So on Sunday me and a few friends (as well as the entire Saint Mary’s Basketball team…) ventured out to Sacramento to see Matthew Dellavedova. The last time I saw him play in person was when Gonzaga rolled over the Gaels in the 2013 WCC Championship game in Las Vegas, and in an ironic twist, the game Sunday was much like the one last March: the Cavaliers got off to a good start and kept pace before the hot-shooting Kings took over and blew the game wide open. And I was watching the game and the Kings run away with it to the delight of the crowd, I had the same thought on my mind as did every Saint Mary’s fan in attendance: “Why the hell isn’t Delly playing?”
He got in for a few defensive possessions towards the end of the first and second quarters, and with the Kings coasting to a victory, up 89-61 after three quarters, Dellavedova finally got in.
Now, the fourth quarter didn’t go so well, but watching the game from the rafters: Delly didn’t carry the team as much as the team carried each other. He wasn’t the piece that made it go, but was just another cog in Randy Bennetts machine. Granted, he was a very important one.
The thing that made him so freaking good was his ability to make the correct basketball decision. That is what separates the great players from the best ones. Basketball decisions. Delly was the mastermind of the correct on-court basketball decision.
When Randy Bennett came back, he said a few interesting quotes to SF Chronicle’s Steve Kroner, first with what he learned about his team during his suspension: “I thought we improved during this stretch defensively, and I thought our shot selection deteriorated a little bit,” and then following the win over USF, with regards to his players having poor shot selection “They know I’ll pull ‘em out if they’re shooting those.” Even Stephen Holt added “That’s St. Mary’s basketball – trying to make the extra pass, the extra play, and hopefully, your teammate can score.”
The Cavaliers, with Dellavedova on the court, constantly missed passing it to the open man, and instead settled for trying (and constantly failing) to beat their man one on one, which resulted in a highly contested shot at the rim. That is poor shot selection. That isn’t Dellavedova’s game. That isn’t good basketball decision making. That isn’t Saint Mary’s basketball.
When Randy Bennett joked around at the end of last year about people being able to finally judge him as a coach was when Matthew Dellavedova left, he was kind of being serious. Talent can be replaced. Basketball knowledge can’t.
What makes Saint Mary’s a 25 win team year in, year out is Bennett’s ability to teach basketball knowledge to his players. Whether they execute on the court is a whole different matter.
As I was watching the Kings demolish the Cavaliers even late in the game, I realized that as long as Randy Bennett as at the helm, Saint Mary’s basketball will continue to thrive. Dellavedova wasn’t a one man show. He put his teammates in the best position to succeed and they returned the favor. As they did for Mickey McConnell and for Patty Mills. And, as Saturday’s game has shown us, so did they for Stephen Holt. It doesn’t matter who is the “leader” on the Gaels because they all work together as one. It is when they rely solely on one person (like Delly) to make something happen is when they fall into trouble.
This team has a run left in them. The win over USF put the WCC on notice. I have a hunch that poor shot selection will go and the defense will improve. Randy Bennett is back, and the cogs in his winning machine are back and rolling.