UE won its seventh game in nine tries Tuesday, this one a 103-69 victory over Division II Oakland City University. The Aces cracked 100 points for the first time in coach Marty Simmons’ five-plus seasons at UE while shooting 53.6 percent from the field.
Simmons’ team out-scored Oakland City 14-0 on fast break opportunities, proving the Aces can do more than play in the half court. “I think good basketball teams have to have the ability to do both,” Simmons said. “We’ve worked really hard in the past few weeks to be a good transition team. As you can see, we’re still having a hard time getting them to do it. I don’t really understand that. That’s the way we saw we want to play. That’s the way we practice, and too many times, as a staff, we’re trying to get them to buy into it.”
Added Simmons on his team’s fast-break style: “That’s who we are. We’re not going to out-physical anybody. If we can get easy baskets in transition, we think by not letting the defense get set, that’s to our advantage – to use our speed and our quickness to our advantage and get into the motion offense.”
Of course, the Aces don’t press and run a motion offense. Sounds like a slow system. “I think teams kind of think that about us. Especially last year, that’s what a lot of people thought,” said sophomore Ryan Sawvell. “We were all sharing the ball really well. We were hitting people for open 3s and finding each other in transition. I think we’ve got to be able to continue to do that, especially against Butler. Coach is always talking about playing fast and aggressive. That’s how he wants us to play, and we’ve got to make good decisions with the ball.”
Freshman D.J. Balentine said the Aces played the Mighty Oaks the same as they would any other team. “Just don’t look down on your opponent – that’s the main thing,” he said. “Coach said, ‘No matter who you’re playing, just push the ball, push the ball, push the ball and continue to score in transition.”
Sawvell added a career-high 16 points to Balentine’s team-high 17, marking the second time in as many games he’s reached double figures. “I just talked with coach,” Sawvell said. “I was in his office for about an hour talking about what I have to do to help the team. I’m just taking that to heart right now.”
The game was Oakland City’s third in four days, as the Mighty Oaks also won games on Saturday and Monday. Coach Mike Sandifar didn’t want that to be an excuse. “Probably somebody could say that we started to look tired,” he said. “It’s always the same when we play Division Is…at some point you just drag. You’ve got no juice left. I don’t want to blame that. I think it was just poor defense. That and mental toughness. This is a game where guys that talk about it get shown up. So we sat around in the locker room talking, ‘I can do this’ or ‘I can do that.’ And then you get out and play a good team.”
Simmons on preparing for nationally ranked Butler, where the Aces travel to Saturday: “We’ve got to practice really, really hard. We’ve got to get after it. It’s going to be physical. There’s no team that we have any more respect for than Butler. It’s a great rivalry. We know they’ll be ready to play. It’s our challenge now to get ourselves ready to play. We’ve got three days here to get prepared, and we’ve got to use each and every one of them. It’s the habits that you build through preparation that will determine how we perform, and we’ve got to make a 110 percent commitment to film sessions, individual work, team play. We’ve got to be locked in better than we have all year.”