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Willis' pressure key for Red Raiders' defense

Posted: December 19, 2011 - 7:54pm  |  Updated: December 20, 2011 - 1:13am
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Texas Tech's Javarez Willis prepares to defend Grambling State's Rondale Livas during the Red Raiders' win on Sunday at United Spirit Arena.  Zach Long
Zach Long
Texas Tech's Javarez Willis prepares to defend Grambling State's Rondale Livas during the Red Raiders' win on Sunday at United Spirit Arena.
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Bean Willis’ biggest contribution to the Texas Tech basketball team is often hard to find in the stat sheets.

Such was the case during the Red Raiders’ 87-59 rout of Grambling State on Sunday.

“In terms of coming out strong,” senior forward Robert Lewandowski said after the game, “it really just came down to Bean Willis coming out and defending the ball hard. That really set the tone.”

Willis averaged just 13 minutes per game as a freshman, but he has found a niche in coach Billy Gillispie system as the provebial fly in the opposition’s ointment. His pressure against the Tigers helped Tech hold the visitors scoreless for the first 5:43 of the game.

Throughout his eight seasons, Gillispie’s coaching style has been one predicated on intense defensive pressure. Key to that effort is the harrassment of the opposing point guard, the goal being to make him pick up his dribble early in a given possession.

“Coach always tells us that if we control the ball handler,” Willis said, “that makes everything hard (for the opponents). People can play the passing lane. They can’t can’t make easy passes; they can’t play the post. The ball pressure is what starts everything.”

Like the lead domino tipping to begin the fall of a chain, Gillispie said preventing a point guard from getting where he wants with his dribble alive — namely, just outside the free-throw line — helps fluster an offense in a variety of ways.

“If you keep the ball above the foul line extended — if Bean really pressures the ball — now the entry pass is going to be above the top of the circle extended,” Gillispie said, “so when you are guarding the post, you don’t have to change sides. You don’t get in foul trouble, and it makes it much more difficult to include a post player into your offense.

“So just by one guy guarding the basketball like that, it makes them move their offense up, which really helps everyone, but especially post players, on defense.”

The level of guard play, of course, will quickly rise once the Red Raiders begin Big 12 Conference play. In a league with a slew of dominating post players, making entry to the post difficult will be vital to Tech’s success.

Gillispie has been impressed with the way that Willis has embraced that challenge. The 5-foot-11 guard’s conditioning has improved this season, which has helped him maintain the intensity the coach desires throughout a contest. Willis’ 25 minutes per game are fourth-most on the team.

“(Willis) and Lewandowski have been giving the best effort in practice, and that’s the reason that they played better than anyone on our team,” Gillispie said following Sunday’s win. “You play like you practice.”

While Willis’ strides on the defensive end have been encouraging, there is plenty of improvement to make on that side of the ball for Tech, which ranks eighth in the Big 12 in scoring defense (66.3 points per game). Despite needing almost six minutes to score on Sunday, Grambling State ended with a season-high total in points (59).

The key, Gillispie said, is maintaining the intensity illustrated by an opening 27-2 run against the Tigers throughout an entire game.

“Once you get a big lead,” Gillispie said, “and you say, ‘Well, we’re up 27-2. We’ll be on cruise control and win by 25. That’s the worst thing you can do.”

Added Lewandowski: “We need to keep the intensity up the whole game. We kind of fell off the cliff there at the end. But things happen, and we’ll figure out how to keep the intesity the whole game.”

 

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