Sunday, March 23, 2014

March 23rd, 2014: Princeton at Seton hall

Just the Facts, Ma'am: Sidney Cook converted a three-point play with nine seconds left, and Seton Hall made two defensive stands to stave off Princeton, 75-74. Michellle Miller led all scorers with 34 points on 11-13 shooting, while Alex Wheatley added 15. For Seton Hall, Ka-Deidre Simmons dropped 17 of her 23 points in the second half. Bra'Shey Ali just missed a double-double with nine points and 12 rebounds.

For tactical errors, hustle, passion, inciting the crowd, Greek myths, outgeeking the geeks, the repelling the boarding party, join your intrepid and sleep-deprived blogger after the jump.

Good afternoon, or evening, as you prefer! It's a battle for New Jersey at historic Walsh Gymnasium on the campus of Seton Hall University, as the Pirates take on the Tigers of Princeton on this chill spring day.

The Princeton band will be in attendance today, as are a passel of Princeton fans and family. We're expecting Walsh to get loud. Student Activities has attempted to bribe students into attending with one of their favorite things: free pizza. So far it's having a minimal effect, but I'm hopeful.

The Princeton band has arrived, in their orange plaid jackets and black pants. Even the drums are plaid, except for the bits with tigers on. Some of the band members are even wearing tails, and I don't mean the excessively formal jacket kind of tails. I mean tiger tails, curling long and low from their backs. I still think Cal rocks the hats better.

The folks who know us also know that we're St. John's fans, so we're hearing a lot about Briana Brown's three from the corner against USC. Not that I ever get tired of hearing about Briana Brown's three from the corner against USC.

Princeton, we're going to make you tear down that "Play Like Champions" banner and eat it with salt and barbeque sauce.

At halftime, Seton Hall is up by two, 38-36, and it's been a great, back-and-forth game. Michelle Miller has 22 for Princeton; Tabatha Richardson-Smith has 13 for Seton Hall. The bands have been going at it, back and forth, Princeton testing the bounds of artificial noisemakers with their drumsticks at the edges of their drums. Place is loud. I love it. That's what college basketball is about: the fire of competition and the energy of the crowd.

What a game. What a finish. Heart and hustle and passion and Ka-Deidre Simmons having brass ones the size of Jupiter and Tara Inman having ice water in her veins and nerves of steel and Bra'Shey Ali deciding that ALL the rebounds were hers. Melissa Miller unable to miss and Princeton finding the open man. Scrambling and scrapping and scraping and clawing, everyone wanting the ball, everyone wanting the game, everyone wanting the season. This is why the WNIT exists; in a way, this is why basketball itself exists. It's not all for one shining moment- it's for the next moment, and the next, and if it shines that's because there's sweat on it and the lights are hitting it just right.

I was surprised Nicole Hung was playing so little. I remember her being a firestarter for them in the last couple of years, but she only played in the second half, and only briefly. Vanessa Smith came in at the ends of halves- I think she might be a three-point specialist, but I don't know about Princeton to judge. Taylor Williams made a nuisance of herself on defense, committing a lot of fouls (really, just ask Janee next time before you start grabbing her, she's friendly) and being annoying. Kristen Helmstetter was a big body in the middle, with nice touch and utter determination to claim things around her rim- not necessarily the opposing rim, mind you, but the offensive glass was hers.

Oh my God, Michelle Miller. Seriously. Oh my God. I don't know if I've ever seen an offensive performance like that. She couldn't miss. I've seen huge offensive performances by the greatest in the game, but I don't know if I've ever seen one quite so efficient. We couldn't stop her. We couldn't get close to her. She fired off shots and nailed them clean. I swear one of those threes was from the general vicinity of Atlantic City. They didn't ask her to do much else, but what she did was almost enough to win them the game. Annie Tarakchian was a big body on the inside- they list her as a guard, but with those broad shoulders, she's definitely more of a forward. She fouled out of the game late, and I think that was a turning point- she was helping make the space that Miller needed. Alex Wheatley very quietly took care of business on the inside, stretching a little every so often to the midrange. Pretty much any performance gets lost behind 34 points on highly efficient shooting, but Wheatley was excellent. Amanda Berntsen didn't play much and didn't make much of an impression. Blake Dietrick seemed to be the facilitator and the decider, but Seton Hall's defense forced her into bad passes.

In general, Princeton seemed to be a little sloppy, a little unfocused- throwing passes to players who were nowhere near the destination of the pass, throwing passes low, throwing up bad shots (though those might have been for the sake of rebounds). Not the kind of execution I've come to expect from Princeton. They moved well without the ball.

Tara Inman is a good on-ball defender. She needs to stay on her man, though, and keep her feet moving. She sank the free throws after subbing for Ka-Deidre Simmons, her only points of the game, cool as a cucumber and clean as a whistle. Sidney Cook's shot selection left something to be desired, right until the end of the game when she hit the three-point play. She rebounded hard, though. (But seriously, Sid, the one-foot fallaway doesn't work for Cappie Pondexter, it's sure not going to work for you.)

Bra'Shey Ali had no luck with the rim, but she was determined that ALL the rebounds were going to be hers. She was tough on the inside, taking care of business. Janee Johnson went after loose balls ferociously- her shot choices were a bit questionable, but you put Janee in the game because you want hustle, and if you take her out it's because she's got her head stuck somewhere it shouldn't be. Tabatha Richardson-Smith had her three-point mojo going today, and they were falling soft and sweet. She did a nice job on the boards, too, tough and determined. Alexis Brown had a lot of shots fall off the rim, but she was all over everything and carrying her team. She's got such a nice first step. Fun to watch. Ka-Deidre Simmons took over the game in the second half. She decided that Seton Hall wasn't going to lose that game, and she made sure that her team was in position to win when Sidney Cook hit that shot for the three-point play. She took hard hits into the stanchion and got back up, though that second time scared us whens he couldn't put weight on her leg initially. But she was our heart and soul tonight, with jumpers that were perfectly on line and her free throws going down.

The Pirates fed off the crowd, I think, and they fed the crowd. Alexis and Janee both got the crowd going, and those of us in the lower deck followed their lead and Breanna Jones's to raise the noise level. The official attendance has something like 620, but we were all a loud 620, even the Princeton fans.

There were stretches of the game where I agreed with the Princeton band's assessment of the officials having the visual acuity of a blind Cyclops, but I suspect it was for different reasons. We did have an interesting moment at one point where two different fouls were called on two different plays at the same time- a flagrant on Alex Wheatley off the ball for smacking Sidney Cook, and an on-ball foul on Seton Hall. The officials eventually determined that the flagrant superseded the common foul, and Sid proceeded to miss the free throws, because this is how every single damn one of my teams rolls.

They were not losing. Plain and simple. Seton Hall wasn't letting it end that night. Ka-Deidre Simmons would not permit it and she would not permit her teammates to allow it.

20 wins. 20 wins in a season for the first time in 19 years for Seton Hall. It's a magic number. Let's keep the magic alive.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

March 20th, 2014: Harvard at Iona

Just the Facts, Ma'am: An offensive explosion in the second half powered Iona to a 12-point comeback- but Christine Clark went coast to coast and gave Harvard the first-round win with 00.8 seconds left, 90-89. Damika Martinez led the Gaels with 29 points, while Aleesha Powell added 21 points and six assists off the bench. Temi Fagbenle had 26 points and eight rebounds to pace Harvard; Erin McDonnell had 24 points and seven assists.

For offensive outbursts, a sudden stylistic shift, so many shots, the potential misuse of endowments, a moment of inattention, gritting it out, and fond farewells, join your intrepid and exhausted blogger after the jump.

Good evening, fellow travelers! As it turns out, your intrepid blogger isn't as done with college basketball this season as we all thought. Knoxville is a little rich for my blood, but when both Seton Hall and Iona are hosting first round games, well, what's an intrepid blogger to do but go say hi to some friends in New Rochelle? I hit my connections like the fist of a vengeful god, and made it from southwestern Queens to Grand Central in 40 minutes flat. I even bought maroon pants for the occasion. (The fact that they and others of their ilk were on clearance played into it too, I admit.)

$6. Much better, Iona.

We've got a bench priest tonight. Father, put in a couple of good words with your Boss for us?

The –insert-team-name-here- Way shirts are pretty boss by adidas. I kind of need all of them in my life.

Spencer Gray really does bear an eerie resemblance to Kia Wright. I keep doing a double-take when I see her.

I think Haley's family is across from the bench tonight. I'm not expecting Damika's or Aleesha's, though. Stupid weeknight game. There's maybe 50 people here. Maybe. I haz a sad. Of course, one of those 50 people is a creepy old dude who does not take me moving away as a hint that I do not wish to continue conversation with him. (All right, we got us some reinforcements. Either Haley or Christina's family has arrived.) (And Damika's family arrived too! Right after she committed a dumb turnover, of course.)

At halftime, Harvard is up 36-33 behind hot shooting from Erin McDonnell (10 points) and excellent rebounding on both ends of the floor. We have had a lot of trouble boxing out. The dude ref is not particularly competent. Down by contact is not a WCBB rule, dude, no matter how Christine Clark sells that touch on Sabrina Jeridore. We need to stop standing there watching shots. We don't have pretty enough shots to do that. Damika Martinez has 13 for the Gaels, who have seven triples at halftime. Live by the three, die by the three. It's a dangerous high, and not one that this team is made to sustain.

Why are you jacking my style, Iona? You're not Storm. You're the wrong kind of Gaels for "Thunderstruck".

It's hard to gauge whether I would have missed it for the world, knowing what I know now, feeling my heart lying shattered in my chest and my fingers freezing because the 9:03 was early and the 9:33 is late. We did things I've never seen a team do, we found seven minutes of fire and blood and rained down threes like a judgment from heaven, we held our own and held down our homecourt... and we wrecked it in the 5.3 seconds it took Christine Clark to race coast-to-coast untouched, undefended, unchallenged, uncontested, and toss in the game-winning lay-up. And something in our bleachers died, something in our hearts turned to ash, and one of the greatest seasons in Iona history ended with a late Damika Martinez heave that went under the backboard and nailed a student worker.

I'm a bit embittered by Harvard- someone from their team, possibly even the coach (they were calling her Kathy) was talking about how many players they were missing due to injury or illness, this starter and that starter, and I'm standing in the cold waiting for my cab and thinking, You won the game. Christine Clark pulled that game out of her... hat... for you, and you're making excuses. Take the win, shut up, and move on.

Kit Metoyer gave good minutes, especially in the second half- she had a couple of big threes to keep Harvard in it. Elise Gordon was one of the first players off the bench in the first half, but I don't think she played much, and I don't think she came back in in the second half. As you can see, she didn't make much of an impression. Anne Marie Healy brought a little bit of size in the middle, making the baseline uncomfortable for Iona's players and shutting down drives- she had a vicious block of (I think) Aleesha Powell that spurred a Harvard break.

Erin McDonnell, where were you hiding at the St. John's game? I think I would have remembered a big blonde dead-eye shooter. I don't remember the passing that the assists indicate, but she was superb at finding or making space. Ali Curtis didn’t play a lot- I think Harvard realized the advantage they had with McDonnell and Healy in the game, and went big while Iona went small. It was an interesting combination of schemes. Jasmine Evans didn't get the rolls, but wow, did she have a fast first step, especially on defense. She cut a lot of lanes off. The better part of me is glad that Christine Clark is back for the Crimson after the injury she suffered at St. John's. Most of me did not appreciate the sheer number of calls she got in her favor (how different would this game have been if her tackle on Sabrina was called, and thence the foul on Aleesha's and-1 was her fifth?). She's a gamer and a fighter, no doubt about it, but I don't know that the best of her was on display this evening. Temi Fagbenle, on the other hand, showed off all her skills- going to the rack, the free throw line jumper, defense down low and up high, rebounding in the lane, even the occasional bit of ball-handling. I like the way she moves and the way she uses her length. About the only thing she didn't do well was hit her free throws, which I was totally okay with.

Harvard killed on the boards (no SAT/ACT jokes, please). They swarmed the glass and boxed out hard.

Aaliyah Robinson was the microwave tonight, firing off threes like they were nothing from the corner, especially in the second half. That comeback doesn't happen without Aaliyah. It also doesn't happen without Aleesha Powell. Unlike most of her teammates- most of whom are taller and bigger than she is- she drove inside fearlessly and went to the basket. That's how she got the team's only free throws, and why she almost won them the game. The funny thing is that I thought every sngle one of her shots was short, or off, or a bad idea, and then she hit them, and it was all good. Aleesha has that knack. She also picked up a pretty steal in the second half, getting into the passing lane for the break. I think it's a break we screwed up, but it was a break anyway.

Didn't see a lot of Sabrina Jeridore in the second half, but that was probably for the best, to be honest. She had a couple of big blocks, but her insistence on crossing the basket to take shots bit her in the ass a couple of times, and she looked distinctly disinterested in boxing out or playing defense. She didn't look like a player who was potentially playing in her last collegiate game. Haley D'Angelo tried to do too much on the offensive end- shooting is not her game and she forced too many shots, but she found her teammates on the wing, and I'll never, ever doubt her heart. There was a point late in the second half where she cramped up bad- you could see it cross her face, and she signaled that a sub needed to get up. Two possessions, one on each side of the floor, passed before there was a stoppage and the sub could get up. Wincing, moving with little hop-steps, Haley stayed in position on her man. She swung out of the way on offense, but her team needed her on defense, and she did her job. Cassidee Ranger was effective in the first half, but Harvard figured out that she needs space, if not time, to shoot, and stayed just close enough on her to make her life miserable. Joy Adams showed a distressing propensity to try to go to the right under the basket, and it cost her both shot attempts and baskets. She spends too much time bringing the ball down low- for heaven's sake, Joy, you're a long, lanky forward, keep the ball up! Damika Martinez was on fire, getting every roll, making all her good shots and a fair number of her bad ones. She made stupid defensive plays and bad passes, but made up for all of that with the shooting.

Someone found the switch at about the ten-minute mark. Suddenly, we were boxing out. The threes that we'd temporarily lost were falling again. We were playing defense. We were driving and dishing. For seven minutes, we were the MAAC mommas and no one could stand in our way. We let them back in, and then we fought back. We thought we had it when Aleesha finished the three-point play. We looked too far ahead.

The officiating didn't help, either. It's never fair to blame the officiating, but Joseph Vaszily made a lot of calls favorable to Harvard and few favorable to Iona, so you can imagine my eyebrows shooting up here. The 'down by contact' call was mentioned earlier. Fagbenle got away with a fair number of travels, too.

We rocked those bleachers. We did what we could for our team. I wish there was some way we could have done more. But now we're just left wondering. One guarded Fagbenle jumper. One more free throw. One more lay-up. One more hand up. One more whistle. One more play. One more would have meant one more round, one more night, one more game. One more. Instead, there's nothing more.

Thank you, Haley and Sabrina, for helping this program rise, for your years and your minutes and your time. Thank you, Sabrina, for four years of blocks and rebounds and defense. Thank you, Haley, for five years of leadership and hustle and sweet passes.

Christina, Aleesha, Aaliyah: it's going to take all of you to fill that void, to be the leaders, to find the right player at the right time, even if that player's not you. Spencer, I know you've got the defensive heart and grit.

Aurellia, Karynda: someone's got to be the big body in the middle so Joy can slide around. Your time is coming. Prove yourselves.

Damika, Joy: you're not secrets anymore. You're the stars, the inside-outside punch that powers this team. We need you to be those stars, faster, better, stronger next season.

We ain't dead yet. We'll be back. Watch out, Marist. Watch out, MAAC. There's a Gael force stirring again in the east.


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

March 4th, 2014: Xavier at Seton Hall

Just the Facts, Ma'am: The Seton Hall Pirates came up with big runs and ltitle plays to preserve a 62-50 win against Xavier on Senior Night. Alexis Brown had 23 points, 12 rebounds, and six assists to lead Seton Hall. Ashley Wanninger led Xavier with 12 points.

For FEELINGS, speed, incredulity, basketballs, awkward moments, and cinematography, join your intrepid and conclusive blogger after the jump.
Good evening, everyone. We're coming to you for the last time in the regular season from historic Walsh Gymnasium on the campus of Seton Hall University. This is the third leg of the Week of FEELS ALL THE FEELS, as it's Senior Night for three seniors who took the long and painful road before finishing up at Seton Hall.

I'm new to Seton Hall. These seniors are not old friends I've followed for two or four years, cheered for through bad times and better times, or really watched develop as players and people. If anything, I know them better as rivals- enemies, even, if you want to use a word that strong. I spent three years cheering against them. So maybe I'm not the right person to write this for Elaine and Janee and Breanna. But I'm not sure who else will, and someone should. They've been through enough to earn it.

I can't imagine how difficult a decision it was for Elaine Swaby to give up her final year of eligibility. Sidelined all year with injuries, she's still been there for her team to support them. Knees and shoulders- it's been a rough go of it for her.

When she played, under Donovan, she was a tough rebounder and a mean defender. She had grit and determination and no fear. She would have been a good fit for this year's team, and I regret that she didn't have the opportunity to show her stuff.

Breanna Jones isn't going to do anything fancy on the floor. She's not the kind of player who makes the flashy plays that get the big applause. But when someone gets open for the deep three, it's probably because she set the pick. When the perfect no-look pass wraps around for the lay-up in the lane, it's probably because she got the offensive rebound or made the defensive play that led to the steal that led to the outlet.

It's too easy to make blue collar jokes about a player who's worn Pirate blue all her career, from Hampton Roads to South Orange. But that's the kind of player Breanna is. She works on the floor, and she plays for her team. Not for herself, but for her team.

Oh, Janee.

Sometimes a player wins you over not just for what she does on the floor, but by sheer force of personality and will. That's half the reason Ashley Battle remains a folk hero among New York Liberty fans. That's most of the reason why Simone Edwards is still a legend among Seattle Storm fans. That's how Janee Johnson ended up being my favorite Pirate.

This is not to say Janee doesn't have the talent. She started her career at Duke, after all. You have to have a lot of things to get into Duke. When she's on, she's an offensive catalyst and a key defensive cog. She works on the floor. There's still a sense behind her play of what could have been if not for the knee, flashes of the player that Duke recruited.

But what got me about Janee was her emotion, both on the floor and off. She gives good WTF face after questionable calls, and isn't afraid to speak her mind. It's the fact that she's teased me about my dual loyalties that makes me like her.

These seniors took the hard road to be here, and they deserved a Senior Night like this. The ceremony was beautiful, and I teared up a little bit. As you do. Everyone got at least a single rose- Ashley Wanninger and Xavier's senior manager, the seniors from the band, and the seniors from cheer and dance. The one manager and three senior players all got bouquets and a little gift, whether it was the traditional jersey and such or the mysterious little box that the manager was walking around with after the game. Coach Bozzella gave a little speech, highlighting each of them in turn. It was sweet. I got verklempt. FEELINGS.

FEELINGS end here. Game Notes resume.

I think they like us. We haz a basketball nao. And Janee offered hugs. Look, St. John's, I'm not even asking for cuddling, or for you to respect me in the morning. Just show me you care.

They have balloons. They have pirate balloons. Already best.Senior Day.ever.

At halftime, Seton Hall is up 37-18 on Xavier, led by 12 points from Alexis Brown. The pressure has been intense on defense. They want this game for their seniors.

This is going to sound mildly creepy, but there's a cheerleader eating nachos and pretzels in cheese, and I find it strangely reassuring to see a cheerleader actually eating. Dear society, there is something wrong with us.

Xavier made a big run in the second half, but Seton Hall was able to come up with little plays to save the day. I think they were bound and determined not to lose this game for their seniors, which is more than I can say for the other senior days I've seen in this spate of FEELINGS.

The Musketeers are extremely short-handed, so they relied heavily on freshman forward Leah Schafer. She came into the game early in both halves and was in and out often. She did a nice job at the basket. Christina Ohlinger needs to put a little more muscle on before she can be effective as a Big East forward.

Good gracious, Sydney Neal is fast. Quick first step, excellent closing speed- she shut down one or two Seton Hall fast breaks by being in the right place at the right time. She didn't show much offensively, but she didn't need to. Ashley Wanninger settled behind the three-point arc and did a lot of shooting out there. Aliyah Zantt killed us early with threes, both in the first half and second half. Maddison Blackwell has long arms and good defensive positioning for a freshman- she had a nice play to cut off a drive in the first half. Briana Glover didn't play as much in the first half, but turned it up in the second half. I think that might have been why Schafer was in and out so much in the first half, to help keep the starters somewhat refreshed for the second half.

Xavier relied very heavily on the three. I'm not sure how much of that is by choice and how much of it is out of necessity. I think they might need to get stronger as a team if they want to compete in the Big East next year- they have a lot of tall, skinny players (or at least skinny players who give the impression of great height because they're so skinny). But they also have a lot of very good freshmen; Schafer, Neal, Blackwell, and Kayla Davis are all freshmen, while Zantt and Glover are only sophomores. Wanninger will be a big loss for them, as is (will be? will have been?) Shatyra Hawkes, but the balance looks promising a year or two down the line.

Jasmine McCall came in very briefly, either as a desperation move because of the foul trouble Ka-Deidre Simmons had in the first half or because Coach Bozzella wanted to try and counter some of Xavier's speed. The plan was not as effective as he could have hoped. Chizoba Ekedigwe played even more briefly. Teresa Kucera was in for three-shooting purposes, which she executed well; unfortunately, she brought her usual quotient of dumb fouls to the party as well. Bra'Shey Ali came off the bench in the first half, but that's only because Breanna got the start on Senior Night. I think it either threw her off her routine, or she was out of sort, because she was looking a little behind the play by late in the game. She wasn't pursuing quite as hard as she had been. She had some thunderous blocks that got the crowd going, including one that she did a nice job of keeping inbounds. Tara Inman drew the job of guarding the ballhandler when she was in, and she stuck tight to her man most of the time. When she didn't, that was when her assignment- usually Wanninger- broke out for an open three. She hustled hard, though. I think she thinks she can move up in the rotation next year (though we didn't lose any guards, unless some of them are getting reassigned). Sidney Cook seems to have gotten a little of her mojo back- her shot was still somewhat questionable, but she hit the midrange jumper with more accuracy than I've seen from her lately, and she was rebounding with some authority. I love it when Sid rebounds. It's a beautiful, fierce, ferocious thing.

Breanna Jones started, as is correct etiquette for physically capable seniors on Senior Day/Night, and while we were all hoping she'd hit that lay-up that went in and out, she did all the little things that we expect of her. She rebounded (or tapped rebounds out), she set screens, she made defensive plays- she showed exactly who she was out there. Janee Johnson had some issues with the rim, and possibly the officiating- she got all her fouls in the second half, and disagreed with at least two of them. On the second one, she actually stayed in the screen position for a good five to ten seconds before giving up and going back on defense. (This is what happens when you turn your shoulder into the defender on a screen, Janee, you will get called for a foul.) She was setting screens and setting up her teammates well, though. She had a gorgeous pass down low to Ka-Deidre Simmons for a lay-up, the kind of pass that Didi only usually gives to other people. Tabatha Richardson-Smith played a lot of the rover in the Seton Hall defense, pressuring the ball coming up the court and then racing back. I think it wore her out a little bit. Didn't keep her from getting inside for buckets. I think I like it better when she's working the baseline or getting baskets on the fast break than when she's launching threes from the general vicinity of Hoboken. She's got the height- I'd love to see her use it more. Ka-Deidre Simmons was really feeling the court vision tonight. The passes went to the right people at the right time, she ran the offense with a steady hand- despite the shooting numbers, she had a great game. Alexis Brown, oh my Lord. I found some of the terrible things I said about you in past game notes, and I stand here to apologize, because she was feeling it tonight. Other than the little hop-step that the officials were consistently calling as a travel on her, she was pretty much doing no wrong. Threes, lay-ups, whatever that was she threw off the glass- plenty of it was going down. She worked on defense, too. She, Tabatha, and Ka-Deidre were all making life miserable for Xavier ballhandlers on the sideline.

I'm not sure what game the gentleman official was watching this evening, but a preponderance of evidence suggests that he was more interested in the action between Kansas and West Virginia. A fair number of his calls appearaed to have no relevance to the game that he was officiating. I will say that Norma Jones did a nice job on some tricky out-of-bounds calls. She had good angles. The crew had good communication through a couple of odd timeouts and stoppages. I guess we should be grateful there were no clock issues for a blessed change, though I'm sure they would have handled them with aplomb.

Seton Hall has decent shooters in their timeout contests. I'm actually kind of impressed.

This is seriously the slowest train in the history of ever, we got stopped between every station between Roosevelt and Continental, I want to GO HOME.

Always know where your balls are. Your ceremonial 1000-point basketballs, that is. Ka-Deidre's family had a collective panic attack when they had some trouble tracking it down.

After the game was over, after the coaches had gone back to the locker room, the team tracked down Brittany Webb- another of the seniors, who was recently dismissed from the team- and brought her on court for hugs and celebration. She ended up with a little box of Godiva somewhere along the line, too. D'awwww.

Perils of Senior Night: do not question a player's intelligence when her mother is sitting right next to you and assumes that you're impugning her basketball skills.

And this is how the regular season ends, walking out of Walsh Gymnasium with a basketball under my arm, singing along with [url=]"Closing Time"[/url]. (We'll ignore the fact that I spent twenty minutes wandering around the lobby of Walsh, waiting for my ride. It's more cinematic this way.)

"I know who I want to take me home..."


Sunday, March 2, 2014

March 2nd, 2014: Marist at Iona

Just the Facts, Ma'am: A back-and-forth game in the first half broke open in the second half as Marist went on a 14-2 run to eventually claim a 79-67 win at Iona. Tori Jarosz had 21 points and 14 rebounds for the Red Foxes, while Casey Dulin added 19 points and five assists. Damika Martinez had 20 points for Iona, while Sabrina Jeridore had 12 points and 10 rebounds.

For feelings, the rim, coming so close, pounding the bleachers, making things right, and to heck with double-headers, join your intrepid and mildly frustrated blogger after the jump.

If you ever wonder why, as a women's basketball fan, I resent men's basketball, here's a textbook example. Iona's Senior Day against Marist is a double-header with the men. I didn't know this until I got to the box office and looked at the tickets; it wasn't mentioned in the game day information. So we're stuck in the upper deck, last row, backs to the wall, instead of with our friends and cohorts in the section behind the bench, and forced to pay extra for a game we weren't here to see.

And if Iona was hoping that this would keep the Marist fans out, the big splotch of red across from us indicates that it's not working.

Seriously, we're so far up that we just had to shift so the camera crew could plug in. NOT AMUSED. (I'm suddenly very grateful I'm going to Senior Night at Seton Hall, because I know Tony Bozzella will do it right, and I'd like to see one Senior Day done right this year.)

I really hate to keep harping, but there are Marist fans with better seats than we have, across from our bench, and this is ridiculous. I don't care about the Iona men. I might have considered staying because the Iona men are good, but I don't know if I want to respect them.

Here, have some FEELS for the Iona seniors, all of whom are uniquely specialized.

This cannot possibly be the senior year Shonice Hawkins wanted.

It's a shame, because in years before, she was a stalwart defender and a firestarter off the bench. She wasn't going to get the big minutes and she wasn't going to get the glory, but she was going to get the stop and she was going to make sure her team stayed in the game.

She's kept up her role as a team leader even on the bench in street clothes. She's been in the middle of everything, keeping the team's spirit high and keeping them fired up.

You do what you can, even when it's not what you wanted. That's what it means to be part of a team, and Shonice took that to heart.

If you told me, "Look, you're down one, you need a basket in the paint, and you can only pick one player off one of your favorite teams to hit that shot," there are a lot of players I'd pick before Sabrina Jeridore.

But if you told me, "Look, you're up one, you need to keep the other team from scoring in the paint, and you can only use players off your favorite teams to stop that shot," Sabrina Jeridore would be the first name out of my mouth (followed closely by Amber Thompson and Bra'Shey Ali). Bri's shooting is erratic at best, but on the defensive end, she owns the paint, plain and simple. She's one of the best shot blockers I've seen in a long time. You don't score on her in the paint, plain and simple. You need a player like that to anchor your defense.

She takes Lisa Leslie as a role model, at least enough to use her image as a Twitter header. Good choice for a player of her style. And even if I personally don't like Leslie, it's always good to see a female player actually taking a WNBA player as a role model.

This year wouldn't be possible without Haley D'Angelo. The talent is young and raw and prone to making stupid mistakes (and I love Joy and Damika and Aleesha and Aaliyah, don't get me wrong). But whe you have young, raw takent, you need a steady hand and a clear head to run the offense. And that's exactly what Haley D'Angelo brings to the table.

She's never going to be a big scorer- I don't think she ever was. She's not dazzling. She's not flashy. She's not dynamic as a player. But she's smart, she's efficient, and she's steady. I didn't know until the Senior Day ceremony that she started out as a walk-on, and to go from walk-on to starting point guard is an incredible journey.

We aren't the Phoenix Mercury, but we have a similar enough structure that I think I can make this comparison. Damika might be our Cappie, and Joy might be our Penny, though we really don't have a Diana. But Haley... Haley is undeniably our Kelly Miller. She's the engine that makes the whole thing go. Haley returning for this season instead of saying "screw this, I got a degree" is probably the biggest reason why this season is what it is instead of being a deep disappointment and fourth in the conference.

(game notes resume)

Oh, hey, there's a band. How nice of someone musical to show up. I think they're an alumni band, but still. That would be like, the first time in ever.

Halftime update: thanks to a brilliant and wonderful student worker named Tommy, we got put in our proper place behind the bench with our posse, and we're being appropriately loud. It's been a back and forth game, with Marist up at the half. Marist had an early 10-4 lead; but the Gaels came back strong, and since then it's been nip and tuck. Just to make me look like an idiot, Sabrina Jeridore is leading the Gaels with nine points.

Today is also the 40th anniversary celebration of the program, so they're doing a ceremony with alumnae and coaches. Look at all of those bad-ass ladies.

The Senior Day ceremony was beautiful. I was kind of sad that Shonice didn't have family to walk out with her, just a friend (or a "friend", but I ain't judging), but I liked that Damika and Joy walked out with her in their place. They brought flowers for the Marist seniors, and there were posters for the dance and cheer teams. RIGHT IN THE FEELS. It's kind of fascinating how this year's class was so narrowly specialized. Sabrina's a shot-blocker, Haley's a distributor, and Shonice steals the ball.

The band is not impressing me. I'm starting to understand why they didn't do women's games most of the time. Slow jazz doesn't exactly fit with this squad.

We have to finish the job at the rim. Real champions finish at the rim. That's what Marist did especially after contact, and that's what we couldn't manage. The shots they hit and the shots we missed were the difference in this game. This is the kind of game where it's easy to blame the bad officiating for the loss, because make no mistake about it, the officiating was bad to the point of hazard for the players. Sabrina and Aleesha can tell you all about that. That's the easy way out, but that's the loser's way out. When it came right down to the real nitty-gritty, they hit the shots that mattered and we didn't.

Brittni Lai played briefly in the first half, long enough to establish that she wasn't going to be an effective option for the Red Foxes. Natalie Gomez-Martinez gave some good minutes in relief of the guards, showing a little speed and strength. Madeline Blais used her height well against the mismatches on defense and got to the line efficiently. She was big for them off the bench.

Casey Dulin gets an awful lot of steps on her lay-ups. We're talking about three and four steps on the run-up, all but tucking the ball under her arm like a running back. She took contact as well as a running back, too, getting and completing and-1s the way Rachelle Fitz used to (I still remember that one game where pretty much every picture I got was of Fitz getting a three-point play). She slipped the defense very well. Emma O'Connor killed us from the outside. We kept leaving her open, and she kept hitting threes. She had two early, then added another one as part of the big run to open the second half for Marist. Sydney Coffey was solid but unmemorable. Leanne Ockenden didn't necessarily make a big impact on offense, but read Iona's offense brilliantly- there were one or two plays that she broke up simply by predicting them perfectly. That's the senior advantage right there. Tori Jarosz was unstoppable when she got that first step down low. It was fascinating watching her seem to calculate and consistently overshoot once she was out of her low-post comfort zone, but once she got the baseline, she was throwing in little hooks every time she got anywhere near the basket. (One wonders how this strength of Jarosz's will mesh with Giorgis's plea of "STOP GOING BASELINE!")

This Marist team is not the perfectly oiled machine of the past, nor do they have the talent that the big upset teams of the past did. But they still get the job done, and they take advantage of mistakes.

Cassidee Ranger's been setting stronger screens this year, which is either a promising sign of versatility and development, or an act of desperation from a three who's been forced to the four out of necessity. She got open shots and hit them, and kept the offense coming from the outside. Aaliyah Robinson's shooting was streaky, but she was a better matchup with Marist's bigger guards than Aleesha Powell. (I do find myself wondering what happened with the rest of Iona's bench, though. Christina Rubin was solid at point early in the year, Spencer Gray has good defensive instincts, and Aurelia Cammock at least brings some size off the bench. I don't know if I'd shorten up the rotation quite this much.)

Aleesha Powell was getting knocked around like a feather out there today. She's got way too slim a build to hang, and if she's not getting calls on clipping, she's even worse off. She was too heavily guarded to get off a good shot, and she kept trying to get off bad ones. Damika Martinez came on late, but made some very bad decisions on the baseline- knocked the ball out of a teammate's hands on one rebound, pursued another out on the next opportunity. She had a pretty assist in the first half to Sabrina Jeridore down low. Sabrina started the game red hot, but didn't play as much in the second half and didn't have as many easy looks. Didn't help that she, like so many of her teammates, was missing shots at the rim. Easy ones that should have gone donw. Joy Adams looked to be lacking energy early on, but picked it up in the second half. Haley D'Angelo did what Haley does, which is not shoot all that often, but not make too many mistakes. Her ballhandling wasn't as sharp as usual, but she got after all her fumbles.

Hit your shots, Gaels. Hit your lay-ups, hit your free throws, take every chance you have, because it's patently obvious that you're not going to be given anything. The officiating in this game was a hot mess. Marist was getting away with a lot of tripping and clipping. We got away with some blatant non-calls (Aleesha, there's no tackling in basketball), but there's something not kosher about the free throw differential. That all didn't help. Did it make the difference in the game? Psychologically, maybe. But you can't go down that road.

It's on to Springfield now, where the games really matter and everything's on the line. This is the time. This is the moment. This is the year.


Saturday, March 1, 2014

March 1st, 2014: DePaul at St. John's

Just the Facts, Ma'am: It was a perfect storm of disaster for St. John's, as missed shots, defensive lapses, and unforced errors led to an 80-65 loss to DePaul in the home finale. Brittany Hrynko had 21 points for the Blue Demons, one of four DePaul players to notch double figures. Aliyyah Handford led St. John's with 14 points; Amber Thompson had 10 points and a game-high 15 rebounds for the Red Storm.

For despair, a lack of desperation, shaking of heads, senior paeans, and the throwing up of hands in the air, join your intrepid and utterly befuddled blogger after the jump.
Good afternoon, fellow basketball fans! For the last time in the 2013-14 season, we're coming to you in surround sound on tape delay from beautiful Carnesecca Arena in the frozen heart of Queens. It's Senior Day at St. John's as the Red Storm take on the first-place DePaul Blue Demons, hoping for a season sweep and a chance to open the door for a regular-season title.

There may be a lack of coherence in the next few days, because Senior Day at St. John's is the first of three Senior Days your intrepid blogger will be covering. (Or, as I've been calling it, The Week of FEELS ALL THE FEELS.) Today St. John's is honoring Briana Brown, Keylantra Langley, and Eugeneia McPherson. And I forgot the tissues. But you're going to have to deal with a few hundred words of FEELINGS to get to game notes for the next three games. Put your sunglasses on and deal with it, or scroll down.

I've never been good at admitting when I'm wrong. It doesn't come naturally to me. But sometimes, when you swing and miss as badly as this, you have to put it out there and accept the plates of crow that will be sent your way. I never thought Briana Brown would amount to anything as a Division I basketball player. I thought she was a recruiting bust who would sit at the end of the bench for the rest of her career, and that the only reason she was going to make it through all four years was because she had hooked up with one of the guys on the men's team. Diplomatic relations, you know?

Boy howdy, did I miss the boat on that one.

Because the one thing I didn't know about Briana Brown during her freshman year, and even during her sophomore year, was how hard she was going to work. She worked at her game. She matured as a person and as a player. (Part of what led to that legendary 4-on-5 stand against Southern Miss was that Briana was in street clothes for that game.) There were hints of it, to be sure- looking back at game notes from 2011 and 2011, Briana's always mentioned going for loose balls and jump balls. But for two and a half years she seemed like she was going to be the scrappy kid at the end of the bench who's scrappy because she has no other options.

Then the game at Georgetown happened, at the end of last season, and she took a quantum leap forward. Going into this season, I was afraid of the leadership we were losing with Nadirah's graduation- well, we found it in Briana. She stepped into roles she shouldn't have had to fulfill, guarding any and all comers no matter their size. She played entirely too much post defense for a 5-8 guard of her build, and she got the job done. She came up with the big shots frm the corner, and hit the deck for loose balls. She earned her captaincy and wore it just as obviously as any hockey player with a C stitched to their jersey. I still maintain it is a crime and a travesty that there were two MIPs in the Big East last year and neither of them was Briana.

Improving steadily on the court, excelling off it, maturing as both a person and an athlete- Briana Brown has become what an NCAA student-athlete should be, and I wish her all the best.

It's easy to boil a player down to one thing that they do, and do well, and is exactly what you expect them to do. It becomes a running joke, in a way, a useful shorthand to say that she's on her game, a recurring gag that can become overused if you're not careful.

So for two years, the running gag was that Keylantra Langley could only hit a shot as the shot clock expired. Any other time, she was essentially useless offensively. Her maturation was a much longer and more gradual process, going from a freshman full of stupid mistakes to a junior full of big shots. As a senior, she's developed her offensive game and become even more of a defensive force. Sixth woman when we need her, starter when someone's got to step up to the plate- it's a rare game when Keylantra doesn't bring the energy and intensity that the team needs.

She's still got the big shot knack, don't get me wrong. Someone, someday, is going to have to go back through four years of game tape and calculate what percentage of Key's shots were with the shot clock running down, or when the team needed them most. I'd be willing to wager that the majority of her shots were clutch ones, and that's a skill that's hard, if not impossible, to learn.

Off the court, she's funny and charming when she puts her mind to it- she's said some stupid things in the past that I think and hope that she regrets now. She'll go far when she puts her mind to it.

I should have been writing all this about Eugeneia McPherson last year. She should have been the third senior last year, not Mary Nwachukwu. Torn ACLs are terrible things and they lead to despair.

It's a cliché to say that she grew up out of the adversity, but I think she did. She stepped into a role this year that she hadn't played in years, filling some fairly impressive shoes. She's been whatever we asked her to be, from sixth woman to shooting guard to point guard, from shooter to defensive stopper, from floor leader to team leader and everything in between.

Before the knee, she was fearless, driving into the lane like a pinball in search of free throws. She gained some of that back late this season, but I think she lost most of her fearlessness on offense when she got hurt. She remains a defensive maven with quick hands and steady eyes.

She might not be as acclaimed as her teammates who were drafted last year, but without her, we don't go to all those NCAA tournaments. She's held down the fort. She's been a leader and shown the heart of a champion. She's given us everything she has to give, and that's ultimately all you can ask. With her bachelor's already in hand and credits towards her enxt degree, she's well on her way to kicking the butt of whatever field awaits her after graduation.

(FEELINGS END HERE. Game Notes of Doom resume.)

Nadirah managed to sneak in before we did, but prestige hath its privileges, and we need all the support we can get. RedZone looks to be making an appearance, judging from the shirts arrayed behind what is normally the student section. They usually do come out for Senior Day, but it's still reassuring.

Sandra Udobi's out for the game, with her shoulder in a sling. She is, however, wearing a gorgeous black-and-white dress and rocking it in every way possible.

As is to be expected, I bawled during the Senior Day ceremony. SO MANY FEELINGS. Senior Days always make me cry, and I forgot my tissues. I knew Briana Brown was solid academically, but I didn't realize how accomplished she was off the floor. It's always worse when you know this is the last time you're going to see them (can't get out to Chicago, no convenient tournament sites). Oh God, here I go again tearing up. Too many feelings, cannot cope!

At halftime, DePaul is up 43-36, but St. John's showed some signs of life at the end of the half. Too many defensive breakdowns for my liking- DePaul is getting sweet finger rolls on the inside and open threes from the corner. We're not penetrating hard enough. (No jokes, please.) We have to play like the team that dominated the conference in early going, the team that walked into McGrath and won, the team that curb-stomped Creighton here. That's what a Big East champion plays like.

And that's what DePaul played like today. That's not what St. John's played like past, maybe, the first two minutes of the second half. Congrats to DePaul- they did what they had to do and then some. More than I can say for St. John's.

Doug Bruno emptied the very end of his bench at the end of the game, so we got to see a few of the freshmen who don't get a lot of time. They wore off the last two minutes or so of the game well enough, with ShaKeya Graves showing off a little speed. Something about Centrese McGee, in build and hairstyle, reminds me of archival footage of Jamelle Elliott I've seen in her playing days. She's a little faster and a little shorter, and tough as nails. Kelsey Reynolds had a nice little midrange game and seemed to evade our defense gracefully. Brandi Harvey-Carr is a big girl- used her size well enough down low, but got into some foul trouble, and with both teams going with smaller, faster lineups, she wasn't in for much of the time. Jessica January shows a lot of promise- very quick hands, very good reaction time, though she also tends to quickly make a lot of freshman mistakes. But I imagine those will wear off as she ceases being a freshman. They're going to need her in the next couple of years, after Hrynko graduates.

Jasmine Penny uses her arms effectively, and rather close to illegally, getting tangled upw ith her assignment on both sides of the floor. She ran the baseline well and converted easily at the basket. Megan Rogowski killed us from the outside- we just lost her and let her get open threes for quite some time, especially in the first half. Charise Jenkins took over early in the second half for DePaul, cutting to the lane and hitting jumpers. Megan Podkowa left no impression, though I suppose that could be because I kept mixing her up with the other Megan. I'm sorry, Megan Podkowa. You rebounded well according to the box score, so you must have done things right. I just don't remember them. Brittany Hrynko cut through our once-vaunted defense like a hot knife through butter. She showed off some nice moves on the inside as well, including some sweet finger rolls. Actually, DePaul was strong with that shot in general.

They were much faster than I was expecting, playing the passing lanes well and knocking away careless dribbles and bad passes. I think they took the loss in Chicago to heart and decided that it wasn't happening again.

More than I can say for my team. I don't know if Tartamella was told he had to be careful with Gina, or if he just decided that the homestretch of the season was the perfect time to start experimenting with a freshman point guard, but we saw way too much of Aaliyah Lewis in this game, and she demonstrated a complete lack of judgment on the floor. She took shots she had no business taking, she made bad passes, and she showed no clock awareness. We were in deep trouble every time she was on the floor. Jade Walker looked like a young woman whose confidence had been shaken to its core. She couldn't hang on to the ball, she didn't look comfortable on the floor, and we all thought it was a miracle that she finally got a good call in her favor. We needed her to be strong today in Sandie's absence, and she had nothing left. Selina Archer played briefly, demonstrated that she had no interest in pursuing rebounds, and was summarily deposited back on the bench. Mallory Jones was brought in as a desperation move in the second half, when we needed an offensive burst, but she was never used, which rather defeats her purpose. Danaejah Grant couldn't hang on to the ball, made bad decisions, and missed easy shots. Being without Sandie shortened our bench more than you would expect from a player who doesn't see a lot of minutes, but her absence meant that we lost a lot of flexibility with our bench.

Amber Thompson tore down all the rebounds, but her defense was spotty and she's got to hit the easy shots on the inside. I think she had at least two come off the rim. So did Aliyyah Handford, and Aliyyah spent a lot of time looking for shots for herself instead of the best shot. If you're in the middle of a box-and-1, you are NOT OPEN, Aliyyah, you are in fact the furthest thing from open that you could conceivably be. Defenses have learned to adapt to her, and she seems to be refusing to learn to adapt to them. Instead, she makes stupid decisions that don't help her team. Eugeneia McPherson came on strong in the second half, when there was still a chance that we could have gotten back into the game. It fell apart, though, as everything we've done in the last two weeks or so has. She was in and out a lot, enough that we were wondering about her health. Keylantra Langley played with the most energy of the three seniors, especially in the first half. I think we saw less of her in the second half, but at this point I'm not even sure anymore. Briana Brown got some tough assignments- there's no rhyme or reason to having her on Brandi Harvey-Carr. She came up with some good shots, but was hobbled by foul trouble.

No energy. No interest in defending. No desire. No belief that they deserve to win the Big East. They looked more like the teams that scraped into the WNIT than the team that showed so much promise to start the conference season. I don't understand hwo we fell apart like this, but I'm starting to wonder if the issue isn't as much with the players as it is with the gentleman who professes to be in charge. I genuinely wonder how much of this team's respect and attention he still has, and how much they've tuned him out. I've never heard him say a good thing on the bench (though I don't sit by the bench often) and plenty of relentless negativity turned on the team, almost never on the officials. I know this sounds hypocritical, given my comments, but guess what? He's the guy who's paid a fairly decent amount of money to work with these players; I'm the girl who sits in the stands and yells at everyone.

It was Senior Day. Gina McPherson's put in five years for this team- five years, not four, because of that damn ACL against Hartford last season. If anyone in that class deserved a curtain call, it was Gina. Instead, she was pulled with about four minutes to go, with no indication that she wasn't returning, and never came back into the game. Then again, I suspect the only reason Briana got a curtain call of a sort was because she fouled out of the game. Key was the only one that we could give a proper send-off.

On the flip side, DePaul sent in the end of their bench with about a minute to go, ran down the shot clock, then pretty much let the ball go out of bounds on the ensuing offensive rebound. (That would have been the time to get Gina back in the game, Joe.) I might grief Doug Bruno when he's arguing with referees, but the man is a class act with a class team. You can make the argument that he's only had one really bad swing-and-miss in that regard.

The officiating was pretty bad, but you can't really blame them at this point. That doesn't explain the lack of intensity we played with today. That doesn't excuse it, either.

I think we were all in disbelief in the stands. We were sitting next to Amber's family, as their usual section was occupied by the time they arrived, and Amber's mom kept burying her face in her hands every time we missed an easy lay-up. The band was even getting sarcastic, and they don't do that.

Then again, it's harder to decide whether we should care when it's clearer and clearer that the administration cares about women's basketball only to the extent that it keeps the school out of trouble vis-à-vis Title IX issues. One of my neighbors at Carnesecca was able to get to the pre-game reception before the Marquette game, and even though it was supposed to be a women's basketball event, all anyone from the school wanted to talk about was the men's team. They couldn't get it through their heads that she wasn't interested. We have the same problem when talking to random St. John's fans. They want to know what we think about the men's team, and it just doesn't click with them that we don't care. But that's a tangent, and Key, Bri, and Gina deserve better than my tangents.

Then again, they deserved better than this game.


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

February 26th, 2014: Marquette at St. John's

Just the Facts Ma'am: St. John's raced out to a big early lead, but Marquette dominated the game, coming back from 23 down to win 74-61. Katie Young led the Golden Eagles with 26 points and 12 rebounds. Aliyyah Handford had 21 points for St. John's.

For incoherent rage, surprising restraint, ballistics, bright yellow uniforms, a lack of pride, and absolute shame, join your intrepid blogger after the jump, but please bring a bottle of Bailey's if you do.

Good evening, blog readers! We're coming to you live and in three-d from Carnesecca Arena on the campus of St. John's University. Your intrepid blogger gets her second look in a week at the Golden Eagles of Marquette as they face the Red Storm of St. John's.

At halftime, St. John's is up 42-35, but they were up by as much as 22 in the second half, so I'm not exactly enthused about this. The team started coasting at about the eight-minute mark, and Marquette took full advantage for the rest of the game.

You have no idea how much of a herculean effort it is for me not to let lose with the f-word equivalent of the bombardment of Dresden. You really don't. Because that game was the equivalent of this team burning everything to ashes that they've been trying to build this year. They salted the earth and screwed the pooch with such efficiency that PETA cried foul. This was an embarrassment to St. John's and everything that started this season.

Which is not to take anything away from Marquette, and if anything in my post implies that, I apologize. There's no giving without taking, and the Golden Eagles fought. They went hard to the boards, they went to the floor for every loose ball- they learned from choking at Seton Hall and made sure that they took advantage of every opportunity that was given to them. Ashley Santos really needs to learn to watch her footwork, because she'll get called for travels if a crew is paying more attention to her hopsteps. She's very, very fast, though. Chelsie Butler was effective on the inside- physical, but not as infuriating as she was at Seton Hall. Lauren Tibbs gave a couple of good minutes when Butler needed a break and Plouffe was still in foul trouble. Arlesia Morse took the ball hard to the basket and got rewarded with free throws. She was also pretty solid defensively.

Cristina Bigica did not have a happy fun road trip through the New York/New Jersey area- hit her wrist at Seton Hall, got smacked or kicked in the head in this game. She didn't play a lot- they were getting good minutes from Santos and Morse, and she wasn't providing anything they weren't getting from other sources. Brooklyn Pumroy has a pretty shot, and ran her team with a lot of authority. She makes good things happen on the floor. Katie Young came up with all the big shots. I have absolutely no idea how we've overlooked her for the last three years, but she's come on like gangbusters. I think we have a contender for BEast MIP here. Apiew Ojulu showed off a little range and used her long arms well on defense- there was one point where she was simultaneously defending Keylantra Langley and Briana Brown, and doing it well. (Of course, that was as much a spacing issue as it was a defensive stand.) Katherine Plouffe filled up a lot of space in the lane and pulled down plenty of boards. She didn't play a lot because of foul trouble- Terri Mitchell was very conservative with her, and this time it seemed to work for her, when it didn't on Saturday.

Those yellow jerseys were all over the boards, especially in the second half. Two or three bodies were boxing out, and they took all the rebounds. There were several boards that hit the court, but Marquette was all over them.

For reasons more or less beyond my understanding, Mallory Jones got some time in the second half. No, I know what Joe was thinking- when she's left open beyond the arc, she can hit an open three every so often, and we needed points in a hurry. However, that plan works a lot better when the player in question actually sets up behind the three-point line at any point during her time on the floor. Jade Walker got into foul trouble, as is her wont. She had one good defensive stance with two deflections, but beyond that just couldn't get anything to work. Selina Archer was brought in for rebounding, and for reasons completely beyond my comprehension, kept getting force-fed the ball when she was in. She had one decent putback, but other than that, specialized in standing around and letting Marquette rebound around her big frame. Aliyah Lewis built on her solid performance against Creighton, if standing around pounding the ball and making abysmal decisions can be considered to be building on a game. She had to step up after the injury to Eugeneia McPherson, and she did nothing of the sort. Keylantra Langley hit one big shot and hit the deck a couple of times, but brought no energy, mediocre defense, and little other offense. Danaejah Grant at least scored some, but went a little too much for the flourish on the shot, looking too much for the foul instead of the successful finish.

Briana Brown played with no energy, which is not a good sign for the team's leader and captain. She hit a three early on, and tore down some nice rebounds, but couldn't sustain. I have to wonder if trying to be the sole leader on the court after the injury to Gina took its toll on her. Aliyyah Handford drove the lane, and offensively looked like her old self. Defensively, the energy was intermittent. Amber Thompson was decent on the inside, but got into foul trouble and had her minutes severely curtailed for reasons beyond my comprehension. Yes, some of her fouls were stupid, but how is that different from the last two or three years? Sandra Udobi got off to a slow start, then suffered a mild setback with her heavily braced knee. This was, of course, right when everyone decided that getting her the ball in shooting position was a wonderful idea. She decided that this was not a good decision. And there was much passing around. Eugeneia McPherson drove the lane, got hit low, and went down holding her knee. She was held out for the rest of the game, spending the first half riding the bike to nowhere and the second half on the bench with a large ice bag on her knee.

There are likely people who are throwing this loss on not having her down the stretch. Of course, we didn't have her during the part of the game where we were up 23, either, so that argument holds less water than your average sieve. We went up big and then we decided that we didn't need to play basketball anymore. Marquette disagreed with this assessment.

I genuinely do not understand the decisions that were made tonight. Either Joe took his stupid pills, the players all took their stupid pills, or the water supply was spiked with stupid pills. They started playing stallball with eight minutes left in the first half. There's no reason for that. We're not UConn. We can't assume that we're going to keep stomping a team just because we're currently stomping them. There's a difference between moderating the pace of the game and stalling for a shot clock violation. And I don't know why Joe was handling his personnel the way he was, but he was way too conservative with Amber and way too confident in Aaliyah's ability to run the point for long periods of time. I don't know what he was doing with Mallory and Selina. I don't know why he called signals so insistently that it could have distracted the team. I'm not sure what was up with Gina, but putting her in if she were able to go couldn't have hurt us.

The officiating was no help, but I can't blame them for a 36-point swing. That's all on the players on the floor. That's all to do with them and what they did and didn't do. Mostly didn't do. (That being said, we're lucky no one got too seriously hurt. I hope. Depends on Gina's knee, I guess. That wasn't full contact, but still.)

Worse, they did this with Nadirah in the bleachers, watching as they threw away a game they should have won. How do you do this in front of one of your greats? How do you do this in front of a teammate? How do you lay an egg like this and essentially tell one of your builders that you're going to kick over the sand castle because you just can't bring yourself to body up for a rebound?

I can't even bring myself to go after the agonizingly drawn out anthem, or whatever Briana did to her hair. I just don't have it. I just don't. I can't even fathom it.

Doug Bruno better bring a gift basket on Saturday, because we pretty much just handed DePaul the Big East crown. We had a chance to do something we haven't done since 1985, and we blew it in a matter better suited to the ladies who walk Eighth Avenue.

This is still my team, don't get it twisted. But I call them as I see them, and what I saw was enough to make me throw my clipboard in disgust. (It went further than I expected, though. I wasn't expecting it to go all the way out to the aisle.)

Do you have any pride left, St. John's? Will you put up a fight for Keylantra and Briana and Eugeneia on Saturday? Are you going to take it to DePaul the way you did at DePaul? Or will you fold? Have you decided to coast into the postseason? This isn't the old Big East. Second or third or fourth isn't enough anymore. Bring it. We'll be there.


Saturday, February 22, 2014

February 22nd, 2014: Marquette at Seton Hall

Just the Facts, Ma'am: Down 17 early in the second half, Seton Hall forced overtime on a Tabatha Richardson-Smith triple and came away with the 90-86 win. Richardson-Smith finished with a Seton Hall record 38 points, while Alexis Brown added 24; Bra'Shey Ali finished scoreless, but with a game-high 15 rebounds. Marquette was led by huge games from Katherine Plouffe (23 points, 11 rebounds) and Katie Young (21 points, 12 rebounds).

For the roar of the crowd, geology lessons, rebounding, bad soda puns, passion, and sore gluteal muscles, join your intrepid and hungry blogger after the jump.

Good afternoon! We're coming to you in Smell-o-vision from beautiful Walsh Gymnasium on the snowy campus of Seton Hall University, where the Pirates look for a second straight conference win against the Golden Eagles of Marquette.

It's been so snowy that looking at the parking lots and the plowed heaps of snow made me imagine tactical uses for the walls. You could have some seriously strategic snowball fights up in there.

Lots of shooting practice for Seton Hall today. I don't think they've been off the floor since we got here, or if they have, not for very long.

Alexis Brown is utterly adorable when she puts her mind towards being chivalrous. (And was apparently very happy to be here. Good Lord.)

At halftime, Marquette is up 39-32. Seton Hall has played well for stretches, but Marquette's been able to answer every run. Katherine Plouffe has been a star for Marquette; Alexis Brown is running the show for Seton Hall.

Several hours and a fair amount of ice cream later, it's still hard to believe that Seton Hall pulled that out, seventeen down in the second half after taking some body blows both literal and figurative. But Alexis Brown and Tabatha Richardson-Smith and Ka-Deidre Simmons and Bra'Shey Ali decided that they were not losing that game, and they roared back, and the crowd roared with them, and that was one of the most thrilling games I've been at all season.

Chelsie Butler is not among my favorite people today- she was the one who slammed Ka-Deidre to the ground, and I think she was the one who knocked Tab into the band. She's reasonably skilled on the inside, but I don't like her physicality and I'm kind of looking forward to her match-up with Amber Thompson on Wednesday. Ashley Santos is very fast and drives very aggressively. She's got to work on her footwork if she gets a crew that's a bit more determined to call travels, but for her height she's got excellent speed. Lauren Tibbs provided some decent minutes when Plouffe was in foul trouble.

Cristina Bigica seemed to be a little off her game, though part of that might have been because she suffered a wrist injury in the second half. She just didn't seem to be the factor I was expecting her to be. Katie Young picked up a lot of that slack, getting to the line with efficiency and strength- she was always driving and always getting to the basket, along with dropping a couple of threes. Brooklyn Pumroy looks have matured a lot in the last year, even more than one would expect, and she has phenomenal range- she was taking set shot threes from the half-court line and getting good iron on them (after Tab tied the game, her halfcourt heave drew back iron). It wouldn't surprise me one iota if she could hit that shot, not just get a good shot off. Apiew Ojalu was intriguing on defense- she has very long, skinny arms, and she blocked a lot of shots. The way she uses her arms and the way she rebounds reminds me a little of Plenette Pierson, though not quite as strong in the body. She tangles well, and that's not meant as an insult. Katherine Plouffe showed off all the moves, hitting from both outside and inside and pulling down big boards. I was saying uncharitable things about Canada every time she scored, but that's also because I love me some hockey and I have a bit of a cranky about the results of USA-Canada. She's a tough guard, and it didn't help Seton Hall that they mostly sent guards at her. I mean, obviously something helped Seton Hall, because they won, but in terms of stopping Plouffe.

Breanna Jones provided some good defensive stops. Teresa Kucera came up with threes but also committed stupid fouls when she was out of position on defense. Right now she's primarily a shooter, and I hope that she develops more as a defender to use her height. Sidney Cook really disappointed me today, the only disappointment of the day. She's got no confidence and no enthusiasm left, and it's sad. I know she can hit the pretty jumper and pull down the boards with the best of them, but today sh was utterly lackluster. Tara Inman played just long enough to establish that this was not the day that was meant for her and sat back down. Makes sense- kid looks like she should be carded for R-rated movies and offered the kids' fare on trains. Chizoba Ekedigwe got a couple of minutes on defense with the foul trouble that mounted up for Seton Hall's posts, and did a credible job on Plouffe.

Bra'Shey Ali was all over the boards. Even when she didn't pull it down, she was in position to down the board and ended up being muscled out. She's got some pretty impressive vertical. She had some huge blocks, including one late in the game that helped set up the big run; almost as importantly, her big blocks got the crowd into the game, and the team fed off the crowd to intensify the defensive pressure. Janee Johnson had bad luck around the rim, but she stepped into the passing lanes well and contributed on defense. (She also has a very loud DE-FENSE chant. Helps when you're trying to get the cadence going and the cheerleaders are a bit off their game.) Ka-Deidre Simmons took a really big hit and came down hard on her back. We were breathless and silent as she squirmed, but after a few minutes on the bench, she was back to normal and helped spearhead the run to force overtime. She took control fo the team and the game like the upperclassman she is. Alexis Brown led the charge in the first half, cutting to the lane and getting to the line. She was fierce going after any ball that looked like it could be jarred loose. And then Tabatha Richardson-Smith went off. The best part was that, for the most part, she wasn't doing it with ridiculously long threes that would make you doubt her judgment, but with closer threes, midrange jumpers, and layups along the baseline. She was on fire, and we loved every second of it.

I think she was the only person in the arena that thought the three was going in until it actually went in and there was pandemonium in the gym.

The officiating left a bit to be desired in the second half, given the physicality that both teams got away with. The slam on Ka-Deidre was the worst, but Cristina Bigica got the worst of a collision and came away with the foul called on her, so Marquette had some arguments to make as well. There were more procedural calls missed than I would have expected from this crew- Brooks, Lynch, and Orminski are a good crew. That being said, they made a couple of out of bounds calls that were excellent, and I know that's one of Brooks's bugaboos.

One of the dance team girls was in the shooting contest during one of the timeouts. She hit the lay-up and the free throw, but had no luck on the three-pointer. Par for the course, actually.

When they have a reason to get into the game, Seton Hall fans are loud and passionate. We fit in with them. I'd say we fit in with them more than we do with St. John's fans, but St. John's is my team and I don't want to give any indication that they're not.

What a finish. What guts by Seton Hall. I think Terri Mitchell thought too early that everything was over, that she could go deeper into her rotation, that she could rest and save Plouffe. Surprise!


Saturday, February 15, 2014

February 15th, 2014: Villanova at St. John's

Just the Facts, Ma'am: Aliyyah Handford scored 17 of her 25 points in the second half to spark a second-half St. John's surge in the Red Storm's 69-56 win over Villanova. Handford's 25 led all scorers. Amber Thompson added nine points and 17 rebounds. For Villanova, Katherine Coyer had 18 points and six rebounds.

For hurried rotations, hazardous traveling conditions, a little dipsy-do to seal the deal, too much pink, and resurgence, join your intrepid and anatine blogger after the jump.

Hello from the arctic tundra of Queens! We come to you live and in stereophonic sound from Carnesecca Arena, where it's Play4Kay against Villanova.

We've already heard the usual militant insistence that all things be pink. One guy said that I had to put the shirt on over my jersey or I'd have to give it back. First of all, rude. Second of all, the pink Play4Kay shirt I'm wearing is not this year's shirt. Third of all, you go call Ann Arbor and tell Joy McCorvey you told me to take off her jersey. Fourth of all, you go call my mother and tell her I don't support breast cancer survivors. Fifth of all, send the guy with the ducks over here, we've got twenty-five bucks waiting for him, because we believe in deeds, not words and empty gestures.

Of course, the pink jersey they have up for auction was Zakiyyah Shahid-Martin's, and I have more dignity than to wear the jersey of a woman who once mocked my husband during intros. Yes, I know whose jersey was whose based on the style and era. Don't try to put one past me. If it had been Jennifer Blanding's #15, or pretty much any other post's, I'd have been on it.

I like the pink and blue sneakers that a few Johnnies are rocking better than the pink and white. I don't know if the long pigtails work for Aaliyah Lewis, though. Someone's gonna end up whipped in the face, I know it.

Where are the ducks! I need the ducks to donate the money!

As usual, Villanova fans sit wherever they want, indifferent to the normal conventions of sitting in the general vicinity of their bench. I like the pink golf shirts that the Villanova staff is wearing, though. The Villanova V is well matched to it.

At halftime, St. John's is up 27-19, having closed strong after the game was tied at 18. Watching the offense of both teams has not exactly been happy fun times.

A family of Villanova fans insisted on setting up camp in our section, but they appear to have departed. You'd think being across from the St. John's bench, next to the band, and next to members of the men's team would be a good hint that this section is not a good place to wear the V. We figured they only like to watch Villanova on offense, which makes them some kind of m

There are two utterly adorable children playing on the drum kit during halftime, while the band grabs refreshment. They're more interesting than this confounded DJ, I'll tell you that.

We're giving up too many offensive rebounds, but so is Villanova, so that all washes out, I guess. We need to hit free throws and not let Nova get to the line. Also, Eugeneia McPherson is in dire need of the halftime break. I don't think she sat down once in the first half, and Joe was too scared to put Briana Brown back in with two fouls to give her a break.

Impressed with the turnout. It's been growing steadily. I approve. It's a little squished, but I like that.

I like beating Villanova. It's about the only thing I agree with UConn fans about.

I suspect that Perretta threw in the towel relatively early. With the foul differential being what it was, I didn't see him trying to work the officials the way I might have expected him to, and he went to the very deep end of his bench earlier than I would have expected. You should have heard the roar when Jessica Wamala scored- her teammates and the Nova fans who were sitting behind their bench cheered real loud for her. Samantha Wilkes got really grabby, and the law of the court caught up to her once- she shoved Briana Brown, and Amber Thompson proceeded to briefly introduce Wilkes to her elbow brace. Do not mess with the captain. Megan Quinn was tall. Taylor Holeman seems to play longer than her height- not to the extent that a DeLisha Milton does, but she has a long reach and good ups, and she disrupts well. I think she was hobbled by the fouls and not looking as much for her shot. Caroline Coyer got a lot of open looks in the second half and took advantage of several of them.

I miss Emily Leer's hook shot. She did fire one off, but she's starting to turn into yet another Villanova player who takes threes no matter her height. She got into foul trouble and griped about it a lot. Katherine Coyer impressed me less than her sister, though that may have been a matter of timing- the player who scored more in the second half will stand out more than the player who scored more in the first half. Devon Kane showed off one of the fastest first steps I've ever seen- she left her defender far behind her two or three times as she accelerated to the basket. I don't have clear recollectiosn of Kavunaa Edwards or Lauren Burford; they didn't play a lot, in favor of the somewhat deep Villanova bench. In case you hadn't noticed, Villanova plays an odd substitution pattern, and starting for the Wildcats isn't necessarily an indicator of how important a player is to the overall success of the team.

They were more aggressive than I remember them being, which isn't exactly saying a huge amount for Villanova. Honestly, though, we ran the clock down more than they did.

I was surprised that Joe went to Mallory Jones in the first half, but the move worked out, and I guess she matches up well with their system. She managed to garner a rebound and drain an open three. Jade Walker played very briefly, but was moving slowly and uncomfortably enough that she didn't play again. She looked out of place and out of position, nothing like the force of nature she's been for the last few games. Aaliyah Lewis ran a decent offense- nothing remarkable. Keylantra Langley was physical, but didn't have her best game in terms of common sense- stupid fouls, bad position, that kind of thing. Danaejah Grant took over a lot of the offensive load, or at least being an offensive threat. She missed a lot of easy shots, though the rim did her no favors.

I think the long minutes and the season are starting to get to Eugeneia McPherson a little bit. She looked really wiped by the end of this game. She picked up her shooting right when we needed her, but she still looked like she needed a long session in the ice bath. Briana Brown picked up two fouls in the first half, then spent the rest of the half on the bench. She came up with two huge shots in the second half to extend the lead. Amber Thompson owned the boards, as she so often does. She went hard after missed shots and cleaned up even the worst of attempts. I love when she's tough like that. Sandra Udobi played her usual brief minutes and then sat down. Aliyyah Handford decided to demonstrate that she was back. Her jump shot, such as it is, hasn't developed yet, but she was slashing to the basket and putting in some incredibly acrobatic shots again, like the Aliyyah of old. Just when we need her, coming down the home stretch of the conference season with a title in our sights and dreams of a high seed, too.

The rebounding was off the charts, and strengthened in the second half. Our defense slacked off a bit- way too many open shots, not enough pressure, which goes miles towards explaining the stunning foul differential in the second half.

This is part of how I knew Villanova had thrown in the towel sometime around the beginning of the fourth quarter: St. John's wasn't called for their first foul of the half until about the three-minute mark and Harry Perretta had bupkis to say about it. Most coaches, especially ones as demonstrative as Perretta can be, would have ripped the officials several new ones by that point. I don't necessarily know whether the calls themselves were good or bad, but that kind of imbalance tends to enrage a coach.

We bought our ducks eventually. Twenty-five dollars bought thirty-two ducks. As always, I nicknamed them before hurling them to their eventual fate: Tanya, Mallory, Wildwing, Ryan, Teemu, Lamichael, Jillian, Chrishae, Cathrine, Marcus, Kevin, Drake... one of them even won us a prize pack. I don't know whether this item is a backscratcher or an ice scraper, but either way it'll come in handy. The Chris Mullin bobble-head can go live in our men's sports community on top of one bookcase. The pennant will go on the wall. That kind of thing.

The train keeps on rolling, and I have to keep believing. It's time to hit the road for a rivalry game and for a rematch somewhere in middle America. We can do this. We're going to have to if we want any respect.


Saturday, February 8, 2014

February 8th, 2014: Providence at St. John's

Just the Facts, Ma'am: St. John's pulled down their tenth straight win of the season in an 85-65 victory over Providence. Jade Walker led the Red Storm with 14 points off the bench, one of five Johnnies in double figures. Danaejah Grant addaed 13 points and 10 rebounds, while Eugeneia McPherson had 11 assists. Providence's Karin Robinson had a game-high 21 points off the bench, while Aliyah Miller had 19.

For team efforts, bad decisions, mild worry, sheer pride, determination, and the whole darn thing, join your intrepid and clicky blogger after the jump.

Good afternoon, fellow basketball-type people! Your intrepid blogger and about a hundred of her closest friends (at this point) are gathered in Carnesecca Arena for the Red Storm's game against Providence. I'm going to allow myself a few minutes of bitterness at this point- there are four games on my schedule that I would have loved to be at, and if this weren't St. John's it would probably be third on the list. (Iona was at Manhattan, George Washington at Fordham. Though I think I had my Ivies mixed up.)

Providence is wearing pink sneakers with their black jerseys, but if you have a Yow in your school's athletic heritage, you can wear whatever pink suits you at whatever time.

There's a guy in a St. John's jersey who either did something accidentally brilliant or did something intentionally brilliant- his little daughter is wearing an NC State jersey. It's probably an accident, but it looks soul-satisfyingly right.

Someone in the band really likes Qdoba.

The stands are filling up a little more now that the kids from the clinic are showing up. As long as they stay on the other side of the arena and go look good on camera, I'm okay with that. Go be annoying somewhere else, small children who don't really care about basketball.

Small pregame ceremony for Eugeneia McPherson's 1000th point, garnered at Seton Hall last weekend. (Poor Briana Brown had to run back to the locker room and missed the whole thing, such as it was. I'm assuming she did the stalwart stoic captain thing during the entire locker room talk, then realized she had to ue the ladies' room.)

We're also trying to figure out if there's some kind of flu bug going around the team- a lot of people running off to the side or looking under the weather, and Gina's shot has been weirdly off.

It's 43-30 St. John's at halftime, and Joe Tartamella is confident enough in his lead that the next to last offensive play of the half was an attempted alley-oop from Aaliyah Lewis to Mallory Jones. Unfortunately, Mallory has about as much vertical as I do. It was 15-11 Providence at one point, and then St. John's got angry. There was a 21-4 stretch at one point. Providence has the leading scorers, but it's been an all-around offense for St. Johns, with good defensive plays as well.

It stayed a solid team effort all the way through. The defense came up with big plays when they needed them, and everyone was looking to pass- almost too much. This might have been the best game, 1 to 11, that I've seen out of St. John's this year.

I suspect that Providence was short-handed, since I can't think of any reason to play only eight players in a game that was pretty well out of hand for about twenty-five minutes. Karin Robinson came off the bench in the first half, but started the second half. She was fearless in driving the lane and going to the basket. She seemed to be all over the place. Miranda Simpson gave some good minutes off the bench with the foul trouble for Aliyah Miller and Alexis Harris, but got into a little bit of foul trouble herself. For a guard, she's very physical. Annie Russian came in to set screens and generally be in everyone's way.

Alexis Harris was very tall, and she grabbed rebounds. I get the feeling that if she hadn't been in foul trouble, she could have caused us a lot of match-up problems. But she got three fairly quick ones in the first half, and that took her out of the game. I barely even remember her, except that she was tall. Sarah Beal seemed to be running the offense pretty well, and drove without fear to get to the line. Aliyah Miller started the game on fire- got a couple of early fouls that caused her some trouble, and seemed to retreat somewhat in the second half, though that might have had to do with the margin. She was very impressive down low. Very impressive for a freshman, too. And we kind of know from impressive freshman forwards at this point. Evi Iiskola seemed to have been inspired by watching the hockey game last night- she was very physical, a bit grabby, and seemed inclined to rush headlong into a play without properly getting ready to shoot. There were also some extra dramatics. She seemed to specialize in the Plenette Pierson arm-lock and drew a foul off Amber Thompson from it. Tori Rule looked good early, but faded out a little bit as the game went on.

Providence has a fair amount of talent, and a fair amount of young talent (Beal and Miller are both freshmen). But they don't seem to have confidence yet, and they need to work on the fundamentals- there were at least three fast breaks where they didn't finish the shot. Some of those were well-defended by St. John's, but some of them were well-defended because the Friars didn't know how to best utilize the breaks.

Mallory Jones might not have ups, and watching her try to cut to the basket is rather like watching someone try to cut steak with a butter knife, but she does have a mighty pretty shot, and you can tell that she's trying. Aaliyah Lewis needs to be a bit more assertive in her decision-making- I think there was a possession where everyone in section 2 was screaming for her to get the ball to Danaejah Grant- but that's a freshman thing, and something I expect her to get over sometime in the next four years or so. Selina Archer contributed good rebounding late in the game and got inside for a couple of shots. Danaejah Grant brought the offense and stepped up when Aliyyah Handford was hurt briefly. We got a lot of offense from her, but not as much defense as I or a coach might have liked. Keylantra Langley started the second half after Sandra Udobi was less than stellar. She came up with big stops and big shots. Jade Walker had another spectacular game on the inside, using her size to get to the basket and then showing off the long jumper from the perimeter. I don't think she should have been called for a foul on that block, but I could be wrong.

Sandra Udobi looked out of sorts all day. I don't know if her knee was bothering her, or if she was feeling under the weather, but other than the big block at the end of the game, she really didn't have much of an impact. Amber Thompson went strong to the basket and was big offensively early, but she missed a lot of shots in close near the end of the game. The rim was not kind to either her or Danaejah. She came up with plenty of boards. Eugeneia McPherson couldn't get her shot to fall- I do wonder if she was having issues seeing the basket for whatever reason. She more than made up for it with her passing. Briana Brown was consistently playing over her size, snagging rebounds and playing tough defense. She started scoring more in the second half, when Providence made a little bit of a run. Aliyyah Handford was solid, though not the spectacular superstar she was in the first half of the season. Still, I'm glad she seems to have gotten her second wind.

Facepalm inducing moment of the day: Jade Walker on a fast break, deciding to get cute and try to pass behind the back to the trailer (Aaliyah Lewis?) when she had had an outlet on the wing (either Aliyyah or Danaejah). Joe was not amused, but no one really was.

We all held our breath when Aliyyah went down, and there was a moment of facepalm when Joe tried to put her back into the game after the trainer had come out onto the floor. Joe, you can't do that.

Officiating was the usual blend of unbelievable and ordinary.

I love my team. I do occasionally want to smack them upside the head, but I love them, especially when they pretty much all do all the things.



Saturday, February 1, 2014

February 1st, 2014: St. John's at Seton Hall

Just the Facts, Ma'am: Solid team play from the Red Storm powered St. John's to a 69-48 win at Seton Hall. Danaejah Grant led St. John's with 14 points, while freshman forward Jade Walker posted 13 points. Ka-Deidre Simmons of Seton Hall led all scorers with 16 points; Alexis Brown added 11 points and 11 rebounds.

For clangs, awkward moments, flag wars, mispronunciations, personal loyalty, exhaustion, and clashes, join your intrepid and conflicted blogger after the jump.

So here we are, at the pinnacle of Mount Awkward, sitting at Walsh Gymnasium. He's wearing a Seton Hall shirt and hat, getting his Jolly Roger ready. I'm wearing a St. John's jersey (actually his normal jersey- it's roomier, and I might as well take advantage of the luxury), with my scarf and hat tucked away in my backpack with my Storm banner.

This is the day I've been dreading. This is the day where I have to yell against my husband. See, this is why it's important to be fan-friendly, coaches. When you're on this small a scale, personal loyalty and respect matter. I could go into a self-righteous, self-centered rant here, but there are game notes to write and teams to root for.

Not to say that we're early, but I think the officials walked in. Might not be a good sign that I don't recognize them, but it might also be a good sign. Let's just hope for a well-officiated, clean game.

Today is Play4Kay, which you do not want to hear my thoughts on, so Seton Hall is wearing pastel pink uniforms and St. John's is wearing neon pink warm-up shirts, and people keep looking at me funny because I'm not wearing pink. I dropped ten bucks in the donation jar on the way in, and I'm dropping another twenty at St. John's in two weeks, and if you get me started y'all are not going to stop me.

Look, no, it is a bad plan to leave tickets for fans of the opposing team, Coach. I bought my ticket.

I think Tabatha wants to kick my ass. I can't say I blame her.

Y'know, I was always taught it was rude to sit directly behind the bench unless you were actually rooting for the team on that bench. Go away, people from East Orange, unless you're part of Jade Walker's contingent. You have two other quadrants of the court available.

It's 1:36 and I have seen no signs of Team Jersey. I am going to be very disappointed in Amber and Aliyyah's families if they couldn't manage to make it from Newark to South Orange. Which they did, along with a fair swath of the Newark prep scene, and Jade's family, and Nadirah, and a whooooole bunch of other people.

At halftime, St. John's is up by 11, 38-27. Danaejah Grant and Briana Brown each have 9 points to lead St. John's, while Janee Johnson's 11 points for Seton Hall lead all scorers. Seton Hall's defense has been stout, the Red Storm's offense plodding. I'm not sure I like the threes we've been hitting. The long ball is a fickle friend.

I devoutly hope Jade didn't inherit her dad's sense of humor.

Epic LOL of the day: Ka-Deidre Simmons inbounded the ball. Keylantra Langley was right on the play and slapped the inbounds pass away. Unfortunately for her, she slapped it right to Simmons, who alertly caught the ball. Unfortunately for Seton Hall, Simmons hadn't yet come back in bounds. Turnover, Pirates. (Which then led to a turnover for St. John's, because that is how we roll.)

I gotta say, sitting back here, Joe Tartamella is one of the most relentlessly negative coaches I've ever heard. I don't think I've heard him give a compliment today. If I heard him correctly, he even got upset that we got excited by a big block from Amber Thompson. (In which case, he can go step on ALL the Legos. I cannot be having with this nonsense.) Shockingly, fans cheer for their teams. If you don't like people coming to cheer their kids and their team, then fine. We can arrange for that.

Seton Hall had no energy today. I don't know what the story was, but a team that normally presses and traps stayed away from that, which is strange because that's something St. John's is vulnerable to. I would have expected more effort on defense. Maybe they let the officiating get into their heads a little, but that doesn't explain some of the decisions.

There was a pregame ceremony for Breanna Jones's mom, who's a breast cancer survivor and usually one of the loudest people in the arena. She got flowers and a jersey and a ball and a lot of applause.

Sidney Cook looked off her game most of the night. She boxed out decently, but it almost looked like some of her lift was missing. Jasmine McCall provided a little bit of speed in a surprising amount of time (the Pirates were short two players, so needs must when the devil drives). Teresa Kucera got a few minutes, but didn't do much with them. If I'd been rooting for Seton Hall, I might have wanted her to take a shot or two and extend the Red Storm defense. Brittany Webb blocked up the paint down low (note: if you are a guard of average build, do not run directly into Brittany Webb, this is a bad plan and you should feel bad for attempting it). She and Breanna Jones got more minutes than usual, in the absence of Bra'Shey Ali (out with a shoulder injury) and the continuing situation with Chizoba Ekedigwe's knee. Someone had to play down low, and it was them.

Janee Johnson showed off a little bit of her shooting range, if only because the Red Storm steadfastly believed that she wasn't going to take midrange and long jumpers. Guys, after she hits two or three of them, you might want to consider guarding her out there. Just a thought. She hustled hard, too. Ka-Deidre Simmons poke-checked the ball like she was playing for the Devils- she had a couple of nice steals and a couple of other deflections that weren't credited for whatever reason. She tried to get her team going a couple of times with fast breaks and drives to the lane, but they just weren't following her. She had to be the scorer, and I don't think it suited her. Alexis Brown drove hard and came away with all the rebounds. She was mixing it up a little inside and taking advantage of her teammates' boxouts to get the boards. For her build, she's surprisingly fast. Chizoba Ekedigwe started, but didn't play a lot- she did a bit of screening for her teammates, and I think she had a block somewhere along the line. Tabatha Richardson-Smith set up for deep threes and couldn't get anything going beyond the arc. She was much more effective driving in transition, so I don't know why they didn't take her inside more.

O HAI Jade Walker. Oh, yes, we see you. We see you going strong to the hoop with the baby hook, and with the long J, and getting position down low. She showed out today- being 'round the corner from home seems to have done wonders for her. She needs to be a little more assertive rebounding- at least two bounced off her open hands- but she showed her potential and it was good. Aaliyah Lewis brought a little speed off the bench, but not as much as she could have. Keylantra Langley was solid but unremarkable. Danaejah Grant brought the firepower, cutting to the lane and hitting deep shots. We got a lot of excellent play from our bench, which I think made a big difference in the long run.

Aliyyah Handford seemed rejuvenated by being back in Jersey, though some of her defensive intensity was still lacking. But her speed was back, and she was making nice plays in transition. Briana Brown hit big threes from the corner and tore away rebounds from bigger players, as she always does. Eugeneia McPherson ran a solid point guard, though with the amount of time she spent looking over to the bench in wild-eyed panic, I started to wonder what kind of confidence she had in herself and the job that she was doing. Running headlong into a Webb-shaped wall was a bad idea, and then she played like she was expecting the foul. Never assume the foul. Sandra Udobi got the start, but didn't play a lot- I think Joe was expecting more of her than she was physically capable of giving on this day. Amber Thompson got close to the basket and got boards, but didn't go for a lot of shots.

Free throws. Dear Lord, St. John's, hit your free throws. Yes, I know we won by 21. Hit your free throws. It's not going to be this easy elsewhere. Hit your free throws.

The PA guy must not have gotten a pronunciation guide. I can almost understand not getting Danaejah right; I had my worries about that when she came in. But Udobi and Eugeneia aren't that complicated, dude.

No one was happy with the refs. They were woefully inconsistent.

I love my team and I'm immensely proud of my team, but today was really awkward and not fun, despite the win.