By Patricia Sanchez
Despite playing with only eight men in uniform, the first half of Saturday’s game against Holy Names College made the UC Santa Cruz men’s basketball team look like world-beaters. But the second half was an entirely different story, as the Slugs were wholly outplayed, and fell to the Hawks, 97-62.
Head coach Gordie Johnson pointed to the loss of four of his starting players in the team’s second-half collapse.
"I only have two seniors left on the team," Johnson said. "But I was impressed by the way the rest of the team stepped up." Johnson pointed out the team’s lack of size compared to Holy Names, who, unlike UCSC, had the benefit of playing with a full squad.
The Slugs are still without two of their top players, Jonathan Morrison and Jon Mercado, who have been academically ineligible this season. Assistant coach James Page sees the loss of that twosome as particularly debilitating.
"It’s like taking Scotty [Pippen] away from the Bulls," Page said. Players and coaches on the team also blame the poor performance on lack of leadership due in part to the overall youth of the team.
"The game fell apart due to lack of determination," said senior Jared Crayton-Thomas, who sat out with an injury . "The loss of players has disrupted the health of the team as a whole."
Statistically, the Slugs did not play a poor game. Forward Greg Palmer finished with 24 points for UCSC, and the team shot a very respectable 52 percent for the game. But Holy Names took full advantage of its size, outrebounding the Slugs 34-21, including 13 offensive rebounds, compared to only five for UCSC. Holy Names also had a large advantage in free throws, hitting 17 of 20, compared to only five of eight for the Slugs.
There were some bright spots for UCSC. Neil Brennan, the Slugs’ 6-foot-8 freshman, showed flashes of talent, including three big slam-dunks. Brennan hung on to the rim for an extra second afterward, admittedly soaking in the crowd’s cheers.
Carlos Leon Jr. shot well from the 3-point line, finishing with 14 points and six assists. Most of Leon’s production, however, came before halftime, as the Slugs took a 37-36 lead into the break. In the second half, Holy Names managed to slow Leon down, putting 6-foot-3 guard Troy Cotton on the 5-foot-9 Leon.
Holy Names took off in the second half by drawing fouls under the basket and buckling down on defense. Brennan kept UCSC holding on with four consecutive points in the start of the second half, but ultimately Holy Names pulled away.
It may look bleak for the young, injured Slugs in ’07, but as Crayton-Thomas pointed out, there’s always next year.