It also means there were only two out of the five of us who normally write these things on campus, and since I’m the editor and a senior I wrote a lot because I do what I want. This is my Kobe moment.
Defense Wins Championships by Logan Whaley
Stop me if you’ve heard this saying before: offense sells tickets, defense wins championships. The Union University Bulldogs (9-6, 4-5 GSC) showed Thursday night that they had the offense to sell tickets, but the defense needs to improve if they want to win a championship.
Giving up 92 points to a Shorter University team without their leading scorer (you know, the leading scorer in the nation at 36 points per game who is Allen Iverson’s godson) isn’t exactly the ideal performance fans wanted to see out of their Bulldogs. The majority of the game was spent trading buckets fighting to make a comeback. The defensive intensity just was not there for Union. The game’s leading scorer, Shorter’s Warren Helliger, had 29 points. Helliger is a guy that only averaged 4.7 points per game heading into this game (similar to Christian Brothers’ Brad Miller, who, as Michael Chapman mentioned in a previous Layup Lines, was seemingly possessed by Steph Curry). Helliger was 10-16 from the field and I’m pretty sure all 16 of his shots were uncontested.
Don’t get me wrong, Union could’ve competed with any team in the Gulf South based on the way they shot the ball. Five different Bulldogs were in double figures and the team shot 53 percent from the field. It’s hard to do much better than that, but the Shorter Hawks also shot 53 percent with fewer turnovers (7), and they made more free throws (19) than Union even attempted (10). Those stats show an obvious need for defensive improvement.
Felipe’s Foul was terrifyingly amazing by Caleb Lay
With less than two minutes left in the Shorter game, Felipe Rocha came on the floor for about 12 seconds and fouled Shorter’s Eric Ross hard (he wound up flat on his back on the perimeter). Rocha stood over Ross and I don’t think he’s ever looked that big or scary in his four years at Union.
Felipe Rocha is one of four Bulldogs listed at 6’8’’ but is the heaviest at 240 pounds (Charlie Wilson is the closest at 230). Despite that size, Rocha is incredibly friendly, gregarious and encouraging. For those 10 seconds—the foul, standing over the guy and then the slow walk (basically a strut) back to the bench— Rocha looked like an enforcer and it was awesome.
I don’t know if that was a planned move because Ross was having a great game and shot only 50 percent from the free throw line so the foul put him on his back and forced him to do the one thing he wasn’t great at. I don’t think Niven would explicitly tell a player to do that unless it was for a strategic reason, but really I don’t care if it was intentional or not. It was amazing either way.
Astrid Huttemann: Great Name, Even Better Player by Logan Whaley
Allow me to start by saying that I had no idea who Astrid Huttemann was when I saw her name in the starting lineup for the Union University Lady Bulldogs (9-6, 4-5 GSC) against Shorter University, but I quickly learned who she was when she started to nail three after three.
After not playing for the Lady Bulldogs in two seasons, Huttemann made her return last week against Alabama Huntsville. The senior from Paraguay did not shoot well in her first two games back (Alabama Huntsville and at North Alabama), going a combined 3-25 from the field (3-15 from beyond the arc), but she found her stroke Thursday night hitting five threes on 11 tries and finishing with 19 points and 9 rebounds.
Huttemann’s return gives much-needed depth for coach Mark Campbell’s backcourt. The Lady Bulldogs, heading into the bulk of conference play, have eight healthy players on their roster. Eight players. On a few occasions this year, the Lady Bulldogs dressed only SIX players. Depth is a huge reason why Union hasn’t had the best start to their season thus far.
Same Story, Different Game by Logan Whaley
I have a weird sense of déjà vu after watching Union’s men lose Saturday night’s game against Lee University. This game, albeit with fewer points scored, followed the exact same format as Thursday’s game vs. Shorter.
Union, much like Thursday night, got up ahead early in the first half by as many as 13 points, but went cold offensively and spent the majority of the second half trying to find a groove offensively to climb back from the hole they dug themselves in. Union went from leading by 13 in the first half to trailing late in the second half by 13.
Even though the Bulldogs fought hard to keep themselves in the game, cutting the deficit to three, they still could not get a key stop when it mattered. When the game was 68-65 coming off of a timeout, the Flames’ Jervon Johnson nailed a dagger of a three with the defense essentially sagged off of him.
Lee only missed seven field goals in the entire second half and shot 63 percent as a team. Although the effort defensively was improved, the results weren’t there and the Bulldogs need to find an answer to win these close games.
Losses like that do bad things to the (especially my) mind and body. by Caleb Lay
After the Lee game I was so upset that I got in my car yelled a bunch, listened to angsty pop punk music, bought a Baconator (I went to Wendy’s to get the 4 for $4 deal, but I was so upset that I decided I wanted to ingest as many empty calories as possible. I even used the fries to soak up the grease from the wrapper… not my finest hour) and then immediately started writing this (the Baconator is still slinking down my esophagus using it’s copious amounts of grease as a lubricant).
Those decisions were the wrong ones. It did nothing but make me angrier, sadder and super unhealthy. But I didn’t even play in the game. I just sat on the bench with the team, so I can’t even imagine the frustration for some of the players and coaches (they probably know how to channel the frustration into healthier avenues though).
Losses like that are dangerous for team morale, and Union has four road games coming up. Road games are already difficult to navigate mentally because of all the travel and constant changing of gyms and hotels, so these two brutal home losses won’t help. Coaches Niven and Lydic will have to focus on the psychological fortitude of the team as well as the defensive issues before their next game.
Refs need to be better by Caleb Lay
At the end of the Lee game, Union was defending an in-bounds play with 21 seconds left and they denied everything. The inbounder for Lee frantically searched for an open teammate and as the ref counted to five then the whistle blew. The Lee player looked nervous for a split second until he realized someone supposedly called a timeout, but the refs never actually made that call and had to hold a mini-meeting about it.
Both refs looked confused about who blew the whistle and what the call was. It was one of the biggest reffing messes I’d seen in a long time. If neither ref called the timeout(they initially just pointed at each other like two young boys telling their mother: “I didn’t break the really expensive vase… He did.”) it should have been a five second violation, which would have given us the ball with the chance to get within two points with 20 seconds left. Instead, they played dumb and since Lee took it like a timeout the refs just went along with it.
I always try to give refs the benefit of the doubt because their job is hard and they have to make snap decisions all the time, but this was ridiculous. I still don’t understand who blew the whistle and their reasoning in making the call they did besides that it was the path of least resistance.
Refs can’t take the easy way out like that. I’ve been to Union practices and film sessions and the coaches and players put in a ridiculous amount of work for each game and for refs to perform in that way is unacceptable behavior. It looked like they didn’t care at all about what they did—shrugging and having a generally indifferent look on their faces. When players and coaches put in a ton of work the officials have to reciprocate. That didn’t happen on Saturday.
Braden Burnside wears his heart on his sleeve and it’s beautiful by Caleb Lay
Burnside played 15 minutes against Lee, but they were some of the most exciting minutes in the game because Burnside cares. He beats his chest, lets loose shouts of jubilee and even talks at opponents. The freshman played most of the minutes down the stretch because of the effort he put forth, celebrated like he was trying to go super saiyan and was unwilling to back down from any opponent or shot. In short, he played with attitude.
That attitude was what the Bulldogs needed on a night when the Lee Flames seemed to play a game designed to demoralize Union’s team—they made threes at the right time and never let Union get too far ahead in the first half.
Burnside missed two free throws at the end of the game—potentially because he’s inexperienced or some would say too emotional. But it was the crazed state of mind that got him to the free throw line with a chance to make the game winnable. Hopefully we’ll see Burnside reach his final form by the end of the season.
Velasquez’s New Groove by Caleb Lay
Nick Velasquez came to Union labeled as a great shooter. Through the first eight games of the season it was hard to tell if that was true. Velasquez shot 40.8 percent from the field (20-49) and 37.8 percent from behind the arc (14-37) which isn’t bad(for some players 37.8 percent from three would be incredible), but it’s also not great numbers for a supposedly great shooter.
Velasquez has great form and looks like a natural shooter, so the issues seemed to be partially mental or just being in a bit of a slump. He’s found his groove over the last eight games of this season though—shooting 50.7 percent from the field (34-67) and 51.0 percent from three (24-49).
The increased efficiency combined with taking more shots is an incredible feat, and let’s hope that this is due to Velasquez’s growing familiarity with this offense and his teammates so it will continue.