Months before the first practice, Tigers coach Josh Pastner believed in the fitter, more committed version of Shaq Goodwin that returned to the University of Memphis for his sophomore season.
“He’s done a 180,” Pastner said last summer. “Different human being and different player.”
A fitter, more committed version of Shaq Goodwin has proven to be a valuable piece to the success of the Tigers so far this season.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
It was a lot to say. And said at a time when it was impossible to prove.
But now, as the No. 17 Tigers (12-3, 3-1 in the American Athletic Conference) prepare for a 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 16, game at FedExForum against Connecticut (13-3, 1-2), the early returns offer overwhelming evidence that Pastner was right.
The AAC just named Goodwin Player of the Week for the second time this season after he averaged 19.0 points and 9.5 rebounds in wins over then-No. 12 Louisville and Temple while shooting 61.9 percent from the floor.
For the season, he is averaging 13.2 points and a team-best 7.1 rebounds. His 23 points against Temple were a career high and his 11 rebounds were just one off his career high. His 64.9 shooting percentage this season ranks first in the AAC.
“It’s not just about points,” Pastner said Monday, Jan. 13, following practice at the Finch Center. “It’s his motor. He’s an energy-giver.”
Fair to say, Goodwin also has been something of a game-plan editor. Another Pastner proclamation was that this team would ride the four senior guards. It’s neither wholly fact nor fiction, but one thing is certain: the ball cannot start on the perimeter, stay on the perimeter, and the Tigers be the best team they can be.
“When we got inside-out the percentages are up,” Goodwin said. “So that’s what we have to do. We have great passing bigs.”
A lot of Goodwin’s passing has come out of double-teams, a challenge he says he’s not running from: “I welcome it.”
The Tigers’ three losses have come against two teams that were ranked at the time – Oklahoma State and Florida – and one that now has climbed to No. 19: Cincinnati.
“Our losses are to good teams,” freshman forward Austin Nichols said.
Another thing about those losses is that Goodwin was less of a factor, which suggests a rather strong theme: As Shaq goes, so go the Tigers.
“I wouldn’t say I’m the main component,” Goodwin said. “But I would say the game plan going inside-out is our most important component.”
Someone else agrees, namely Persephone Goodwin – Shaq’s mom. On Twitter, under the handle @sportsmompcg, she tweeted: “Trust the process … Trust your frontcourt.”
Not that Shaq, @shaq210, was aware. He says he doesn’t follow his mom, adding, “I talk to her every day on the phone.”
Still, not following your mom?
“I can’t believe that,” Nichols said, who says he does follow his mother on Twitter.
As for UConn: the Huskies are led by guard Shabazz Napier, who is averaging 16 points, 6.4 rebounds and 6.0 assists. He’s also shooting 47.3 percent from 3-point range. Guard Ryan Boatright averages 12.8 points and shoots 41.9 percent from three and forward DeAndre Daniels also averages 12.8 points and shoots 44.9 percent from behind the arc.
As a team, the Huskies are shooting 41.4 percent from long distance while the Tigers are shooting 29.3 percent.
NOTES: After four DNPs in the previous six games, 6-10, 310-pound freshman forward Dominic Woodson contributed two rebounds in the Louisville game and two points against Temple. Pastner praised Woodson for his grades last semester and for gradually learning what to say and what not to say. “When he first got here, there was no filter,” Pastner said. … Scholarship players Damien Wilson and Kuran Iverson did not see any action in the last two games. “I’d like to play everybody,” Pastner said. “It’s just hard to get everybody playing time right now.” … It’s not like the old days, when Pastner would stump for a downtrodden Conference USA, but he is making the case for the AAC, saying, “I think we should be getting six bids (in the NCAA Tournament). We’re one of the three best leagues in the country.”