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.