Like with Indiana, it's tough to narrow down to just three positives, but I'm going to do just that. Don't forget the caveat that this is not an exhaustive list. That said, let's do this thing.
Devin Thomas. Devin was just a monster. 21 points (6-12 shooting, 9-11 from the line), 9 rebounds. Devin was the engine that really kept our offense going, and that was going up against high quality bigs from UCLA. Devin is really having a dominant senior campaign so far, and if he keeps this up, I honestly think he might get a look at the next level, and either way Danny Manning's big man coaching ability is on full display between Devin, John Collins, and Konstantinos Mitoglou.
Free Throw Shooting! For Once! 30-42 as a team, for 71%. No one missed more than two free throws other than Cornelius Hudson, who still had a very strong 11-16 showing. We drew fouls, got to the line, and absolutely took advantage. Drawing fouls impacts every phase of the game, and if I was a coach, one of my key tenets would be to try to play aggressively on offense, draw contact, and work with it. Not only do you get points, and not only do you stop the game to get tired players a bit of a rest, getting opposing players in foul trouble makes them play more tentatively, and in some cases, gets them out of the game completely. Their starters all had three or more fouls by the end of the game. That's quality work by the Deacs forcing the issue.
Cornelius Hudson. Seriously, the whole team deserves an incredible amount of credit for stepping up in the absence of starting point guard Bryant Crawford with flu-like symptoms, but I don't think anyone stepped up more than Crab (so named because he is the younger half-brother of NFL receiver Michael Crabtree). The previously unwise sophomore, who'd spent the entire season to this point on the sidelines because of conduct detrimental to the team, not only played 36 minutes on the floor, he did so as the primary ball handler, and finished with 16 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals. He did have four turnovers, but considering he's a 6'7" 2/3 hybrid who was essentially playing point, that's damn impressive. Well done Crab my man. Please, PLEASE keep your head right off the court. I think you'll be fine on it. Way to step up, man.
Second Half Defense (For The Middle Stretch). At one point when the Deacs were nursing a 1-4 point lead or so, they were giving up more than 60% shooting. That was okay-ish in the sense that the Deacs were holding on offensively, but we need to play better D than that. Honestly, the part that surprises me the most is that a lot of the scoring for UCLA was on easy interior baskets, which Wake Forest hasn't been giving up much this season.
Shooting Woes For Crab. As great as he was, Cornelius Hudson struggled from the field, only going 2-12 shooting. That said, I think a lot of that was probably rust, as evidenced by last season's effort and his still smooth shooting stroke from the free throw line.
Not Pulling Away. The Deacs led for nearly 30 minutes of the game including the entire second half, but after going up by 10 late in the first half, Wake Forest let UCLA close the gap and it stayed tht way, remaining tight for the entire home stretch. I don't want to be too harsh, as having Cornelius Hudson as primary ball handler is bound to create some wonky offense. Besides, we weren't playing chumps, either. This is UCLA.
The Bottom Line
If you'd told me we'd go 2-1 in Maui, end up in third place, and beating Indiana and UCLA in the process, the former of which without Cornelius Hudson and the latter of which without Bryant Crawford, I'd have called you nuts. Danny Manning is the truth, as is this team. We're getting close to full strength, and the entire team is contributing at a high level. I'm happy for everyone, but especially Devin Thomas and Codi Miller-McIntyre in their senior campaigns. Call me crazy but I'd rather do what we did than beat both Indiana and Vanderbilt and get blown off the floor by Kansas. Going home with a win is key. Well done to everyone. Get better, Codi and Bryant.
While I'm at it, I just want to say I'm thankful for the following::
-Wake Forest Athletics
-All of our student athletes
-Blogger So Dear and my fellow staffers
-Everyone who has ever read, enjoyed, and/or commented on my work
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Be happy, healthy, and full of good food. Much love. On to the next. Go Deacs!