The University of Akron is taking on the role of prizefighter.
That makes sense given that a good share of the Zips’ recent games have felt like boxing matches as Mid-American Conference teams slow down the game to get in their punches.
Eastern Michigan employed the same tactic Wednesday to great effect. The Eagles clogged up the middle and slowed the tempo to a snail’s pace, forcing the Zips (20-4, 11-0 MAC) to work for anything and everything.
As the Zips prepare to take on Bowling Green tonight at Rhodes Arena, they can expect more of the same. The Falcons tried to slow things down in a game earlier this season, but the Zips prevailed 68-55.
“Every game is different,” junior forward Demetrius Treadwell said Friday. “We try to force our tempo on people and speed them up. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The end result is W’s.”
More than a few people have said a win is a win during the Zips’ current 16-game winning streak, the nation’s longest. Coach Keith Dambrot sees it that way, too.
“We were on the verge of blowing EMU out the last game and a couple of things happened to us,” Dambrot said. “We have to make sure we do [play] the right way — take care of the ball on a consistent basis and play the right way with energy. And also realize that maybe we’re a junkyard dog.”
Or maybe the Zips more resemble a boxer. That is how they will begin to look at their situation and schedule for the rest of the year.
It comes across as gimmicky, but a placard will be placed in Rhodes Arena where the UA players can see it and it will display the “round” that the team is in. Each round consists of four-minute segments (10 rounds) meant to give the team an idea of how it’s doing throughout the game.
Coaches will be looking at several defensive elements of the game — deflections, steals, post touches and offensive rebounds. A green round means the Zips won it. Yellow represents a tie and red is a loss.
“We’ve always stressed to these guys that playing in short intervals is very important,” Dambrot said. “The scoreboard is a result of doing little things right, so those little things are big for us. If we win those battles, we’re going to win the game.”
Point guard Alex Abreu is taking a wait-and-see attitude with respect to the placards, but he understands they can provide focus.
Treadwell sees the benefit.
“It’s just something else to keep us motivated, just another goal to let us know we have to win every round in the game,” he said. “If we can accomplish what they say, we can win every round. We can go real far knowing that.”
What Abreu does know is that anything that helps the team focus is a plus. He offered a blunt assessment about where UA is as a team as the regular season winds down.
“We’re playing very mediocre right now, especially last game we had 20 turnovers,” he said. “I had nine myself. It’s all mindset. We can play a lot better.”
The Zips have been fairly consistent on defense. They give up just 62 points per game on 39 percent shooting.
“I think it all starts in the defensive area,” Abreu said. “We have to force turnovers and we’re not getting enough deflection steals. In that sense, everybody has to do that just to make it a competitive game.”
“There’s nothing wrong with being a junkyard dog,” he said. “You don’t have to be the most beautiful person in the world or the most beautiful team in the world. You just have to win at the end. Embracing the fact that we’re the No. 1 in the country at winning ugly, that’s OK too. Then [we] try to become more beautiful as we go along here.”
Before the game against Bowling Green, the UA women’s team will play Ball State. The Zips (16-7) have won four in a row and are in first place in the MAC’s East Division. Tipoff is at 5 p.m.
Quentin Hines, a recent member of the Zips’ football team who had a 75-yard run for a touchdown against Tennessee during the season, will participate in the NFL Regional Combine on Sunday in Berea.
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Zips blog at http://www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.