Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Sweet and Sour

If you watched Maryland hold off Louisville last night on television, you might have seen rows and rows of empty seats behind the baskets (although, if you could see up to the top rows of Sections 107 and 108, you'd have seen Nick Faust and Pe'shon Howard providing their conspicuous support to the Lady Terps). But you would have heard a raucous, partisan crowd that was almost as amped as those that turned out for this year's Duke game, despite being one-third the size (4,857 vs. 15,150).

We were stunned by the crowd support; overwhelmingly positive. Each and every time Maryland players seemed to lose focus or lag, the fans threw everything they could behind the team. Agree completely with the good folks at DC BasketCases: "We've seen great crowds at Comcast before, but never like this."

Despite the amazing fans, I was certain that the Terps were getting bounced from the tourney. Our eldest showed up to the game in her Laurin Mincy jersey. Mincy: 6 for 10 from the field, 10 for 13 from the charity stripe, 24 points, and 7 rebounds. 7 rebounds. She hit a free throw with 4:30 left to give Maryland a lead that they would not relinquish.

I am a believer.

I had a tough time convincing my daughter to go Monday night -- ice cream tipped the scale -- because I had taken the kids to a basketball game on Friday. In Oakland. For the return of Monta Ellis to Oracle Arena as a Milwaukee Buck.

I am an idiot.

If the Warriors' front office didn't anticipate a debacle for Chris Mullin's jersey retirement ceremony last night, they are also idiots. The mood on Friday night presaged raw anger that spilled out into skirmishes throughout the upper deck. When my three-year old and I tried to duck around a pair of guys punching each other while throwing nachos and beer at each other, onlookers shouted that "everyone's pissed about the Monta trade!"

Oracle is, truth be told, a fantastic place to watch an NBA game, provided you do not leave your seats. This is, unfortunately, very difficult to do when you bring two young kids to a sporting event. For one of the few times in my life, we booked early from a game. Our reward: a pleasant walk through driving rain inside a cage back to the BART Station.

I do not, however, regret going. The game was Filipino Heritage Night. My daughter had spent the week fully embracing her own pinoy background (highlight was walking around the Academy of Sciences' aquarium singing the Black Eyed Peas' "Bebot"). We were primed to celebrate and took full advantage of the pancit and lumpia on offer. That probably doesn't make up for my juvenile enjoyment of the free t-shirt giveaway scene at Oracle Friday night.

Part of Heritage Night was a certificate for a t-shirt redeemable on the upper level. Thousands lined up, with hundreds waiting a ridiculous amount of time for the shirt. By the beginning of halftime, I was trying to put my youngest to sleep by walking around and we passed by the tables where shirts were being handed out. At that moment, the Warriors' employees staffing the table shouted out to those remaining in line that "We only have larges left, only size large!" To which the crowd responded with a loud, collective, audible groan.

Monday, March 5, 2012


I watched two basketball games yesterday -- the televised (ESPN2) ACC women's basketball final and the Bulls' visit to the Wells Fargo Center last night.

First, congratulations to the Maryland women on another ACC championship. We, like many around the region, have fallen head over heels for this team. Ranked number 10 in the preseason, the Terps' success shouldn't be that surprising, but we didn't have high expectations. They're kind of good.

Second, away visits to Philly are way easier than I would have imagined. A two hour drive to the sports complex is only about forty minutes longer than it takes me to get to Verizon. 76ers fans are great (although a third of the stadium bolted prior to Iguodala's three-point shot to tie the game went wide left). Because of the environment, it was the best regular season NBA game I've attended (as 90% of the NBA games I go to feature the Wizards, this is not impressive).

But pause for a moment on the players.

Begin with the ACC tournament final.

Georgia Tech's senior center, Sasha Goodlett, was terrific -- an efficient 20 points on 6 of 8 shooting, 8 rebounds, and 2 blocks. But watching the game, the play of sophomore Tyaunna Marshall stood out. Ms. Marshall averaged 15 points a game for Georgia Tech this season and capped a fantastic season with 25 points to keep Tech close throughout. No surprise. The Elizabeth Seton standout and 2010 WCAC player of the year has flourished in Atlanta and we're looking forward to seeing her back in Comcast next season.

Similar respect for another Georgia Tech ballplayer, Thaddeus Young. I loved Young's game in college, but haven't paid much attention to him in the NBA. Last night, he was the spark plug that kept Philly in the game in the second half. But whatever I think of Young, I left the stadium a full-fledged convert to the Andre Iguodala cause. Iguodala made Luol Deng's life hell and switched to cover Derrick Rose when Doug Collins needed to try and reign in the MVP. He hustles, plays fantastic defense, and corrals every loose ball in his vicinity. Iguodala's clearly bought in to Doug Collins approach and the rest of the team feeds off of his commitment. And the Sixers will be tough out in the playoffs because of him.

But as much as I like Marshall and Iguodala, Alyssa Thomas and Derrick Rose are exceptional.

Thomas would not let Maryland lose. Thomas's twenty-nine were the highest posted by a Maryland player all season -- and she posted the team's season high in the ACC Championship game. On an afternoon when Lynetta Kizer, Anjale Barrett, and Laurin Mincy combined to shoot 8 for 27 from the floor and Tianna Hawkins, Alicia DeVaughn, Kim Rodgers, and Brene Moseley chipped in another four field goals between them, Thomas picked up the slack.

With less at stake, Rose pulled off a similar feat in Philadelphia. 35 points, 8 assists, four rebounds. With the Bulls up eight in the fourth, Evans Turner caught Rose in the post, loudly called for the ball, and pointedly backed Rose down before missing a short jump shot. Turner's open disrespect for Rose's man-to-man defensive skills got a rise out of Derrick and after he stridently canned an open three on the way back up the floor, he showed more anger than we've previously seen. It is tough enough to defend Derrick Rose off the dribble. An angry Derrick Rose? Good luck with that.

Thursday, March 1, 2012


When Kendall Marshall and his fellow Tar Heels were thrashing the Terps last night, I took solace in memories of watching a crazily talented Bishop O'Connell team at Bender Arena several years ago. These same memories were triggered at Verizon Monday evening while celebrating Jason Clark's (and Henry Sims') Georgetown career, as the Hoyas took apart a Fighting Irish squad coached by a DeMatha alum and featuring Jerian Grant.

This is a great time of year to be a sports fan living in the D.C. metropolitan area, courtesy of the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference.

With the Maryland women's basketball team hosting North Carolina on Friday night and Notre Dame visiting the Georgetown men on Monday night, a day spent watching either the quarterfinals or semifinals was the most I could push my luck at home. I opted for Saturday at Gallaudet University -- four games, eight teams, and incredible basketball talent on display.

Of the four games, only the third -- DeMatha versus Bishop O'Connell -- was non-competitive. Joe Wooten's kids got drubbed by a loaded Stags team. At one point during the game, Jerami Grant went to the baseline and spun from underneath the basket to slam the ball and I forced myself to remember that this was a high school game. A bit later, with DeMatha having sealed the game, O'Connell's sophomore reserve forward Jamall Gregory tomahawked a one-handed slam over a DeMatha player that riled the crowd.

In the final game, Bishop McNamara's perimeter shooting gave the Mustangs a lead over Gonzaga at halftime. Kris Jenkins, the WCAC player of the year, was as good as advertised and knocked down almost every open shot on offer. Gonzaga's talent -- and reigning WCAC Coach of the Year's Marty Keithline's less than encouraging screaming -- eventually overwhelmed McNamara.

The guard play throughout was fantastic. Gonzaga's Nate Britt, DeMatha's James Robinson, and Paul VI's Stanford Robinson are very, very good.

The other team to advance, St. John's, also featured an elite guard: sophomore Darian Anderson. And that was probably my biggest takeaway from the games: the kids are alright.

The sophomore class of the WCAC is exceptional. For significant stretches of the game against Archbishop Carroll, Allante Holston controlled the game. Along with Anderson and Holston, fellow sophomores Donald Campbell and James Mitchell saw extended playing time for the Cadets.

Good Counsel gave eventual WCAC champs Paul VI a bit of a scare in the second game, fueled by the play of three sophomore guards: Tre Thomas (with GC's students cheering "Tre Tre Redick" after every made three), Chris Craft Jr., and WCAC first-teamer Byron Hawkins.

Although falling short against DeMatha, Bishop O'Connell featured the third sophomore on the WCAC's first team (along with Anderson and Hawkins), Melo Trimble, starting alongside fellow sophomore Kamrin Moore, with a very athletic Jamall Gregory coming off the bench.

DeMatha and Gonzaga each had a sophomore pull significant playing time, 6'9" Brock Ruble and 6'7" Jordan Abdur-Ra'oof, respectively. Abdur-Ra'oof, in particular, was really impressive.

The future remains bright.