Wednesday, April 05, 2006

I'm Talkin Basketball

Shoulda-been-MVP Kristi Toliver (5' 7") hits a 3-pointer over 6' 7" Allison Bales to send Maryland-Duke to overtime

Fantastic weekend of basketball here in Boston. Saturday night Coach Mom & I went into town to meet up with my sister. We had dinner at Skipjack's in Copley Square. While waiting for a table, seats at the bar opened up, so we got to watch George Mason lose to Florida in the first game of the men's semifinals. I love my family. At one point I asked, "Where did [Florida coach] Billy Donovan play in college?". My sister & Coach Mom answered in unison "PROVidence" (in a tone that said, 'you idiot', which I accepted as my due), and Coach Mom said, "For Rick Pitino." Doesn't everybody know that? In my family they do. Idiot.

I got to have sushi and everyone loved their dinners. We walked on Newbury St. afterwards and windowshopped art and clothes. We left sis who was heading to a WNBA party & headed back to central Mass.

For Sunday's games we picked up my friend's kids, ages 14 and 11. They were excited to go to their first Final Four. We got to the Garden pretty easily, parked in the underground parking garage ($23, ouch), and headed upstairs. I stood in line at the undermanned souvenir stand (why do they only have two people working these booths? They could have sold out the first day with more salespeople.) for 20 minutes and got the kids Final Four shirts with their favorite team's logo (North Carolina and Duke) and a ticket lanyard and a pin for Coach Mom. Then we got hotdogs & drinks and headed up to our seats in the balcony. I was pleased to see that no alcohol was being served. It was a very family atmosphere, especially if you come from a family with lots of tall women (like I do.) I always feel so short at the Final Four. I have to keep reminding myself, You are the average American woman. Not short, average.

Our seats were in Balcony section 307, row 5, in the corner on the same side as the benches. We had a good overview of the court, but I was glad we brought binoculars so we could see the player's faces.

The first semi was a barnburner. We were rooting for North Carolina and Ivory Latta, but she got hurt in the first half and was never very effective. Reportedly, she hyperextended her left knee. She was carried of the court so we were surprised when she returned. Maryland's freshman guard Kristi Toliver was guarding Latta and she used her 4" height advantage to great advantage. She just wouldn't let Latta drive on her which really took a lot away from Latta's game. Maryland ran a couple of clear-out plays where Toliver isolated Latta and drove on her, scoring with ease. Toliver finished with 14 points, as did Latta, but that was advantage: Maryland, as Latta averaged 18.2 during the regular season, while Toliver averaged 11.5.

It was a very physical game. Maryland substituted in a post player, Jade Perry, whose sole purpose seemed to be putting a body hard on North Carolina's talented post player, Erlana Larkins. Larkins finished with 28 points to lead NC but she took a lot of punishment. The terrible officiating crew from the Pac-10 didn't help matters, letting assault go on in the paint while calling touch fouls on outside shooters. They were consistent -- consistently terrible, as was all the officiating in the tournament. (Sally Jenkins of the WaPo says, fire all the officials and start all over.) Some fans from the Pac-10 were sitting in front of us & they groaned when the officials walked out onto the court.

North Carolina never was able to cut the gap and when Larkins fouled out with less than a minute remaining, she went over to shake hands with Duke coach Gail Goestenkors and the game was over.

Between games we met up with my sister after rendevousing via cellphone. (We passed Georgia coach Andy Landers on our way.) She moved us down to centercourt, 7th row seats for the second game. What a difference! We were behind the Duke bench. Allison Bales is huge. Unfortunately it wasn't much of a game. Duke put a smothering double-teaming defense on Siemone Augustus, and no one else from LSU stepped into the void. LSU's 45 points was the lowest point total ever in a semi-final game. It was such a blow-out that we left early with 4 minutes left on the clock, something we never do, but it was almost midnight, and the kids had school the next day.

Why do they start the games so late? The only reason the kids got to see the game is because they were there. If they were home not surrounded by screaming fans they would have been asleep on the couch. How can you build a fan base when the games are played while they're catching zzzz's?

The final last night was great. On our way in Coach Mom recognized former longtime Maryland coach Chris Weller, so we stopped and congratulated her. I'm sure it was a bittersweet moment, as she built the program, then got run out of town by AD Debbie Yow. I'm sure they had her resign or something like that to save face, but everyone knew what had happened.

I couldn't really root for Maryland. First, Maryland AD Debbie Yow, credited with the huge expansion of the Maryland women's basketball program, has been no friend of Title IX. It was Yow, a member of Bush's Title IX commission, who proposed allowing schools to comply with Title IX by offering as few as 43% of scholarships to women, even though women make up 55.5% of undergraduates nationwide. Add to my dislike of Yow all the allegations of recruiting violations swirling around the Maryland women's basketball program. Who wants to have the first women's basketball championship revoked because of later-adjudged recruiting violations?

So Duke it was. The building was packed -- well, maybe there were a few empty yellow seats in the balconies, but at least 16,000 people in the building. The crowd was wild. And Duke came out hot, packing in the defense, denying Crystal Langhorne and Laura Harper, Maryland's leading scorers in the semis, good looks inside. Duke led by as much as 13 points in the first half, but while Maryland continued to play poorly, Duke didn't take advantage and put them away. They got sloppy, threw away passes, missed layups, and at half Maryland was only down by 10.

Maryland hung in there, hung in there, and then with about 8 minutes left in the game, they found their stroke. Duke fell apart. Mistie Williams, who had led them in scoring in the semis, only had 3 points last night, and by the end she was passing up all open shots. No one from Duke seemed to want the ball during the last five minutes or in the overtime.

When Toliver hit her three-pointer with 6 seconds left to tie the game, the Garden went wild. People were shouting, throwing up their hands, shaking their heads, and just screaming. I just knew Duke was dead. Duke has a well-earned reputation as chokers. Goestenkors has built a great program at Duke, but she seems like a tense person, and her teams always play tense in the big games. Exactly what they did last night. Their best player last night was guard Lindsey Harding, but she committed a senseless foul in the final minute to take herself off the court. Mo Currie finally hit two shots in the OT, but never touched the ball again on offense. Duke had one final chance, but the shot was off balance, and off target. Duke melted off the floor, while Maryland streamed onto it, exulting in their improbable win.

Laura Harper was named Tournament MVP. She did lead Maryland with 25 points over North Carolina, but in the championship she had 16 points (same as Toliver and Shea Doron). Toliver only had 14 points vs. North Carolina, but she was guarding Latta, NC's best player, and she took her out of the game. Without her cool three-pointer, Maryland does not go to overtime, does not win the title. Therefore, Toliver was my MVP. She got robbed, IMHP.

Congratulations to Maryland. Fear the turtle!

ESPN: Terps take title and there may be more on the way

SI: Start of something big
Toliver, Maryland have bright future after taking title

1 comment:

Big Daddy said...

Loved your account, I was too woozy from my dental visit to really catch the action of the women's game....prob made the men's game look like golf. Just a thought. I got back home this afternoon...expecting a full house by the weekend...miss you.