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No stopping Morrison, a basketball brontosaurus
Seattle Times staff columnist
Marcus Dove prides himself on his defense. His job at Oklahoma State is to defend the best offensive player on the floor, whether it's a point guard, a two or a three.
At 6 feet 9, Dove is long, lean, quick and tough as weathered leather. His assignment Saturday afternoon was a defensive stopper's ultimate test: the country's leading scorer, Gonzaga's wondrous, kinetic junior, Adam Morrison.
He would be Dove's assignment for as long as Dove could stay with Morrison and out of foul trouble.
"I think he's the best player in college basketball," Dove would say after the game. "He's constantly moving. He has a great jab step. He's very good off the dribble. He's good at coming off screens. And he creates his own shot. He's the best guy I've ever guarded."
The best ever? Better than, um, LeBron James?
Four summers ago, Dove defended James in an AAU tournament. He said he held James to "around 20 points," and believes Morrison is better now than James was then.
"He's more mature. More polished," Dove said. "He knows basketball. You can tell he's been around basketball his whole life."
Dove, a junior, was indefatigable in Gonzaga's true-grit 64-62 win. He was clingy as Saran Wrap. For 35 minutes he fought through screens. He bounced off J.P. Batista's massive shoulders. He battled around Sean Mallon's hips and Jeremy Pargo's unflinching body.
He ran through the gantlet and chased after Morrison like a cop after a purse snatcher. He was remarkable and resilient, and he still wasn't good enough.
"It was draining," Dove said after Morrison had hit two threes in the final three minutes, including the winner with 2.5 seconds left. "My body feels drained right now. I'm really tired. I knew coming into the game that I was going to have to guard the best player in the country for 40 minutes. And I got my mind ready and got myself in the right mind-set. But he's a big-time player."
"He did an outstanding defensive job," CBS analyst Bill Raftery said of Dove. "He made Morrison work for everything he got. It was an incredible job on a great player."
Morrison is a basketball brontosaurus. "A throwback," Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton says.
Morrison has an impeccable midrange game, a disappearing art in 21st century hoops. He moves without the ball like Chris Mullin and Reggie Miller once did. He makes defenders concentrate until their heads hurt, and the second they lose concentration he back-cuts them for a layup.
He's strong enough to power through a forest of arms at the rim. And, just as Seahawk Shaun Alexander has a nose for the goal line, Morrison has that same sense for the rim.
With 2:42 left in the game, he finally freed himself from Dove, swiping past the double screen set by Batista and Pierre Marie Altidor-Cespedes and hitting a three that gave Gonzaga a 60-59 lead.
And then, in the final seconds, Dove, after another Gibraltar-like screen from Batista, lost touch with Morrison again. Morrison launched a fade-away prayer he swears he intended to bank in.
With Oklahoma State's David Monds running at him, Morrison kissed the shot off the glass.
"He used the screen. He used the glass and it went in," Dove said, leaning against a wall outside the Cowboys' locker room. "I didn't hear him call glass, but it went in and that's all that matters. He's a great player, and great players find a way for their teams to win."
This was Morrison at his best, because it might have been Morrison at his worst. He forced a few jumpers. Several times when he sprung open on back cuts, his young guards didn't see him. This game was work.
But the nation's leading scorer at 28.5 points per game didn't let his frustrations beat him. He kept working. Kept running around picks. Kept looking for those slivers of space that finally came late in the game.
"He patterns his game after Larry Bird, and that's what it felt like," Dove said. "It felt like guarding Larry Bird."
Marcus Dove should be proud of the way he played against Adam Morrison. And Morrison? He did what All-Americans do.
He shot daggers in the daylight and stole a win.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company