Wake has him ... and you don't

Originally Published: January 19, 2005
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

Wake Forest doesn't come close to Florida State Tuesday night if it weren't for Chris Paul taking over the game.

OK, sure, the Demon Deacons ended up losing in overtime. But they could have won it on a Taron Downey free throw after he tied the game on a 3-pointer. Well, guess who set up Downey for the 3-pointer?

Final Four Projections
Why do we think these schools are headed to St. Louis?

  • Jeff Shelman believes in Illinois' unselfish play.

  • Andy Katz thinks it's all about Wake's Chris Paul.

  • Andy Glockner analyzes UNC's offensive efficiency.

  • Jason King thinks Kansas is the toughest mentally.

    Not happy with our picks? Jay Bilas has our "elite eight." Insider

    The biggest question: Who would win it all?

  • Paul.

    Who was the team's top scorer?

    Paul.

    Paul scored 29 points, one shy of a career high. He was 9-of-14 from the field, 10-of-10 at the free throw line, grabbed nine boards and had six assists. He did have five turnovers, but with Justin Gray struggling on the perimeter (6-of-28 the past two games), Paul's perimeter prowess is even more important.

    Paul finds a way to make the 3-pointer, the mid-range shot in the lane or from along the baseline, or simply gets to the line.

    Last Saturday, Paul scored 26 points, grabbed six boards, dished out eight assists, had five steals and committed only one turnover against North Carolina. And, he also made all nine free throws.

    And the Demon Deacons won.

    And they'll win plenty more, because of Paul.

    The difference between Wake Forest any other team is Paul. Forget about debating who is the best point guard in the country this season. The race is over. Paul has won, going away, because of all the elite teams, he's the one player who can take over the game with his scoring and distributing.

    Look, Raymond Felton is a tremendous playmaker. So, too, is Kansas' Aaron Miles. Illinois' combo of Deron Williams and Dee Brown is special, too. But none of them can simply dominate the way Paul has done recently.

    "He continues to prove he's the best floor leader in the country because he plays big in big games," Wake Forest assistant coach Dino Gaudio said. "When he needs to step up and score he does. When he needs to distribute, he distributes. We do have to tell him to be more aggressive."

    Paul got that message prior to a win against Texas on Dec. 18. He has scored in double figures in every game since that one.

    "I can't say enough about the decisions he makes of when to shoot and when to pass," Gaudio said. "To make a run deep in March, you need great guard play and great point guard play and he gives that to us."

    Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser points to Paul's maturity. Playing in more games means more touches and more decisions. Prosser has complete trust in Paul and it shows in Paul's ability to be his own quarterback on the court without always having to look for the next play.

    But his defense has improved dramatically, too.

    Paul's steal numbers are down a touch (from 2.7 to 2.0), but the Demon Deacons' staff notices the more subtle changes. He picks things up quicker and is even more aggressive.

    Recall that Saint Joseph's point guard Jameer Nelson was the difference for the Hawks last season. He could take over games. Paul is doing the same thing. He's the leader for national player of the year because he has become the top point guard in the country on one of the best teams.

    Paul lost to Nelson in the Sweet 16 last season. He vowed to get back to that point and beyond this season. He's got the team to do it but even more so, he's got the game.

    Paul is the difference for Wake Forest -- and what differentiates Wake Forest from everyone else.

    Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

    Andy Katz | email

    Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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