UNIVERSITY?CENTER, Mich. - More than any strategy, playing time adjustment or tactical move, Michigan Tech men's basketball coach Kevin Luke has been left pondering one question more than any other this season:
How to motivate his team?
At times, the Huskies have seemed like world-beaters, picking apart Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference opponents with a devastatingly balanced offense and clogging the lane with an effective help-heavy defense. But then - inexplicably to Luke - Tech will throw up clunkers like a three-game losing streak or defeat at the hands of a severely-depleted Northern Michigan team that comes on the heels of the Huskies seemingly finding their groove.
Saturday's 53-50 loss to Saginaw Valley (11-11, 9-10 GLIAC) fits perfectly in this category.
Tech appeared to have firmly seized precious late-season momentum after Thursday's 67-61 overtime win at GLIAC leader Wayne State moved the Huskies within a 1/2 game of first place. Instead, the Huskies stalled out to 16 first half points against the Cardinals and proceeded to drop 1 1/2 back of the Warriors with three games left in regular season play.
"It was a major let-down on our part after Thursday's game," Luke said in a phone interview. "I don't know why this team is Jekyll and Hyde, but it is right now.
"We just can't turn it on and turn it off. If you are not ready in this league, you get beat. Without trying to sound overly negative, our frustration level is at an all-time high."
One game after imposing his will on a very physical Wayne team, senior forward Ali Haidar failed to maintain that same discipline against Saginaw.
Though Haidar put up 25 points (10-of-14 shooting) and 11 rebounds, he also turned it over seven times and his struggles to pass out of the post helped account for a lowly five assists on 19 made field goals.
"When he is good, we are good. When he is bad, we are bad," Luke said. "You hate to put it all on his shoulders but that is the way it is right now. We just don't value each possession the way we need to, and that has to change."
Even with the sub-par performance, Tech still managed to cut it to a one-possession game with under a minute to play.
Junior guard Alex Culy had a chance to put the Huskies in the lead with a open three-pointer and Haidar enjoyed a similar opportunity to send the game into OT with a triple of his own.
"Both of them were wide, wide open," Luke said. "Two nights earlier Culy makes a heck of a three (against Wayne) to ice it in overtime, and he was wide open (Saturday), but he just didn't hit it. And then Haidar was wide open, and I mean wide open. With both looks you would have bet they were going in."