By Josh Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 5, 2008
Talib Zanna says the biggest improvements in his game are his basketball fundamentals and the way he plays on offense. Talk to Bishop McNamara Coach Marty Keithline, however, and it quickly becomes apparent what the biggest change has been for the 6-foot-9 junior forward, who arrived in the Washington area from Nigeria in fall 2006: just staying on the court.
Last season, Zanna fouled out in 10 of his first 12 games. He missed 1 1/2 months because of a broken foot. And while the word was out that Zanna is foul prone, this season has been much different. Zanna has fouled out just twice and last night he was the biggest difference-maker as the eighth-ranked Mustangs defeated No. 5 Good Counsel, 61-56, in a Washington Catholic Athletic Conference game in Forestville.
Playing against fellow Nigerian Julius Omoniurhie, Zanna scored 14 points and pulled down 20 rebounds as McNamara stopped Good Counsel's 12-game winning streak. The Falcons (12-2, 2-2) had not lost since their season opener against No. 1 Gonzaga.
McNamara (10-4, 3-2) has played several close games this season, twice winning by one point and three times losing by two points, including Tuesday's loss at No. 2 O'Connell. The Mustangs led by 13 points in the fourth quarter last night before barely holding on after their lead was trimmed to one in the final minute.
Point guard Marc Hill, who has signed with North Carolina A&T, made all four of his free throws in the final minute to secure the victory.
While the 5-8 Hill finished with a team-high 15 points, it was McNamara's tallest player who had the biggest impact. Zanna scored all of his points on close shots from around the basket and would have had more, if not for going 4 of 13 from the foul line. At the other end of the court, he blocked four shots, altered several others and dominated when it came to rebounding, which was especially impressive because he was giving away two inches to Omoniurhie, with whom he shared some good-natured pregame talk.
"[Thursday] night we were talking on the phone about who was going to win," Zanna said. "I told him it was not going to be easy on him."
Zanna made sure of that. While Omoniurhie had six points and 13 rebounds before fouling out with 1 1/2 minutes left, Zanna was in until the final buzzer.
"Most importantly, he's playing hard, playing good post defense," Keithline said. "That's one thing he didn't understand last year when he tried to block every shot."
No. 8 Bishop McNamara 61, No. 5 Good Counsel 56
Keeping It Close: The win was Bishop McNamara's eighth game decided by five points or less (they are 4-4 in those games).
Looking Ahead: Good Counsel hosts No. 2 O'Connell on Tuesday; McNamara plays No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 6 DeMatha next week.