NCAA Championship: Robbed of a Classic

We were robbed. 

A 35-32 lead by the Gonzaga Bulldogs over the North Carolina Tar Heels was shaping up to be a classic NCAA Championship. Two heavyweights, two #1 seeds battling it out on the hardwood, exchanging baskets and stellar defensive play. 

Fans and media alike buckled themselves in for what should have been a tremendously well-played second half. 

On one side was Gonzaga. The no-longer-Cinderella behemoth out of the West Coast Conference. A program that has earned its way to the top through hard work, dedication and smart recruiting. 

On the other side was North Carolina. A legendary program lead by a legendary coach in a legendary conference. A program that has won multiple championships with top flight recruits, hard work and dedication. 

Cinderella no more, having long ago shed that label, Gonzaga showed no signs of intimidation. There were no deer-in-the-headlight looks on players faces. They played like they belonged. 

Redemption was on the minds of the Tar Heels. Having lost in heartbreaking fashion in 2016 to Villanova, they fed off of that all season long to get this chance tonight. They played like they belonged.

Two teams going to toe-to-toe, in great rhythms offensively and defensively. Why wouldn’t we get a great second half? 

*

I’m not one to blame officials for the outcome of a game – just don’t ask me about the Tuck Rule. Opportunities are presented throughout a game or match for a team/player to make plays to help their team win. 

However….

if the demand is that players should stop fouling – like that’s real simple to do – then the equal demand is that officials should be consistent. 

They weren’t.

Fouls that should have been called on both teams in the first half weren’t. Referees let them play leading to an expectation that they would continue to do so in the second half. Players get that mindset and expect to continue in the same rhythm as before, only to find that the referees have suddenly tightened the reins of the game. 

*

Yes, it’s easy to blame officials in sports. They are an easy target, an easy scapegoat. Gonzaga fans aren’t happy about what transpired tonight.

Basketball fans aren’t happy either, though. We wanted a great game and we had it for a half. What could have been, though, 

Whistle, whistle, whistle. 

I’ll repeat: Fouls that should have been called on both teams in the first half weren’t. They were called in the second half and whatever hope fans had for a classic flew out the window. As ESPN’s Myron Medcalf put it:

This officiating crew robbed two of the most talented frontcourts in America of the rugged scrap we’d anticipated. 

It’s not a job for the meek. It’s not a job that is easy, by any means. Fans who (inexplicably) find their identity through their teams, react in terrible ways toward officials when a call or game goes against “their” team. But, I believe they get it right more often than not – Tuck Rule, not withstanding. 

As a college basketball fan, I wanted this game to be settled by two teams on the court. The referees didn’t settle it, but man, it sure feels like we missed out on something special. 

Congratulations on another championship, Tar Heels. Congratulations, Bulldogs. 

I hope you meet again on the hardwood someday soon. The circumstances might be different, but I hope you are able to just play. 

*

Side note: Proud of the state where I grew up. Well done, Arizona. 

CadChica Sports

Pressure Doesn’t Get To Terrapins

Everything negative - pressure,Pressure Filled

When pressure comes, some rise to the occasion and some crumble. Tonight at the Spokane Arena before a crowd of 5,023, the Maryland Terrapins and Tennessee Volunteers rose to the occasion. Despite Maryland’s 58-48 win, it would be a disservice to say that Tennessee did not rise up. 
They did. 

It wasn’t until a late Terrapin run that Maryland secured the Elite 8 victory and a trip to Tampa. For the better part of the game, it was a game of runs. Every time Tennessee would make a run, Maryland would adjust and make their own run to retake the lead. And vice versa. Maryland’s Brene Moseley, “One thing that is special about this team is that we figure it out during the game. We jut had to grind it out.”

IMG_5482

CadChica Sports photo

About that flow

The threes that were falling for the Lady Vols on Saturday against Gonzaga weren’t falling tonight. They went 4-22 from three for an 18% shooting percentage. Even from inside the arc, there were some clean looks that just didn’t seem to fall for Tennessee. “The ball just wouldn’t drop. We let the ball get stuck in our hand a couple of times and I had a lot of turnovers. (We) just couldn’t get in a flow,” said Tennessee senior Cierra Burdick.

That “flow” was disrupted by the pressure from Maryland’s guards. “We would fall down and then they would kick it out to the open player and hit a three,” said Lady Vols Coach Holly Warlick. “They hit big baskets when they needed to. That’s what great guards do. Big time players hit big time shots. And, they did.” 

IMG_5463

It wasn’t just the shots that were falling. Key rebounds by Maryland sophomore Brionna Jones came at opportune moments for the Terrapins throughout the game. Said Jones, “I think we just tried to get it inside out first. We just tried to work it in the paint in the first half and then we kicked it out in the second half.”

Early on, the pressure of Tennessee’s defense and the importance of the game seemed to get to Maryland. Coach Brenda Frese, “I thought that early in the game we were putting too much pressure on ourselves to be able to get back (to the Final Four). I felt our wiring was just – we were trying to play too flawless and as a result it was a really ugly game.” 

Terrapins Adjust to the Pressure

When pressure comes, however, it requires adjustments — including getting stops and those key  rebounds. “I thought we settled down in the second half and started really getting stops and rebounds,” said Coach Frese. And, players like star guard, Lexie Brown stepped up. “I just thought that I needed to bring more energy (than Saturday). Not even just the scoring end. I needed to bring my presence to the court in this game. They needed me to score in the second half so I took that upon myself – put the team on my back,” said Brown. 

Photo courtesy- Myk Crawford - (1)

Challenge accepted by Maryland. Brown and her Terrapin teammates didn’t succumb to the pressure tonight. This challenge, at least, has been met. They’ll enjoy the win tonight and on the long flight home from Spokane tomorrow. 

Then, it’s on to the next challenge. 

UConn. 

For more photos from Myk Crawford, please visit his website here.

***

CadChica Sports 

No Time to Let-Up for Terps, Lady Vols

Hello Again

Familiarity breeds contempt. 

Or, so the saying goes. 

If there is such a thing as respectful contempt, it should be on full display tomorrow night at the Spokane Arena. The Maryland Terrapins and Tennessee Volunteers will play in the Spokane Regional final of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. 

Two elite programs with a final four bid on the line is enough to bring out a little contempt. Contempt because the other stands in the way for a trip to Tampa, Florida. “It’s going to be a dogfight,” said Maryland’s Shatori Walker-Kimbrough. 

Dogfight. Battle royal. Rumble. Pick the word and that will describe tomorrow night’s regional final. “We just want to take care of business, one day at a time. Right now, it’s a prep day, so we’re focused on preparing for Maryland. We have a great opportunity in front of us. This is what we have been working for all season,” said Tennessee’s Cierra Burdick. 

*

All season for one game

All season comes down to one game tomorrow night. Last night’s victories were all about survive and advance. That’s what teams have to do in the NCAA tournament. But, tomorrow, the key will be focus. “It is such a fun time of the year with the tournament. You survive and you advance and it has been fun,” said Tennessee freshman, Jaime Nared. “I think if we play to the best of our abilities and focus on what we have been focusing on the whole year, we will be great. If we focus I think we will be okay.” 

Focus on the court means proper preparation was done beforehand. “We have always prepared our team in regards to getting ourselves ready and in terms of playing our best basketball,” Maryland Coach Brenda Frese said.

*

Reversal of 2014

The roles are reversed for these two teams this year. Terrapins are the #1 seed in the Spokane Regional while Tennessee is the #2 seed. In 2014, Tennessee was in the #1 role. Coach Frese and her #4 seeded Terps came out on top, 73-62, in a Sweet Sixteen game.

That was last year with a completely different team. “They’re two different teams, two different seasons and two different rosters,” says Coach Frese. “For us, it’s been about just coming out and playing our best game. So, that win last year doesn’t guarantee us anything moving forward.” Tennessee’s Coach Warlick agrees, “I think they lost their All-American (from last year), but I don’t think they have missed a beat. As they relied on their All-American last year, I think they’re just spreading the ball out more and more people are involved.” 

Last year is in the rear-view mirror. As are last night’s games. What will happen between Maryland and Tennessee tomorrow night could be one for the ages. 

With a trip to Tampa on the line, it’s a time to lay it all out on the court. 

Or, so the saying goes. 

***

CadChica Sports

Terps, Lady Vols Moving On In Spokane Regional

The last time I watched a women’s basketball game at the Spokane Arena, a gal named Jackie Stiles set the arena on fire. Stiles’ hot shooting brought the crowd to their feet in Spokane that weekend. It became a must-see event.

That was in 2001.

And, it would blaze the trail for women’s hoops events in Spokane. Events like the Spokane Regional semi-final and final this weekend. With names like Duke, Maryland, Tennessee and Gonzaga, it was sure to be a stellar weekend of basketball. 

And, for the semi-finals, it was indeed. 

**

DUKE vs MARYLAND 

And the senior shall lead them.

Or maybe it’s a junior.

Or, a sophomore.

The Maryland Terrapins are moving on to the Elite 8 after their 65-55 over the Duke Blue Devils. In the first half, senior Laurin Mincy led the way for the Terrapins with 15 points. Her steadiness and confidence paced Maryland to a 31-23 lead at the half.

But, Mincy would be shut down by Duke after that. As the Blue Devils keyed on Mincy, Maryland sophomore Shatori Walker-Kimbrough took over. Walker-Kimbrough scored 18 of her 24 points in the second half. She was 10 for 15 shooting (2-2 from 3).

While Walker-Kimbrough was shooting lights out, junior Brene Moseley provided a spark off the bench. Moseley’s contribution won’t show up in the box score. Pushing the ball up the floor, driving and dishing as well as her tight defense helped restore confidence for the Terrapins as Duke was making their push. Coach Brenda Frese, “I think you were able to see our depth when we were able to call on Brene off the bench when Lexie was struggling in this game.”

Duke had no counter for Maryland’s depth. Senior Elizabeth Williams was a workhorse pouring in 18 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 steal in a 39-minute effort. Every time the Blue Devils needed a basket, Williams was there. Said Coach Joanne McCallie spoke about her All-American senior, “She’s been  a  rock. She’s truly the embodiment of what  a  student-athlete is all about. Not enough is written about that. I guess it’s not sexy enough. Premed, great  grades, a person who is doing all the right things.” 

IMG_5360

For Maryland, it was win #27…in a row. “It’s just taking one day and one game and one practice at a time. But, obviously, I’m extremely proud of this group. I thought they did a phenomenal job with the scout and just locking in to what we wanted to be able to do today,” said Coach Frese. 

Will they make it to #28 on Monday night? They’ll have to do it against a resilient Tennessee Volunteer team. 

*

GONZAGA vs TENNESSEE

The number 27 is also a special number for the Lady Vols of Tennessee. Their 73-69 overtime win over the Gonzaga Bulldogs earned them their 27th trip to the Elite Eight. As sweet a victory as could be for Coach Holly Warlick and her Lady Vols team. “To date, this is the biggest victory for me and absolutely in the tournament. It is a sign of kids that are resilient and a great staff,” said Coach Warlick. 

The win came at the expense of another valiant effort by the Gonzaga Bulldogs. The Zags appeared to be on their way to ending their three-loss streak to Tennessee. With 6:34 left to go in the game, Gonzaga held a 17-point lead on the Spokane Region’s second seed. A stingy, high-pressure defense employed by Tennessee forced turnovers and shot-clock violations from a normally reliable Zag offense.

Senior Cierra Burdick, “We were down what, 17 at one point and we came back to win in overtime. I think that just goes to show that no matter how many punches you throw at us we’re going to continue to get up and we’re going to keep fighting. We never thought we were out of this game. That’s just Tennessee basketball. That’s our mindset.”

That mindset was never more evident than in the play of freshman Alexa Middleton. Much like Maryland’s Brene Moseley, Middleton’s contribution won’t show on the stat sheet. But, her defensive pressure on Gonzaga guard Georgia Stinton was a sign of the havoc to come for the Bulldogs. “Our goal today was to put pressure on the ball. We felt like we could affect them with ball pressure. Before Lex came in we didn’t. Andraya Carter did it a little bit but got in foul trouble. Lex came in and did exactly what we wanted her to do,” said Coach Warlick. 

A virtual home game for the Bulldogs did not intimidate the Lady Vols one bit. Freshman Jaime Nared, “It was just a great environment to be around. I was proud of everyone and it was game that I’ll remember  forever  because  of  how  hard everybody played. And, how we all came together when we were down by such a large amount.”

For the Gonzaga Bulldogs and first-year coach, Lisa Fortier, it was an achievement and a learning experience. “It’s a tough way to end the season. I realize that all but one coach has to come up here as  the team that didn’t win, but it’s tough with this group, especially my first year. I love these players and the way that they fought for each other and fought for us as a coaching staff this entire year, but especially the last couple of weeks.”

*

And so, it will be the Big 10 versus the SEC on Monday night in Spokane. If these two regional semi-final games were any indication, it will be a physical battle between Maryland and Tennessee.  When a trip to Tampa and the Final Four is on the line, to borrow a cliché, it’s time to leave it all on the court. 

CadChica Sports

Teachable Moments Via Daxter Miles, Jr

What are words for?

Words can motivate. And, they can also teach. 

West Virginia’s Daxter Miles Jr learned that the hard way after his 36-1″ prediction about the Kentucky Wildcats. Miles Jr’s prediction provided a little extra incentive for the undefeated Wildcats. Kentucky thumped West Virginia 78-39 in a NCAA Regional Semi-Final game in Cleveland, Ohio last night. 

Wildcat players took to Twitter to address the win emphatically 

It wasn’t just Kentucky players either. West Virginia’s horrendous shooting night and Miles Jr’s comments were a hot topic on Twitter during the game with media and fans yesterday. But, there was another group that was paying attention too. 

Coaches jobs have had to evolve over these last several years. Social media (monitoring and teaching) is very much a part of the job. Even if a coach is not on social media themselves, most of their players probably are. As such, it’s important for a coach to know what their players are doing. 

Teachable social media moment

The Miles Jr quote is a teachable moment for coaches here at the Spokane Regional for the NCAA women’s basketball tournament. I asked coaches about discussing social media with their players during the tournament.

Maryland Terrapins, Coach Brenda Frese: I think our players are really well-trained and know, kind of, the approach in terms of talking. They all were talking about it (Miles Jr’s prediction) yesterday before that (WVU-UK) game, which I was glad to hear, just in terms of fueling Kentucky and getting them even angrier going into that game. So, I’m quite confident in our young ladies that they will be media savvy.

*

It’s not about predictions. It’s about

Duke Blue Devils, Coach Joanne McCallie: I think for everything, people have to be clear thinking. We hope — at this point, I would like my team to be as clear thinking as they could possibly be. But, we talk to our team throughout the season and we would expect by now the leadership would come from our senior captains, reminding people not to spout such predictions. It’s not about predictions. It’s about what we do on the court.

I do Facebook because it’s nice, you get to like everything. Facebook is positive, you just press like on everything, for the most part. I was on Twitter and found myself disillusioned by it tremendously. I got off of that. I said, no, that can’t be a part of what I’m doing.

NOTE: Coach McCallie does have a Twitter account with recent activity. I am trying to clarify with Duke WBB to find out who actually runs her account. 

*

Tennessee Volunteers, Coach Holly Warlick: Well, they better not do it (make any predictions, especially on social media). You  don’t  want  to  give  anybody ammunition.  I just prefer them not to say it.  It’s tough to back up. I  mean you’re  giving  people ammunition to get up just that much more.

I  think  we  always  — and  we  have always done this — I don’t care who you’re playing, you’ve got to respect your opponent, especially  at  this  time  of  year. They got here the same way we did. They’re here for a reason, because they’re playing great basketball right now. So,  I  don’t  think  that  anyone  can step up and say, we’re ready for you and we want you.  I tell them be careful what you wish for, because it can definitely turn on you just as easy as it can help you.

*

Coach Fortier quote   Canva

Gonzaga Bulldogs Coach Lisa Fortier: We mentioned it again.  And during the season, we remind them often that they’re representing themselves, their family, our team — they’re representing a lot of people.

You want to make sure that you’re always humble, which I think we are by nature.  But, that you’re humble and that you make sure that you’re being smart and not giving anybody else any fodder for the bulletin board.  And hopefully, we managed to do that.  They are only 18 to 22 and they make mistakes and social media is a whole different animal now days, so it’s probably more common than it used to be.

***

FINAL THOUGHTS: I don’t envy coaches, especially college coaches, these days. Social media has become so intertwined in every aspect of sports that it is impossible to avoid. It’s not enough to monitor what their own athletes are saying. Nor is it enough to tell them “think before you tweet”. Everyone thinks. But, not everyone evaluates and analyzes the repercussions of what we share on social media. 

There are teachable moments nearly every week on sports Twitter. Every single thing we say, whether verbally or on social media receives sound-bite scrutinization. Some athlete (pro, college, high school), media member, celebrity or fan gets in trouble for what they tweeted. Or, in the case of Daxter Miles, Jr, gets in “trouble” for what they said. 

***

CadChica Sports

They Know My Name During March Madness

You wanna go where everybody knows your name

It had been a year since I walked through that door. But, every year, like clockwork, I walk through the door of a local establishment to watch March Madness. 

For the past 10 years, I’ve been enjoying the NCAA Men’s Tournament at The Swinging Doors in Spokane, WA. My good friend (Kristy) and I have been coming here to sit, chat and enjoy watching basketball. Both of us are big college hoops fans so it’s a natural fit for us to meet here every year. 

Kristy and I used to work together at a nationally known insurance company. We worked together for well over a decade and became friends. Nothing like best friends or anything like that. It’s the type of friendship that isn’t high maintenance. Reliable isn’t the right word. It’s just…friendship. 

Even though we don’t work in the same building any longer, we have this bond of sports. Without fail, we know that come March, we’ll see each other at The Swinging Doors. We catch up on life, family, work and sports. We compare brackets and…we watch basketball.

But, here’s the funny thing about all of this. Kristy is a (sort of) regular here. Me? Once a year is all I do. And yet, one of the waitresses always calls me by name. “Hi, Sunny” is what I was greeted with this past Thursday. I hadn’t even sat down at the table yet and she remembered me. It wouldn’t be Swinging Doors without her.

You wanna go where everybody knows your name

As routine as it is for Kristy and me to come to The Swinging Doors, it’s more so for a group I’ll call The Smith Group. We haven’t quite figured out what type of company it is yet, but Kristy and I figure their bill has to be in the four figures (at least) by day’s end. Best way to describe it is a small business of around 30-50 takes the day off and comes here for the day. Not all at the same time – some are regulars that stay throughout the hoops day while others come for awhile, eat, drink and leave.  

They eat. They drink. They play games. They talk and enjoy hoops. They are die-hard Gonzaga fans. Then again, most people are in this town. Especially during March. It’s all about the Zags. Even though the Eastern Washington Eagles made the men’s tournament this year, it is very much a Gonzaga town.

IMG_5150

We recognize each other every year. We give a look and a familiar nod. Even though I’m not a Zags fan, we know each other because of basketball. It all seems so familiar. Hanging out together on a March Madness day. It wouldn’t seem normal without them here.

You wanna go where everybody knows your name

Old, familiar faces come and go from our table each Thursday and Friday of March Madness. Some years I see more than others. They are folks I used to work with. Some I supervised. Some I was simply a peer.

Still, it’s good to see them. Sorting through that awkward familiarity, that finally realized recognition is reassuring. It’s a connection that is necessary, even if it’s only once a year.  I know their names. They know mine. It feels right. It wouldn’t be a March Madness without them. 

You wanna go where everybody knows your name

***

CadChica Sports

When Porcelain Does You In

The weekend of madness was coming to an end. My Sunday was set up perfectly to enjoy the sunshine early, soccer (El Clasico) and hoops (March Madness) later in the day. I did just that. Or, at least, I endeavored to. Then this thing came along:

porcelain

Porcelain became my friend yesterday and this morning. You know how it goes: weariness, pain, nausea, fetal position and then finally, the kneeling position. Soccer and hoops became a distant memory in the swirling dervish of my new location.

My best intentions also included writing something about the tournament, sports and social media – particularly schools’ use of their YouTube channels. Yeah, not happening. Instead, I went back to find a few favorite images and videos from the past weekend.

Okay, maybe one isn’t a favorite. It’s more…painful. I’ll let you figure out which one it is.

.

.

.

.

.

.

***

Did I miss your favorite? Share your favorites with me from the March Madness weekend.

CadChica Sports

Google+ Hangouts are only going to grow in 2014. Learn from the Master, Ronnie Bincer, and his Hangout Mastery group – join through my affiliate link.
1 2 3 5