Perfect start no walk in the park

Pankaj Chhabra By Pankaj Chhabra

Starting the season ranked number one in the country, the Washington University men’s basketball team figured that this season would be similar to driving on Shepley Drive: just when the going gets smooth, another speed bump presents itself.

After opening the season by pummeling Wesleyan and Pamona-Pitzer in the Lopata Classic, the two games in the Trinity Classic in San Antonio turned out to be much closer affairs as WU ran its record to 5-0.

The Bears barely eked out their fourth win against Southwestern, 70-64, thanks to senior forward Chris Jeffries’s 17 points. Next, against Trinity, Jeffries scored 20 as WU pulled out a 68-65 victory over host Trinity. Coach Mark Edwards isn’t worried about the tightly contested games due to the strength of the opponents.

“The two games in the Trinity classic were definitely against higher level competition, and they were also our first two road games of the year,” he said. “There are always things you have to work on, but they were two good teams that we played better than and beat. I’ll take it.”

One main reason the Bears were able to emerge triumphant from the Alamo city was the athleticism and all-around ability of Jeffries. He is able to create match-up problems with his 6’6″ frame and can dominate games, as his 17.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game indicate.

“Jeffries has picked up where he left off last year and played extremely well, but I don’t think he has carried the team,” Edwards said. “One of our strengths is that we have different guys step up every game, which is the benefit of having experience. Jeffries has been a catalyst for our success, but our entire lineup is capable of a lot, individually and collectively.”

Solid squads pose multiple threats for opponents, and WU is no different. Senior center Jarriot Rook leads the team in rebounding and senior guards Joel Parrott and Dustin Tylka chip in with 10 points per game apiece. Also, senior guard Matt Tabash’s play is critical to the flow of the offense.

“A good example of our depth is how Matt Tabash played during the Trinity game,” Edwards said. “He didn’t score a lot, but he got everybody else involved and allowed us to play our style of basketball. After that game, he was named MVP of the entire tournament.”

The bench is also playing a prominent role for the Bears, as it is using much valued experience gained last season. For this reason, Edwards believes the team will only get stronger throughout the course of the year.

“Over the summer we felt that if the bench got better, we would be better, and that’s exactly what happened,” Edwards said. “We know we can play our reserves and feel good about the job they’re going to do.”

“The one guy off the bench who has made the most progress would have to be Anthony Hollins. He was a guy who kept getting better and better last season, and continued through the summer and into this season. He has played some big minutes for us when the starters get tired or get into foul trouble.”

With the emergence of the reserves, it is possible that WU will continue to improve, wreaking havoc on opponents. While some believe that championship-caliber teams learn from losses, Edwards prefers the taste of victory.

“The only time a loss is good is in retrospect,” Edwards said. “We’re going in to win every game that we play. Are we going to be undefeated at the end of the year? That’s everybody’s goal regardless of how good you are. But right now our goal is just to win the next game.”

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