Meadville Tribune

National Sports

March 31, 2012

NCAA TOURNAMENT: Bench play matters for teams stocked with stars

March 31, 2012 7:00 a.m. NEW ORLEANS — The brightest stars are supposed to shine on college basketball’s biggest stage, though quite often it’s the guys off the bench who make the difference between winning and losing.

Make no mistake: The Final Four this year is brimming with star power. Player of the year Anthony Davis is the leader of Kentucky, and there’s a reason that Thomas Robinson of Kansas and Jared Sullinger of Ohio State joined him as first-team All-Americans.

But the biggest difference in the Jayhawks’ win over Ohio State earlier this season might have been Kevin Young, who scored a season-high 14 points off the bench. And it was Russ Smith who had a season-high 30 when Louisville hung tough against the Wildcats in December.

“I take credit for the hard work I put in,” said Kentucky’s Kyle Wiltjer, who also comes off the bench. “It just makes me more confident when I go out there on the court.”

Ohio State coach Thad Matta hasn’t had the luxury of a deep bench the past few years, forcing him to play his starters heavy minutes. This season has been different, though. Due to injuries and matchup situations, Matta has been able to use a deeper rotation.

Eight players have played at least 36 games and three others at least 24. That includes solid contributions from players such as Shannon Scott, Amir Williams and Sam Thompson.

“Something we’ve been able to do this year is really develop some depth at some positions,” Matta said. “Being as young as we are, I think that’s probably helped us.”

Young still smiles when he remembers his performance earlier this season against Ohio State, joking Matta won’t overlook him this time. The forward from Kansas hit a pair of 3-pointers in the game — he hasn’t hit one since — and wore a smile from ear to ear the whole time.

“I don’t need to hit 3s for us to win games,” Young said. “I’ve learned my role on the team a little bit more, just get the ball moving and take open shots a bit more.”

Kansas coach Bill Self praised Young’s unselfishness this week and pointed out that every team in the Final Four has players who understand their roles. It may not mean leading the team in scoring or rebounding, but simply taking advantage of the opportunity when it arises.

“Everybody talks about your so-called rotation guys, or your main guys that have something to do with production or play the majority of the minutes,” Self said, “but everybody has a role.”

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