Wil Jones, University of District of Columbia basketball coach who spent his first three seasons building an imaginative, successful fast-breaking unit, has had to rewrite his playbook a bit the last two weeks. The newest chapter is on stallball.
"I guess we'll see that delay-game stuff the rest of the way," Jones said today after his defending NCAA Division II champions Firebirds advanced to the final four after foiling Sacred Heart's slowdown attempt Saturday night, 45-38, in a national quarterfinal game in New Haven. "We'll practice on it to death this week. Ahhhhh . . . slowdown. We've seen it a couple of times now and we're starting to get comfortable with it."
UDC, 28-2, shares the nation's longest winning streak (23) with Division I's No. 1-ranked Houston. The Firebirds might not have to worry about a stall when they play Morningside of Iowa (25-5) in a semifinal game Friday night in Springfield. Morningside enjoys the running game also and was at its best this week, outlasting Jacksonville State, 91-90.
Wright State beat Bloomsburg State, 73-53, and Bakersfield State defeated SE Missouri State, 75-70, and will play in the other semifinal. The winners will meet Saturday night for the national title.
UDC hasn't taken time to think about Morningside yet. Jones and his players are still gleaming over their tough victory over a patient, determined Sacred Heart team.
The Firebirds led from the start but had to play aggressive defense for much of the 40 minutes as the Pioneers were content to play for the good shot. The Pioneers shot only 42 times but 17 of those attempts came in the game's final seven minutes. They managed to cut an eight-point lead to three in the final minute before UDC's Earl Jones and Johnny Jones sewed up the victory with good free-throw shooting.
"They were a little afraid to attack our zone," said UDC's scoring leader, Michael Britt, who had only 10 points. "I was expecting a high-scoring game like the first one (UDC won, 104-87, on Jan. 5). But they came out and held the ball."
"We're comfortable with either the running game or the delay game," said Wil Jones. "The key to handling both of the stall attempts against us lately is that we were able to get in front and dictate the tempo. It's a lot easier playing against the delay game when you're in front."