Saturday, March 19, 2016

March 19th, 2016: Penn at Washington (NCAA tournament)

Just the Facts, Ma'am: Washington broke open a close game in the fourth quarter to beat Penn 65-53. Kelsey Plum had 24 points and seven assists to pace the Huskies, while Talia Walton had 18 points, 11 in the second half. Sydney Stipanovich led Penn with 16 points and 13 rebounds.

For purple, changing shirts, chasing loose balls, maroon versus gold, rigging the shooting contest, and the star y'all already knew about, join your intrepid and parched blogger after the jump.
I don't always root for Huskies, but when I do, I root for UW. Stay purple and bow down to Washington, my friends.

Seriously, did you think I was going to travel four and a half hours for a single game? We're staying for UW and Penn. So far it's definitely more competitive than the 2-15 game was, and with a three at the buzzer Penn has a 25-24 lead. Kelsey Plum has 11 for the Huskies, while Penn has spread the scoring out a bit more.

We're right behind the scout table, so Brenda Frese is a few seats over from us, greeting the adoring public. One of the assistants is still in scouting position, though.

Any band that plays "Fat Bottomed Girls" is all right by me, Penn. UW, of course, has to go to Nirvana. UW gets the edge on cheer, though I admit I had a better view of them. Love the daps amongst them with Harry. Band brought extra people who couldn't be in the pit during the game because of NCAA regulations, but they whipped out their instruments and got into the empty seats behind their bandmates as soon as the game was over. Excellent rendition of "Celebration" after the game!

It was close for a while, with both teams notching threes at the end of quarters, but UW came up with the big shots in the fourth quarter to pull away. What really impressed me about the Huskies was the trust they have in each other to pick each other up, whether it's on loose balls or no-look passes. I guess that's the advantage to playing an iron five.

Penn really only played one sub, Beth Brzozowski- they cleared the bench late in the game, when they were down big and were waving the white flag. That way, everyone got a chance to be in the tournament, which is nice. Brzozowski didn't really have much of an impact backing up the three starting guards.

Kasey Chambers must catch so much flak from opposing Ivy League bands because of her name. We're talking serenades of "Not Pretty Enough" here. She hit the big three that put Penn up at the half. She's a little bitty thing, or at least a medium-sized slight thing, and maybe that's why she sets up beyond the arc so much. Lauren Whitlach (whose name I kept hearing as "whiplash") was also firing away early and often from deep. Anna Ross had a nifty steal in the third quarter, and kept Penn fighting when they got down late.

Sydney Stipanovich showed moxie on the inside- she looks awkward, like she's a 5-4 woman who woke up in a 6-4 body and isn't 100% sure how it functions, but the shots go in and the rebounds stay grabbed. She lit up in the third quarter. It was fun to watch. Michelle Nwokedi was a defensive beast- she had a couple of spectacular blocks, one on Gilling and one on Plum, and I can't remember which on it was she managed to keep inbounds. I think it was the one on Gilling. Penn came up empty the next possession, though, which is a shame- you can't waste plays like that. The three-pointer is not her shot, and she definitely has to refine her offense, but thre's a lot of potential there. She's a player I'd be excited about if I were an Ivy fan.

It may be a conscious stylistic choice by Penn's coach, but I can't shake the feeling that they need to hit the weight room a little bit. Lots of very slight players there.

Mathilde Gilling came in briefly in the first half to spell Katie Collier; those minutes were unremarkable. I was surprised when it was Collier who came out, as Chantel Osahor had just gotten in a little bit of foul trouble. She started getting ready to come in in the third quarter, but ultimately Mike Neighbors decided to wait until the very end of the game to bring in all the subs. Subs for everyone! Everyone gets a sub! Their time wasn't very impactful, but I liked the defense that Deja Strother brought down low, and I thought it was nice for Kelli Kingma to have the chance to bring the ball up. When does Jenna Moser get to have her name on her jersey?

Chantel Osahor is an interesting player. She's got a big body, and she looks like she's going to get gassed if you run her for more than five minutes, but she's very quietly a critical part of the offense with her screens (even the illegal ones) and her passing. I don't know why she considers the three-point shot part of her offensive arsenal, because she doesn't have enough arc on it to gt it over. I've heard that that weird flat shot of her goes in more than it should, but I saw no evidence of that today. Katie Collier picked up nifty passes from her teammates and sometimes finished the shots at the rim. Sometimes, not so much. She was horrendous at the line, though; I think she might have been trying too hard to overcorrect for the previous misses (she was off to the right on one, off to the left on the next, for example). Talia Walton came up big in the second half, hitting threes from the strong side and beating the buzzer- she was the one who ended the third quarter with the big three for UW.

Alexus Atchley made some great defensive plays along the sidelines and hit a couple of big threes in the fourth quarter to stretch the lead. But we all know who the star of the show is for the Dawgs- the woman who wears #10 and the diamond braid, the Husky so purple even her name is purple, Washington's all-time leading scorer and a strong candidate to break 3000, the one and only Kelsey Plum. She has some soft touch, and she loves to use the glass. She has range and versatility. But don't let the shooting line fool you. She's more than a volume scorer. She had some beautiful passes to her teammates, including at least one no-look to set up a three. What first drew our attention as the game started was her hustle on defense- she was making smart deflections and playing tough. I really like her all-around game. She's a star, and she's going to be a superstar.

Officiating got pretty tight in the second half. The people behind us were yelling at the refs to let 'em play. There were a couple of out-of-bounds calls I disagreed with, but nothing really major.

It wasn't the crispest game in the world, but it was competitive until very late. I think the faith the Huskies had in each other was the key- you can make riskier plays if you know your teammates are going to be there to clean it up.

Questionable decision-making by both sides at one point late in the game. UW has an eight-point lead. They inbound to Collier. If I'm Washington, why do I have 0-4 from the line Collier in position to catch that ball? If I'm Penn, why am I not fouling her? Ultimatly, Penn chose to play out those last few seconds and give the subs time in the game, but I'm surprised they didn't go at it a little more aggressively.


March 19th, 2016: Iona at Maryland (NCAA tournament)

Just the Facts, Ma'am: Maryland held off a feisty Iona squad, 74-58. Shatori Walker-Kimbrough led five Terps in double figures with 19, while Brionna Jones added a double-double of 11 poitns and 11 rebounds. Philecia Gilmore of Iona led all scorers with 21 points on seven triples.

For hustle, Latin, bouncing, maroon and gold, pride, defense from offensive-minded players, and fighting the good fight, join your intrepid and proud blogger after the jump.
Hello, fellow Dancers! Your intrepid blogger comes to you from the road, where the debutantes of Iona take on the veteran belles off Maryland.

Getting there has already been an adventure. Have you ever taken a bus with worn out shocks? Yes? Have you spent four hours on said bus? I refuse to admit or deny yelling, "Ride 'em, cowboy!" after one spectacular bump.

Everyone in Maryland is so very nice! We stayed at the Marriott on campus, and it's really nice. The cozy room is fairly efficient, and the people are really sweet. The folks at the Xfinity Center (I still have the urge to call it the Comcast Center) are super friendly, without the perverse in-your-face-ness that we were getting from Marylanders the last time we came to town. Thanks for letting the backpack in- we really had nowhere to put it.

Sometimes the school size difference is really obvious. Iona has five people in the band. Maryland has… a lot more than five.

Pretty good Iona turnout. I mean, it is our big debut, and it's not that far. I'm still proud, though.

At halftime, Maryland is up 42-27. Philecia Gilmore has four threes to lead Iona in scoring. Maryland has spread the wealth, with Shatori Walker-Kimbrough's nine as the team-high. Marina Lizarazu is making me want to tear my hair out.

Bonum certamen certa. Fight the good fight. That's Iona's motto. And I think it's safe to say that the 15th seeded Gaels fought the good fight against a bigger, stronger, better Maryland team. I hate the "chuck everything from beyond the arc" game plan, but with Maryland's size inside and ability to go deep themselves, it wasn't the worst idea in the world, though my opinion of that might be colored by the fact that it sort of worked.

Iida Ahvenainen came in at the end so Joy Adams could get her well deserved curtain call. Treyanna Clay had one of her better games, hustling on the boards and finishing at the rim. She really showed the potential she has. Alexis Lewis was solid on the boards, but Lex has always been a streaky shooter, and today she came up snake eyes. I still love what she brings on both ends of the floor, and she's going to be huge for us in the next three years.

Karynda DuPree really just makes me want to scream sometimes. I'm very glad she's no longer chucking the stupid threes she used to, but I'd like to see her be more assertive near the basket. She has moves. I've seen them. She just doesn't do enough to put herself in position to score. I like what she brings on defense, but she has to step up offensively next year. Joy Adams missed way too many bunnies at the rim- she had at least two clear looks that she left short. She can't do that. I realize, of course, that she's played her final collegiate game, so she can do whatever the hell she wants now, but if she wants to continue playing basketball as a career, she can't miss easy shots at the basket. She showed flashes of the athleticism and power that made her the terror of the MAAC, and of that I am very proud.

I love Marina Lizarazu's tenacity on defense, and her willingness to dive for loose balls. The problem was that today half those loose balls were her fault. You can't sneak dribbles behind your back if you're a MAAC point guard facing a Big Ten defense. You have to be careful with your passes, but half of Marina's passes went to Maryland players. She found her offensive groove in the second half, when the drives started falling and she got the jumper working a little bit. Aaliyah Robinson was quiet today- tenacious on defense and scored a little, but she wasn't the senior leader we needed her to be. Thank all the gods for Philecia Gilmore. Fee had herself a day from outside- scored the first six of the game for the Gaels from beyond the arc, and by the end of the day, I was trying to figure out how to squeeze a seventh trey into six spaces, something I've never had to do before. I love her so much. She's only a sophomore, and that's awesome and terrifying at the same time. If anything, she should have taken more threes- her twos mostly missed long or strong. (They were not, however, bound to get the friction on.)

I could have sworn Kiah Gillespie played in the first half for more than the paltry seconds the box score gives her- ESPN claimed she didn't even play, but I remember hearing her name. (I also thought it was pronounced Key-ah, like pretty much every Kia/Kiah I've ever seen, not Kye-ah, but you learn something new every day.) Brianna Fraser was a load down low, but her hands were hard- she let passes slip by her down low. Brene Moseley took over in the fourth quarter, hitting on jumpers and wild drives. I was surprised that she didn't start, given how much I've heard about her. I like her poise late. Tierney Pfirman seemed to pick up her scoring later as well.

Brionna Jones had a huuuuuuge block on Joy that got the crowd going, and picked off Philecia to open up Shatori Walker-Kimbrough for a shot. That's a lot of woman to try to contend with. She dominated on the boards- there was a play where Treyanna had the rebound all but secured and Jones took it away. She also had trouble keeping her hands on the ball on offense, though. The post players for Maryland in general were having trouble receiving passes, whether it was being out of position for them or letting them bounce off their hands. Malina Howard came on strong in the fourth quarter, partially because I think Iona was just flat worn out. She got what she wanted at the basket when she wanted it.

I had no idea who Kristen Confroy was when I came into the game, and to be honest, I still have very little idea of who she is, other than the person who opened the scoring for the Terps. She read the long bounces really well on missed jumpers, because there were a lot of shots that took odd bounces. I genuinely have no recollection of Chloe Pavlech, though I suspect she was one of the people who didn't react well to Philecia and Marina on the trap. I think she was the one who got stripped a couple of times. I came into the game hearing a lot about Shatori Walker-Kimbrough as a shooter, but I was more impressed with her hustle and savvy on defense. She has a pretty shot, but I think Iona's game plan was to deny her the shot as much as possible- which is how she ended up at the line so many times. She's a great piece to build on, and criminally underappreciated.

Officiating got a little out of control in the third quarter- I always find it a bit sketchy when the foul differential is penalty-zero, and you should have heard the Bronx cheer that went up when Maryland finally got called for one. There were weak calls on both sides. Obviously nothing ultimately affected the game, but I hate to see officiating that seems slanted. Maryland didn't need the help.

Terrapin fans turned out. I love it. They were pretty quiet until Iona made the runs in the third and early fourth, and then the defense chants started up. The Iona contingent was pretty loud, but that might just have been us. I love when fans get loud. Be proud! Support your team! Especially when your team is as good as Maryland!

We lost, but I'm glad I came. We put up a fight. We never quit. When you're an overmatched 15 facing a 2 that plays to your weaknesses and can counter your strengths, there's only so much you can ask. The Gaels went above and beyond that. It was a fitting sendoff for Aaliyah and Joy, and I can't thank them enough for leading us to this pinnacle.

We'll be back. And next time maybe we won't be a 15.


Friday, March 18, 2016

The Senior Tribute

Dear seniors: I love you all.

These are not game notes. These will never be game notes. If you want game notes, you'll have to wait.

Every year, I pour out my heart about my seniors. I really have no claim to them, other than pride in watching them mature and excel and succeed. But I think of them as mine anyway. I hope I may be allowed my foibles. If not here, then where?

And every year it seems like I have more of them, as we build connections with more and more teams. I can't give them all the love they deserve. Some I don't know well enough. Some, we haven't been through years of ups and downs, of thrilling wins and crushing defeats, of mind-numbing idiocy and breathtaking brilliance. (To love them is to be honest about them and yet still love them anyway, knowing their flaws and embracing their virtues.)

Worst of all, this year my conferences colluded to create an impossible situation. St. John's and Seton Hall, of course, conflicted, and in such a way that we couldn't just hitch a ride with someone. That's to be expected. But Iona's senior day was the same day. So was Michigan's game at Rutgers. What's a fan to do? I needed to be in four places at once, and the most any of us can do is two.

So instead of enclosing little senior tributes in each set of game notes, I'm going to give them all a little space to breathe, a little time to shine. They deserve this much. So many of them will never see the limelight. One or two or three might sniff the WNBA; most aren't even dreaming of it. Most of them you've never heard of unless you've been following the conference or the Game Notes of Doom. In this moment, you're going to hear of them.

I can't give them all their proper shine, of course. Michigan only comes to town once a year. It's hard to build a connection that way. So I'll let Michigan tell the stories of Kelsey Mitchell and Madison Ristovski instead, let them tell the triumphant story of Halle Wangler's journey from walk-on to scholarship athlete. They deserve more than the fleeting glimpses I can give you of them.

And I've only just begun to know LIU and their seniors. I don't think I've even ever seen Angelia Allen play. It wouldn't be fair to try and talk about her. Ashley Brown, I've only seen once, maybe twice by the time these notes go up. I don't know enough to tell you about her. But I can tell you about the fighting spirit that brought Shanice Vaughan out of the locker room on a badly twisted ankle because her team was short-handed, though, and the passion she brings to the floor. I can tell you about Jolanna Ford and the big boards she pulls down, that she makes plays in the paint and goes hard after the ball. I can do at least that much for these Blackbirds waiting for their moment to arise.

Fordham... ah, Fordham. I've rarely had the opportunity to see Khadijah Gibson play. I don't know her as well as I should. But I've watched Samantha Clark. In some ways, she's one of the most frustrating of my seniors. She has the kind of build that undersized centers in mid-major conferences dream of. She wouldn't look out of place in the Big Ten or the Big XII of the last decade. And there are far too many days where she can't finish at the rim, or she takes a three with far too much time on the shot clock. But she comes up big in big games, and there are few in the Atlantic 10 that can match her strength. I wish her all the best.

And now we come to my Big Three, my trinity of sorts, the three senior classes who have wrapped themselves around my heart and wrapped me around their collective fingers. We've taken these wild rides together for four years, more or less, through the breathless highs and the heartbreaking lows, seen buzzer-beaters and historic firsts. Three classes, each one of them with a record smasher, each one of them with an immortal, each one of them game-changing for their school.


This is not how the last year of Cassidee Ranger's college career was supposed to go down. No one plans on being injured. No one plans to spend conference play lurching about on crutches, reduced to starting the defense chant on the bench. In an offense that has so often relied on the long ball, Cas's shot would have been a perfect weapon.

We used to call her the Lone Ranger sometimes, because there were countless times when she would be open in the corner, and no one would see her. And then sometimes they did, and it was glorious, and we would fire up a rendition of "Slap Shot", because I'm a New York Rangers fan and that's how we roll when a Ranger scores.

She was pretty tough on the boards, too, and she could hold down the fort screening for her teammates. This has been a fantastic year, but it could have been even more fantastic with Cas shooting from the corner or breaking Marina loose for a drive.

Joy Adams is a freak of nature. Her athleticism is astonishing. You get ready to hold your breath when she's on the fast break, because something spectacular is going to happen. It may well be a spectacular miss. But it's just as likely to be a spectacular shot. And if it's a spectacular miss, then she's going to rebound it just as spectacularly.

She has an incredible ability to insinuate herself into spaces. That's what always catches my attention about her- she finds her way to the basket, and she will get the ball. She can take over a game, put her stamp on it, make sure that no one else gets the ball. She'll scrap and fight and dive for balls. Her energy is contagious.

She'll finish her collegiate career with one of the highest rebounding totals in NCAA D-I history. For a while, she might even be immortal; the NCAA record book keeps the top (I believe) twenty-five all-time. She'll be on that list, right there with Courtney Paris and Jillian Alleyne.

Cas is a sweetheart, and Joy is a phenom.

But Aaliyah Robinson is my favorite Gael.

Compressed in that guard's body is the rebounding will of a mighty center. Two inches taller, and she'd be high rotation in the A-10; six inches taller, and you would have heard her name long before this, somewhere in the Power 5.

More than that, she comes up clutch from beyond the arc. She can pour it on and incite the crowd, and she's deadly dangerous on the backcourt trap. One fucks with A-Rob at their own peril.

I would have loved to see what she could do in a larger frame- more height, more strength. But that doesn't mean I don't love what she does now.

These are my, and your, Iona Gaels, the first senior class in Iona women's basketball history to go dancing. They are the joy of my March Madness, and for one shining moment, maybe they'll be yours.


Shakena Richardson was born to control the game.

That's the only way I can describe her. When she has the ball, you damn well know she has the ball. When she's running the offense, you damn well know whose show it is. I've seen a lot of point guards over the years, and she has a commanding presence beyond her years (which is saying something for a graduate student). She looks immensely comfortable running the show.

That control extends to her body as well. She does things in the lane that seem impossible for her size. She is possessed of both incredible tenacity and incredible strength. She almost single-handedly dragged Seton Hall back into the semifinal game against Creighton, because she wasn't going to give up.

But don't let all of that make her sound like some kind of grim, implacable, martinet. Kena has more fun out there before games than just about anyone. She's certainly one of the best and most enthusiastic pre-game dancers I've ever seen, and I've seen some serious hip-shaking in my day.

I couldn't be happier that she decided to head on home, or at least closer to it than Tallahassee.

Sometimes you just need to find your niche. That's what Jordan Mosley has done. Role player is a job that needs doing too.

Jordan's the only one of the senior quintet at Seton Hall who doesn't start, and sometimes I wonder if it gets to her. The fact that I have to wonder tells me how much of a team player she's been. Being able to follow is almost as strong a sign of maturity and leadership as taking the lead is.

She's not going to do anything flashy. She doesn't go on dramatic scoring runs or make acrobatic SportsCenter lay-ups. But she'll come up with a big three at the right time, or she'll make a key defensive stop.

In some ways, she's the hardest of my seniors to get a handle on, because we see so much less of her. But she's no less a part of this team and its success for that. After all, the starters can't do it alone. Rosters are 15, not 5, for a reason.

I've been watching Aleesha Powell do her thing for a while now. We go back to Iona, to the maroon and gold, to one of the fastest backcourts in the nation, to proud parents perched in the highest bleachers the Hynes had to offer, to broken axles and the long road to and from Philadelphia.

She's a nice kid. Heaven knows she's been patient when we start talking basketball with her dad and she's wondering why these two weirdos have latched on to her family.

She looks so fragile, like she's still growing into her body. Don't let that fool you into questioning her toughness. Leesh takes the contact and gets right back up again to go hit the free throws. There are plenty of tweets on my timeline and notes in my blog to the effect of "STOP HITTING TINY ALEESHA". And she goes back for more.

She's so fast. Even at the Big East level, she's so much faster than almost everyone out there that she changes the game. She makes plays happen on defense with her quick hands and her closing speed. No ballhandler is safe when she's around.

But what really sets her apart for Seton Hall is her simpatico with Coach Bozzella. It's understandable, given their common roots at Iona. But at the same time, it's fascinating to watch the implicit trust between them when she has the ball. When Kena, or the freshman TT, has the ball, Coach never seems satisfied with the tempo of the game. When Leesh is bringing the ball up, he almost never has to implore her to speed it up or beg her to slow it down. They understand each other, and that's a key part of what makes the magic happen.

That's going to be a big hole to fill.

Tiffany Jones: the world's tallest Swiss Army Knife. (No, I don't think that's literally true, partially because Tiffany is not a literal Swiss Army Knife with all kinds of tools that you pull out with your fingernail, and partially because I don't doubt that someone somewhere has built a ten-foot-long Swiss Army Knife that you would have to tow with your car.)

But when it comes to versatility, that's her all over. Step outside and hit the deep three? Tiffany can do that. Own the boards like a boss? Tiffany can do that. Finish at the rim? Tiffany can do that. Block an opponent's shot into the second row? Tiffany can do that. (I've seen it, or at least the distance equivalent, at Walsh.)

In her brief time at the Hall, Tiffany has become indispensable. She comes to work hard every night (sometimes to her detriment- she's had days where she's pressing too much to force things that aren't happening). She spaces the offense and provides an interior anchor for the defense. She provides a threat inside and out, and that opens up opportunities for everyone else.

I'm sorry we didn't get her for longer. I think she would have been one of our greats. As it is, in three semesters she's shone bright like a shooting star.

Tabatha Richardson-Smith and I have a love-hate relationship. I love to watch her. She hates me.

I'll be honest: this post is different now that I'm writing it after the Big East tournament and what happened there. I think about Tab the person much differently now. What I thought was an ongoing good-natured ribbing was anything but, and now I find myself wondering how else I misjudged her.

So let me talk to you about Tab the player instead. No. Let me talk to you about Tab, Seton Hall's all-time leading scorer, instead. Let me talk to you about the superstar who should have been Big East Player of the Year. Let me describe the deep threes she takes with the greatest of ease and the least hesitation possible, the way she cuts through the lane with a tall grace, the way she tears down rebounds like it was going out of style. Let me describe the way she pounces on the slightest hint of weakness from a ballhandler on the press.

She has the Taurasi swagger and the game to back it up. She has the McCoughtry chip on her shoulder and the history to back it up.

But let me talk to you about a freshman buried deep on Anne Donovan's bench, coming into the game only when it was well in hand. Let me describe a player picking up garbage minutes and tough rebounds, name arcing awkwardly on her jersey. Let me talk about a reserve playing just a little bit reckless and a little bit fearless. She'd probably have been the one person who believed you if you said that by the end of her senior year she was going to be the top scorer in the Big East, the all-time leading scorer for Seton Hall, all-conference and undeniable star.

Tab's journey is Seton Hall's journey, from the bottom of the table to the top of the heap, from the back of the rotation to the front line, never forgetting where she came from, defining themselves by who they planned to be and not who they were, demanding nothing except everything.

These are my, and your, Seton Hall Pirates. They took the long way around, through La Salle, through Iona, through ASA, through Florida State and Rutgers, through the heart of Texas, to find their way to South Orange. Like every pirate crew worth their salt, they came together from disparate origins to become something stronger and something fiercer.

Raise the Jolly Roger. Plunder the lox. The Pirates are coming.


In retrospect, perhaps I didn't get the proper first impression of Danaejah Grant.

When Danaejah played her first games at St. John's, I thought she was a gunner, the kind of player whose only concern was how many points she had on the scoresheet, defense be damned. I had dark thoughts that that was why she left Clemson.

Maybe it was just the shoulder. Maybe it was just the shoulder brace, that giant black monstrosity that wouldn't have looked out of place on a football field or in a Borg crowd shot. Maybe that was holding her back from being who she really was.

Or maybe she realized she needed to be more than a pure scorer. Sometimes you see players come to that realization as juniors or seniors- we've come to call that a Briana Brown, after the guard who went from end-of-the-bench reserve to unquestioned captain. Some players make that leap in maturity, and maybe that's Danaejah.

Whatever the case- be it early frailty or late strength- D has come into her own this year, on both ends of the floor. She's rarely flashy. She doesn't make wild, acrobatic plays. She probably won't show up on SportsCenter any time soon.

What does she do? Everything. She's become a lockdown defender, and she usually gets one of the hardest assignments for the opposition. She's a jump-shooting threat who opens up the floor and spreads a defense. She has the strength to drive the lane, take the contact, and hit the shot- and then she'll usually hit the free throw, which is a blessed relief from all my years as a Johnnie.

It's been easy to overlook her. After all, how often do you really think about the ground you stand on? In this season, she's been our bedrock, the foundation on which everything is built.

To make aliyah is to ascend. I've never seen it be so true as it is for Aliyyah Handford.

You have to be a pretty special woman to wear #3 for St. John's. Angela Clark, wherever she is now, was an All-Big East performer on the tournament team that lost to Maryland in the Terps' championship year. Da'Shena Stevens was Big East Freshman of the Year and led St. John's to tournament wins and That Game Against UConn. It even extends to the soccer pitch- Rachel Daly is one of the greatest to don the St. John's shirt. So when this freshman whose qualification was in question came up with that number, I was skeptical, to say the least. You want to wear Angie's number? You want to wear Day's number? You better be good.

I think it's safe to say Liyyah has lived up to those expectations.

She is, simply put, breath-taking. I saw her pull off the Jewelly-oop once or twice. She knifes through the lane like a bolt of lightning. She gets hit hard, and every time, she gets back up again. And then she'll go do it again. Her midrange jumper is a thing of beauty, and every so often she'll step out for a pleasant surprise from deep.

And I haven't even talked about her defense. She has quick hands and a phenomenal ability to read the passing lanes. So much of her offense comes from her defense.

But the best part of her game is her positive energy. When Liyyah's happy, everyone's happy. Her smile is contagious. Off the court, she's just as energetic, even after a bad game. She's almost always got a bright smile, and when she doesn't, it makes the whole world a little bit sadder. That's really how she gets to you. And then she scores more points than any other Johnnie in the history of women's basketball, and you remember she's not just awesome at being a human, she's awesome at basketball.

To make aliyah is a religious experience. I'm agnostic leaning towards atheist, so I wouldn't know anything about that, but I'm okay with making that parallel.

Here they are, my, and your, St. John's Red Storm. These are two of the best to walk through the door, the thunder and the lightning of the Storm. They'll go down in the record books for all they've done for this program, and it'll be a long time before we see their like again.


Wednesday, March 9, 2016

March 8th, 2016: Creighton at St. John's (Big East tournament)

Just the Facts, Ma'am: St. John's locked down on defense to take the Big East crown 50-37 over Creighton. Aaliyah Lewis led the way with 14 points and eight rebounds. Audrey Faber led Creighton with 12 points and seven rebounds.

For missed shots, sheer joy, relationships with trophies, plays for naught, missed shots, cutting down nets, and DOING THE DAMN THING, join your intrepid and euphoric blogger after the jump.
Here we are. Here it is. This is the big one. Win and you're in. This is for all the marbles. The Big East title game is here, red-hot Creighton and determined St. John's. The bubble's getting thinner with an upset in the WCC and trouble brewing in the Ivy. The Bluejays' backs are to the wall, and the Red Storm faces choppy waters. This isn't the SEC, the ACC, the Big Ten, the Big XII, the Pac-12. The only guarantee comes with a new t-shirt thrown over your jersey, with a cap rakishly tilted on your head, with a trophy raised to the rafters and a piece of net in your hand.

Does... does that little girl have Sonic/Shadow fanart in her binder cover? You go, girl.

Ow. Danaejah, I know this is a thing, but punching the trainer still looks like it hurts.

Okay, Creighton, it is not cool of you to send your student section to the kids' group sitting behind OUR bench and have them try to cheer for Creighton. One of our managers noticed and went up there to straighten things out. Go get the ones on the other side of the arena. I don't care if your responsible adult is a Creighton booster. Go sit behind the Bluejays' bench if you want to cheer for Creighton; there will probably be plenty of room back there. They moved further up in the section, which is somewhat more tolerable, but it's still not cool. We need cheer to be ready to snipe the next group.

Danaejah's family is a few seats over from us; her mom came over to introduce herself, and there's a guy with the same eyes she has. The shirt's a pretty good giveaway too. (He is, in fact, her dad. Which makes sense.)

Creighton likes to put on a show. I'd rather get the job done.

Lovely anthem by the DePaul a cappella choir. We even got color guard for this.

At halftime, it's 21-20 St. John's in a game with scores of missed opportunities for both teams. Way too many missed shots. Creighton's on their fourth game in four days and St. John's has had the nightcap both days, so I can't say I'm surprised. Officiating has been lousy- light contact called at one end, heavy contact not called at the other, and St. John's is convinced they can get those calls. Stop it, Aaliyah.

OH MY MY OH HELL YES! WE'RE DANCING, BABY! 28 YEARS! 28 YEARS AND HERE WE ARE! It wasn't pretty. It was, in fact, pretty hideous. But a defensive game favors the Red Storm, and our upperclassmen stepped up in a big, big way. Creighton threatened, but we shut the door and we did the damn thing!

I have to give the Bluejays their props. They didn't have enough left, but that's because they gave so much for three games and three quarters. This Creighton squad will be back in the Big East final, and probably more than once in the next four years, and it won't be an upset when they do it.

Jim Flanery went deeper into his bench earlier than he had in the previous games. Ali Greene saw time in the first half in relief of the posts, and she wasn't bad. She moves well to the hoop. Brianna Rollerson had questionable shot selection and missed shots at the rim. I was surprised that Flanery had lost so much confidence in her that she didn't play in the second half- she might have been a more effective counter to Sandra Udobi and Jade Walker. Olivia Elger came in in relief of the DQ'd Jade Owens, and took a highly questionable shot on a closely guarded drive. She was pulled pretty quickly, and the senior Tessa Leytem replaced her to try to calm things down. Lauren Works brought it on defense, but her drives were going off the rim.

This game sealed it for me- MC McGrory shoots better through contact than she does when you give her space. She got open looks from her teammates, with Norby and Lamberty and Faber setting screens, and those shots were going all over the place. On the other hand, when she took it inside into the teeth of the defense, she either hit the shot or drew the foul. I have to admire her toughness. Jade Owens brought a lot of energy, but the backcourt defense swallowed her up, and she wasn't able to penetrate with the same ease she had all tournament. Combined with her foul trouble, she was rendered a non-factor.

Sydney Lamberty can board, but her shot was nowhere near accurate. She was putting it up a touch too fast, and I think it showed in the arc. She had a beautiful boxout on Danaejah Grant early on that allowed Creighton to take the board. Bailey Norby had a very quiet game- she did the little things her team tends to rely on her for, but she wasn't able to get to the basket. Audrey Faber was a bright spot for the Jays, with a couple of big blocks, some nice rebounding, and good shooting inside and out. She was a mismatch on both sides of the floor, and if I had been Creighton I might have attempted to push that a little bit further.

So nice to see the deep reserves get some time! Jordan Agustus, Tamesha Alexander, and Kimberly Spruill didn't play much, but Tamesha came hard on defense against McGrory. I love that kind of passion. Akina Wellere kept getting called for nonsense fouls, but the one basket she came up with was absolutely huge. I'm so happy for her winning this in her hometown, in front of her family. Crystal Simmons brought the defense, though I question her shot selection- she was terrified at all the wrong times and trigger-happy at all the wrong times. Jade Walker was taking logner shots than she should have, but she was big when we needed her. She had a huge stop on Rollerson.

I can't say enough about the hard work that Sandra Udobi did on the inside. She had one of her best games of the year, and what a time to have it. She cleared the boards and hit the shots she took. And Imani Littleton did her job too- she was almost always in position on defense. She was solid. I feel like I'm short-changing the two of them, but what they did to anchor the paint was huge. It's hard to quantify statistically, but they were fantastic.

I spent much of the game questioning Aaliyah Lewis's shot selection, but the little bitty guard came up huge in the fourth quarter. She sneaked inside for rebounds, and everyone overlooked her on the inside- she made the cuts to the basket that we usually see from Liyyah, and Creighton never rotated to her. Danaejah Grant had double teams flying at her all night, so she wasn't able to get a lot of shots up, but she was able to find the open player on the cross-court skip pass. Aliyyah Handford sliced through the defense and created space for herself, though she wasn't as accurate as we would have liked. She made some amazing defensive plays- a great flying steal, a hustle save that left her tangled with the press table- but the offense couldn't turn them into points.

Was it pretty? No. Not until the final buzzer. But sometimes it doesn't have to be. Sometimes all you have to do is hit one or two shots at the right time.

Officiating was less consistent and less accurate than I would have expected from a crew that has both Dee Kantner and Denise Brooks. Lots of travels missed early, lots of contact missed later. The bad calls went both ways, though, and the ones that Creighton would have liked to have were probably more critical (they probably would have gone into halftime with the lead if Crystal had been called for the reach-in late in the second quarter).

Jade Walker had an idea, but unfortunately, we weren't allowed to have the Gatorade bucket out on the floor, so everyone had to settle for squirting Joe and the rest of the staff with their water bottles.

All-tournament team: Allazia Blockton of Marquette, Shakena Richardson of Seton Hall, Megan Podkowa of DePaul, MC McGrory of Creighton, and Danaejah Grant of St. John's, with Aliyyah Handford as tournament MOP. All good picks. McGrory made a case for MOP even in the losing cause.

I think Jade might be trophysexual. She certainly seemed reluctant to let it go.

My team, you guys. My adorable team. This couldn't have happened to a nicer bunch of people. There aren't enough words to describe how thrilled I am- for Liyyah, who is as sweet as she is talented; for Danaejah, who came home to make this happen; for Akina, who got to win the 'ship in front of her family; for Sandy, who has fought back from injuries and pain; for all our girls who I love so much. More- for Joe, who came in with Kim and helped build all of this from the ruins; for Da'Shena, who made the riskier choice when she could have been a Husky; for Jonath, who left and came back; for all the support staff who make the miracles possible. It's been a pleasure and a privilege to be the tiniest part of this.

Let's go dancing, ladies.


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

March 7th, 2016: Creighton at Seton Hall (Big East tournament)

Just the Facts, Ma'am: Creighton finished strong in their 77-56 win over Seton Hall in the Big East semi-finals. MC McGrory had 23 points and eight rebounds to lead the Bluejays. Shakena Richardson had 20 points, 13 in the second half, to lead Seton Hall.

For frustration, questionable personnel choices, breaking the press, a recurring headache, trying too hard then not trying at all, and encouraging college players to gamble, join your intrepid and discombobulated blogger after the jump.

All right, here we go! Good afternoon from McGrath-Phillips Arena on the campus of DePaul University! We're coming to you from the semi-finals ofo the Big East tournament, where upset-minded seventh seed Creighton looks to extend their hot run, while the third-seeded Seton Hall Pirates look for their second straight trip to the Big East title game.

I'm glad Creighton is a Nike school, because our gear would be too similar otherwise. Our blues are already way too close.

This zone defense drill tht Creighton is running is pretty cool. (Also, in unrelated news, Marissa Janning is gorgeous up close.)

D'awwww. (No, you're not going to get more than that, I respect people's privacy.)

I kind of love the ceremony of Coach Bozzella getting the blazer and putting it on. Given that it has its own Twitter account...

The Creighton dance team and student cheer are getting hyped early. Well, one of their hashtags is #GetCreigh. And they're giving out swag to the kids' groups that are sitting near them, so this is going to be a bit of an uphill battle. That's all right. I can drink.

No sign of the borrowed high school band that was representing Seton Hall- ah, a band has arrived, and they appear to be a college of some variety. They're older. The big UIC on the drum kit and the flames on the drums should have been a hint of where they're from, huh? They're really loud and really jazzy.

The Sapphires and Seton Hall cheerleaders are now working on the kids in their section of the arena. We'll need all the help we can get.

There is no consistency to the way the teams are done on the scoreboard. Bluejays but SHU? Go either school name or team name, jeez.

At halftime, Creighton is up 29-21. MC McGrory seriously needs to hit Rivers Casino, because she's getting the most ridiculous rolls off the rim and deflections off the glass. Seton Hall's missing too many shots at the rim, and missing those shots at the rim has caused us to take too many shots from bad angles. We have to play smarter, not harder.

Apparently this was too much to ask for the Pirates. We took stupid shots. We tried to rely on our press, even when Creighton was breaking it easily. And I'm not sure about some of Coach Bozzella's decisions, either. We handled this game like the cakewalk we thought it was going to be because they got an upset and a #7 seed. You can't do that in the Big East.

Jim Flanery got to empty his bench near the end of the game, which I'm sure he was quite happy about. Myah Mellman seems to be a magnet for hard contact from opposing guards- she took a hard hit from LaTecia Smith near the end of the game. Ali Greene got herself to the line for a couple of free throws, even if she didn't hit the first. Olivia Elger committed a stupid foul in that fourth quarter that sent Smith to the line for an and-1. Once again, everyone for Creighton was hoping Tessa Leytem would score, and once again, they were disappointed. Brianna Rollerson played a lot less than I realized- she had a big impact in her limited minutes, owning her space on the inside. Lauren Works was great defensively.

I feel like this is a recording, but this is not a recording. MC McGrory is so tough. I think she likes contact more than she dislikes it. She hit one shot off the glass, and I'm pretty sure it was at the shot clock buzzer, that was a heartbreaker. Jade Owens is fantastic- she can be a little over-aggressive sometimes, but that fuels her team. She did a great job of finding her teammates to break the press. Sydney Lamberty was solid, and her three at the end of the third quarter was pretty much the backbreaker- we'd cut it back down, we were on a little bit of a run, and BAM. Right near the end of the clock.

Bailey Norby slipped around ahead of the defense and was available either for the lay-up ahead of the press or for the extra pass to the cutter. They use her so well. She's not called upon to be the star, but they don't need her to be the star. Audrey Faber had a monster block on Aleesha Powell (which I'll admit is a bit of a size mismatch) and was a match-up problem all day. She cuts well and has good range.

Creighton did a phenomenal job of breaking the Seton Hall press, and when that happened, the game was over. That's what the Pirates go to when they need to save a game, so when that doesn't work, there is no recourse- that was the recourse.

LaTecia Smith hit the paint well and was energetic on defense. Martha Kuderer is still not ready for the big stage, and I don't know why she got such extensive minutes (I would kill for +/-, because I think that would give a better picture and confirmation of my impression). Claire Lundberg was ineffective, but at least neutrally so. Jordan Mosley hustled on defense. I'm kinda sorry she didn't get the big send-off like the other four seniors did; on the other hand, that would have meant putting a starter back in the game, and Flanery might have taken that the wrong way. Jordan Molyneaux was a desperation move that was of limited effect.

And the reason Coach Bozzella had to make desperation moves and play forwards out of position and go as deep into his bench in the first half as he did was because he was getting pretty much nothing out of his frontcourt. Lubirdia Gordon's offensive rebounding numbers look good, but don't get fooled- most of those were off her own close-in misses. She's got to go up stronger. She can't bring the ball back down. And she has got to hit the bunnies at the rim. Tiffany Jones started off well, and smacked a Faber shot for great justice, but had double teams coming at her most of the day and never really found the moxie to work through them. Tabatha Richardson-Smith never found her groove, and as the game wore on, she started pressing more and more, taking shots earlier in the clock and further behind the line.

Shakena Richardson had herself a third quarter, pretty much single-handedly trying to drag the Hall back into the game, and one of the turning points was when Coach took her out. Kena never wants to come out, but I think I agree with her on this one- if she thought she could go, you have to ride with the hot hand until it cools off. You can't blast chill the hot hand and expect to win. My favorite play of hers was actually the jump ball she forced on Rollerson, if only because I love when tiny feisty guards tangle with big ol' posts. Aleesha Powell brought the speed, but her ballhandling was not up to par. I've never seen her dribble the ball off the back of her own foot before.

This was one of the flattest performances I've ever seen from the Pirates. They didn't go into this game like a chance to play for the title was on the line. By the fourth quarter, you could see from the body language that they'd given up. There was no comeback left. There wasn't going to be a hot minute like the Butler game. There was no fight left. Who's that on? Coaches? Team captains? I don't know.

Officiating didn't really help, but it didn't hurt much either. It certainly didn't make a difference in the outcome.

I think Seton Hall took this game too lightly. I think we thought it was going to be a cakewalk because we'd beaten them twice, including coming back once. I think we were looking ahead to the 'ship and either the top seed or the local rival. You can't do that in the Big East.


Monday, March 7, 2016

March 7th, 2016: St. John's at DePaul (Big East tournament)

Just the Facts, Ma'am: A 34-point quarter powered St. John's to a comeback upset win over top seed DePaul, 75-66. Aliyyah Handford had a game-high 23 points, 18 in the second half. Danaejah Grant had a double-double with 22 points and 10 rebounds. Ashton Millender's 15 off the bench led DePaul.

For thrills, chills, senior leadership, freshman game, rocking out, and Aliyyah rising, join your intrepid and squeeful blogger after the jump.
Time to shake it off. Shake it all off. St. John's has the toughest task of the tournament ahead of them, taking on the top-seeded Blue Demons in DePaul's home building.

Band is here in full force, albeit with a substitute director, and in full throat. Dance and cheer are at half speed. Our band is better than theirs.

At halftime, DePaul is up 34-28, in a game that's fit DePaul's style more than St. John's. Megan Podkowa has 9 for DePaul; Akina Wellere and Danaejah Grant each have 7 for the Red Storm.

They actually went out and got halftime entertainment for this session. This game has a tumbling team that has done some amazing runs.

We have to play our game, not theirs. We have to get to the basket and make the hot pass.


Ahem. Sorry. Lost a little bit of control there. I'm still a bit excited. And also on a bit of a sugar high from my Blizzard and finishing my husband's. And then there's the caffeine kick too. We needed this win.

Akina Wellere chose the best possible day to have the best game of her Red Storm career. She came up with huge threes. She had a monster block on Brooke Schulte on a break, and scooped up a steal from a defensive play by Crystal Simmons. She did everything we asked of her, and then some. Crystal Simmons brought the defense. That's all we asked of her- she and Akina were swapping in and out at almost every stoppage, depending on possession. Jade Walker had a couple of moments where I was shaking my head, and I really need her to lay off shooting those threes and loooong twos until she proves she can add them consistently to her outside arsenal. She brought some toughness when we needed it, though.

Imani Littleton brought the defense today- sometimes a little too much. She crashed the boards well too. She needs to be more careful with her hands and positioning, but I love what she can give us. Sandra Udobi battled through discomfort to hold down the fort down low. She needed to be in position, but I know she's giving everything she has, even when it's not enough.

Aaliyah Lewis is so tough and so fearless and so feisty. There's a reason she's my mom's favorite (and I'm starting to get the sense that everyone's mom has her as their favorite). She runs the show. She has such incredible ups that her vertical can counter her lack of size. She doesn't always take a lot of shots, but today we needed her to be more of an offensive threat, and we got it from her in the clutch. She provided part of the outside threat we were missing. Danaejah Grant was beasting defensively, deflecting shots and getting a huuuuuuge block on Megan Podkowa. She hit big threes, because that's how she rolls. She's the rock-solid foundation of what we do. Aliyyah Handford is a superstar. This game said volumes about her mental makeup. She's had foul trouble in most of her games down the stretch- well, tonight she stayed out of foul trouble. She broke loose on the fast break and fired up the offense. She decided that she wasn't losing to DePaul again and took over the fourth quarter. She imposed her will on the game.

Tanita Allen played very briefly- she was mostly in when Chanise Jenkins fouled out. She hit a lay-up very late, when St. John's was conceding the lane to avoid the foul. Mart'e Grays was phenomenal on the boards, sliding into space. Ashton Millender has a very nice knack for taking broken plays and making something of them. And as a defensive specialist, of course, her best offensive weapon is the corner three. It's what defensive-minded players do. I just really like her.

Please, tell me more about Chanise Jenkins as Big East player of the year. I know you can't judge on one or two games, but the jack of all trades is the master of none. She shot better than I thought looking at her, but a couple of those came late, again, when the lane was being conceded to prevent the foul. At least she gave up on the pigtails, because they don't work for her. Jessica January was wild, even on shots right at the rim. Her drives were contested, but I've seen her hit those contested drives in the past. Brooke Schulte was unremarkable- she had a lot of defense on her, so I'm not surprised.

Megan Podkowa created mismatches and got buckets. She drew a lot of contact because she was too quick for our posts (who either lumber or don't react well) and she converted at the line. She had a strong defensive play in the first quarter. Jacqui Grant is a fantastic rebounder, and in this one she showed her offensive prowess as well. She doesn't seem like she has an outside jumper until she takes it. She smashed Danaejah on a monster block in the third quarter. I have to check her remaining eligibility, but it seems like she's the perfect fit for DePaul, with their emphasis on rebounding and outside shooting.

DePaul had mixed successs with a smaller lineup, but it's a move that I agreed with- they wanted to go faster, and the best way to go about it was to put in the guards.

We always question the officiating, but I do side-eye a game where the team that depends most heavily on the dribble-drive draws fewer free throws until the foul derby starts. I was pleasantly surprised that things didn't go too crazy with Aaliyah Lewis and Chanise Jenkins, who were going at each other most of the night.

I was very surprised that Doug Bruno called for the foul derby as quickly as he did. 1:45 with a six-point deficit to overcome is pretty reasonable for a team that shoots as well as DePaul usually does.

We may have been outnumbered, but we weren't always outyelled (as the soreness in my throat can tell you). The bleachers got stomped and then some.

Let's see what we've got left for the 'ship. But win or lose against Creighton, this game was worth the trip.


March 6th, 2016: Butler at DePaul (Big East tournament)

Just the Facts, Ma'am: DePaul led from start to finish in a 76-49 dismantling of Butler. Megan Podkowa led the Blue Demons with 14 points. Tori Schickel had 14 points off the bench for Butler.

For ennui, uninspiring play, distant memories, bad hair decisions, and mismatches, join your intrepid blogger after the jump.
Big East basketball never stops. We're into the second session of the day now, as DePaul takes on a frankly overmatched Butler squad. We came back from dinner a bit late, so we missed any and all pregame festivities, and we're at the half, with DePaul leading 39-19. DePaul got hot from three in the first quarter, and while they cooled down from deep in the second, they kept the defensive and interior pressure up. Butler is in over their heads, and I think they even know it. Langlois is playing to extend her career, and Tori Schickel came on strong in the second quarter, but no one else is really following suit.

Don't tap DIBS in his bald spot. That's not cool, kiddies.

Stay classy, DePaul band. You're yelling "Eight more points!" when DePaul's at 61. I can do arithmetic. If that's the only way you're going to get it, then I pity you.

Why are there three campus police at the Butler band? This is probably not good. We're near the end of the third quarter, and now I'm curious. This game has been lopsided enough that I'm typing and watching at the same time. It's not great.

Emmy Schabel came on late for the Bulldogs and showed a little bit of touch- there's good form to her shot. Michelle Weaver didn't look quite as tiny in this one. She still needs to work on her court awareness. Taylor Buford was a little over-aggressive on defense, but I think she was just happy to be on the court after not playing against Xavier. Tori Schickel really showed some moves in the paint. She's tough inside, a physical player who can finish through contact. I like her. Nicole Orr's minutes were unremarkable.

I was surprised to see Brittany Ward bring the ball up the floor- that didn't seem to be part of her game. She was solid on the boards. Belle Obert had a big block on Megan Podkowa and held down the fort on the inside, but DePaul has a lot of size in unexpected positions, and tht really interfered with a lot of what Butler wanted to do.

Blaire Langlois played like a woman who didn't want her career to end. That led to her pressing a lot and taking a lot of shots. Her team relies on her for direction, and I'm not sure what they're going to do next season. Alexa Bailey had a stronger game than she did in the preliminary round, including a nifty block that led to a hustle save by Obert. Sydney Buck seemed to have more of an effect in the fourth quarter than the statistics would indicate. I have to look at the class years again- that might be something they can build on for next year, along with Schickel down low.

DePaul played pretty much everyone, so this might take a while. I didn't even realize Brandi Harvey-Carr was still active this year- I thought she was injured or something, since I remembered her being fairly high in their rotation and a big presence down low. She filled space well. Meri Bennett-Swanson showed a little bit of soft touch. Lauren Prochaska is slim and small and very confusing. Tanita Allen really didn't need to take that last three. Mart'e Grays has very fluid movements- she's not quite Matrix level, but she changes direction very quickly. Amarah Coleman looked too much like she was trying to get in position for playing time next year, taking a lot of quick shots. I really like Ashton Millender on defense- she does all the little things I like to see out of a player.

Tell me more about how Chanise Jenkins earned Big East Player of the Year. Please. Because I was against it before and I'm still against it. And I'm against her pigtails. I know. I'm petty like Tom. I will go to the wall for Tabatha Richardson-Smith as BEast POY. Jessica January had the better game for the Blue Demons, making neat passes to the wing. Brooke Schulte was very quietly efficient. She's another of those players who doesn't necessarily do one thing brilliantly, but does everything well. She's just solid.

Megan Podkowa's range is a game-changer for DePaul. She's very versatile, powerful inside and out. She's useful defensively, too, able to deflect passes. Jacqui Grant is a phenomenal rebounder- my notes from that game have a whole bunch of little 'r's next to her name, indicating that she did a particularly nice job pulling down, sealing off, stealing away, and generally claiming rebounds. She got caught reaching a few too many times and eventually fouled out. DePaul's pretty lucky to have her.

I'm finishing these up well after the fact, so if there were any egregious officiating calls, I don't remember them. But let's face it, it was 76-49, the refs weren't what I would call a factor.

Of all the quarterfinals, this was easily the least dramatic and the least interesting. Seton Hall and St. John's, of course, held my interest because they're my teams and I love them. Creighton and Villanova were interesting because of the upset and because Creighton is fun to watch. This was a game with a clear underdog and a clear over-dog, and Butler really never stood a chance- and they played like they knew they never stood a chance.


March 6th, 2016: Creighton at Villanova (Big East tournament)

Just the Facts, Ma'am: Cold three-point shooting doomed Villanova in Creighton's 57-48 quarterfinal upset. MC McGrory scored 20 points to lead the Bluejays, 14 after halftime, and Sydney Lamberty put up a double-double (10 points, 13 rebounds). Samantha Wilkes had 18 points and seven rebounds to lead the Wildcats, but no one else cracked double figures for Nova.

For being out of order, unnecessary threes, setting screens, celebratory Jays, face paint, nifty hats, and riding the horse into the ground, join your intrepid and travel-wearied blogger after the jump.
Good morning, loyal readers! It's going to be a long day, but a fun one, as the Big East heads into its second day of tournament play with four games. Second seed Villanova and seventh-seeded Creighton will start things off.

Creighton's student section is rocking out to the music.

Fair number of Villanova fans have already arrived, including Papa Coyer in his custom jersey.

We're showing color solidarity with Creighton for this game. That, and they're fun to watch. That, and I like the part where Villanova loses.

If it holds throughout the day, the scoreboard operator is acknowledging high seeds and "home court advantage"- Creighton is the Bluejays, but Villanova is Nova. We'll see if it's an aberration or a habit.

We swiped a "Go Bluejays" sign from the Creighton ticket table, because, well, I like the part where Villanova loses.

There was a video tribute to Harry Perretta's 700th win before the game. That was very nice.

At halftime, Creighton is up 27-21. Pretty balanced scoring for both teams, with Jade Owens's 8 leading Creighton, and Adrianna Hahn and Samantha Wilkes each with 6 for Villanova. One thing worries me- it feels like Villanova is controlling the pace of the game, despite the Creighton lead. The Jays are running the clock down way too much and way too far.

The halftime game is amusing.

We're sitting behind the Creighton fans with the awesome (home-made, hand-knit) bluejay hats. There will be pictures.

Seton Hall is starting to trickle in. We're greeting them appropriately. Fans are trickling in for the second game too. I think Claire Lundberg brought family.

That was one heck of a finish. Villanova was ice-cold from outside today, but if you live by it, you have to die by it. Some days the system doesn't work, and this Villanova roster doesn't have the flexibility to work outside the system. Did Creighton get lucky? A little. They had good puck luck, but you don't get good puck luck without being in position to take a good shot. They came on strong late.

Lauren Works probably doesn't appreciate puns off her last name, but she really did put in work on the defensive end. She was amazing down the stretch, tough on both sides of the floor. I think I would want to smack her in the face repeatedly if she were playing my team, but when I can root for her, I will. She has that Taurasi-McCoughtry over-exuberance to her. Brianna Rollerson played less than I would have expected, but she didn't really earn more minutes. You can't be passive if you're the biggest player on the floor. You can't pass up shots in perfect lay-up position. You can't give up space to more slender players. You have to be assertive, especially when Villanova isn't an interior team. You can't pull down just 1 rebound in seven minutes.

Bailey Norby had a quiet game, though once again I call attention to her unsung work- she had a nifty pick to break Audrey Faber free for an early three. She didn't play a lot, as Creighton went small, but she was there when it counted. Sydney Lamberty owned the boards. Her shots went in odd directions, like many a Bluejay's shot, but she was fearless. Audrey Faber had foul trouble for most of the fourth quarter, and eventually Flanery rolled snake eyes and she got her fifth foul. She was tough when she was in, and she gives the Jays such versatility.

Jade Owens's shot wasn't falling quite as well as it was yesterday. She's so fun to watch, but I can see some of the flaws in her game now- she relies too heavily on that wild floater in the lane, and she gambles too much on defense. She seems to rely on luck, and as we've seen, that can go against you. Or one of your teammates can bogart all of it the way MC McGrory did. I think only one of her shots that bounced on the rim more than once bounced out. She got glass. She got the rolls. She fought through contact to score big and-1s in the second half. I wonder if she shoots better when she's got contact than when she's got space. She is so damn tough. I admire that.

Kavunaa Edwards has a very weird looking shot. It looks like it has all the mechanical flaws you tell shooters not to have, but it goes in rather more often than you think it would. She was blocking shots in the second half, too, using her length to make life difficult when Creighton penetrated. I really don't remember much about Kendall Burton's play or Jordan Dillard's play. There may have been a dumb foul or two sprinkled in there somewhere- I think Burton's third was unnecessary.

When the system works, it works. When the system doesn't work, Adrianna Hahn gets the urge to throw it up from wherever she is on the floor, whether that's somewhere in the general vicinity of Gary or into the hands of a double-team. Perretta's been hard on her whenever I've seen them- I'm not sure if that means he's giving her the keys to the car or if she's going to flee screaming to St. Francis Katherine Coyer makes a lot of good hustle plays- she rebounds well, she works the baselines well, and she has a nose for the ball. Alex Louin got open early on and made a nifty defensive play, but Creighton didn't leave her open for long after that.

Megan Quinn is another one with a really awkward looking shot, but hers wasn't going in as often as it did the last time I saw Villanova. She's one of the few players on Nova who I don't think should have the three-point green light that most Wildcats have. Samantha Wilkes had herself a day. Something tells me she wasn't on the scouting report for the Bluejays, and it showed. But here's another example of "you live by the three, you die by the three": all of Wilkes's makes came either on midrange jumpers or in the lane. All of her misses came beyond the arc, and most of them weren't all that close. She's got good height, and when she uses it, she's very effective. But when you get sucked into the system, then sometimes the system has its effects.

Right now I couldn't tell you a thing about the officiating. I vaguely recall Villanova being extremely upset about a call, but I can't remember who or when or why.

Creighton's band won pretty hard, in my opinion, but Villanova didn't have their full band. At least Villanova didn't have the audacity to perform "Mars".

The more I watch Creighton, the more I enjoy watching them play. Of course, this will have to end in the semis.


Sunday, March 6, 2016

March 6th, 2016: Georgetown at St. John's (Big East Tournament)

Just the Facts, Ma'am: St. John's clamped down on defense in the fourth quarter to pull away from Georgetown, 65-52. Aliyyah Handford had game highs of 22 points, including her 2000th, and five steals to lead St. John's, with Danaejah Grant adding 18. Dorothy Adomako led Georgetown with 15 points and five rebounds.

For defensive teams, flags blowing in the wind, dangerous collisions, going behind the charge circle, hard bleachers, stomping the floor, and #Liyyah2K, join your intrepid and perturbed blogger after the jump.

One more set of game notes, and then I can fall over. This one's the most important, though. It's St. John's playing Georgetown for the right to take on this DePaul squad that just walloped Butler.

Team Jersey is showing out, and I think Chicagoan Akina Wellere has family here too.

We seem to have struck a chord with an Under Armour guy. Cool beans.

Ashton Millender and her family are all over in the next section, and I think that explains the woman in Sky gear who's been wandering around.

Small world after all- one of the tournament organizers used to play in and work for the MAAC. Always fun to meet people from your neck of the woods in less familiar areas.

At halftime, St. John's is up 35-32, and it's uncomfortable. It's been a very physical game, with a lot of contact going uncalled. Aliyyah Handford scored the first 11 for the Red Storm, including her 2000th point, and Danaejah Grant picked up the slack in the second quarter with six of her 10. Faith Woodard is playing well for the Hoyas with 11, and Dorothy Adomako has 9.

That's it, Pirates, wander around the other side of the arena, don't notice me, don't comment on my red, don't tease me, don't come at me, just stay over there. Damn it, Tabatha.

St. John's pulled away at the end, much to my relief. Talent wins out; when you combine one of the best backcourts in the nation with a steady point guard and some key contributions from the bench, you get a win.

Georgetown actually went pretty deep into their bench, though I'm not sure if that's by design or if Natasha Adair was just looking for ways around the foul trouble and combinations of players that would strike a spark. Jasmine Jackson came in to run the point and rotate in for DiDi Burton when Burton was in foul trouble. She's definitely a change of pace, a bigger guard than the small, quick starters. Katie McCormick got her shot off, but couldn't get it down; at least she hustled for the ball on defense. Tyshell King's impact on the game is harder to see from four rows up than it is from eight or nine rows up. Logan Battle brought height and a bit of defensive presence. She saw more time in the second half than the first. Yazmine Belk came in n the first half down low and threw her weight around.

If the Big East had an All-Defensive team, Dionna White would be on it. When she's not playing against my team, I love to watch her work on defense, reading the passing lanes and making ballhandlers pay. DiDI Burton is the more aggressive on-ball defender- she almost forced a five-seconds-closely-guarded call on (I think) Danaejah Grant. The two of them together are impossibly pesky. And then Dorothy Adomako goes to work in the lane with the high shot. She's got so many dimensions to her game that it's ridiculous. She's tough on the inside and can step out to the midrange.

Faith Woodard gave the Hoyas a big boost up front- she was able to get to the basket with a fair amount of ease and put up shots at the rim. She's tough. Dominique Vitalis brought senior leadership to the floor- things just seemed to go better when they had her on the floor to direct traffic and look to. She's a steadying presence, and I'm using the present tense because it would be pretty cool if Georgetown made the WNIT.

The defense is on point for the Hoyas. They just need some offensive help around Adomako and to replace the depth they lose with the seniors. I think Adair can do it.

Jordan Agustus saw some time in the first half and was ineffective. Akina Wellere hit a big three to end the first quarter and give the Johnnies some momentum going into the second. She got called for a couple of questionable fouls, and that was the end of her run in her hometown. Crystal Simmons brought so much defense that I may have to make Google Translate work overtime for nicknames. She elicited a five-seconds-closely-guarded call out of (I think) Dionna White. The three-pointer at the end was just the cherry on top, but it had to have done wonders for her confidence. She's another one who should be all-defense, if we had an All-Defensive team. Jade Walker is probably not 100%- she missed a couple of rolls to the basket that she normally makes, but she got stronger as the game went on, stealing rebounds and hitting jumpers. We're going to need her tomorrow. Today. Against DePaul.

Sandra Udobi played sparingly, but came up with defensive stops down the stretch. Imani Littleton was hit and miss- she committed stupid fouls, but she drew a lot of contact and got to the line. She's starting to mature, which is good- we're going to need her to step up in a big way next year. She's really shining on defense.

Aaliyah Lewis is going to be an amazing coach one of these days. She has such command of her team on the floor- it's not as obvious when the ball is in play, but she gives direction to her teammates when there's a stoppage or they're off the ball on defense. And they listen to her, even the seniors. She knows the game so well. She didn't score a lot, but the points came when we needed them. Her passes were picked, but she made answering plays on defense. For a while it looked like Aliyyah Handford was going to have to be the entire show- she scored the first 11 for the Johnnies before she got slowed up a little bit. She's a terror on the break, and she stole a lot of balls to lead breaks. She's just so fun to watch. Danaejah Grant is as not flashy as Aliyyah is flashy- she hits jumpers, she uses her strength in the lane, she defends and passes the ball, and yet I can never find words for her. She's just there, like a universal constant, and it's going to be so confusing when she's not there.

The officiating got tighter as the game went on, much to everyone's annoyance. Both sides were questioning calls- there was one play where Adair wanted a foul on Handford, Tartamella wanted a foul on White, and play went on. Mid-air collisions aren't good for the game, guys.

Jack won the dance-off, although I disapprove of his audacity in putting his hat on Johnny's head. We have the far superior band and dance, though. Their band is awfully tinny, and I can't imagine what it sounds like in that aircraft hangar they're forced to call a home court.

The host is a very nice woman, but she's still annoying when she's working. And I do wish people would stop being surprised that we support two teams, but, well, that's a bit of a sore spot at the moment. Their heads might explode if they knew how many teams we really go hard for.

So yay! We're on to the semifinals! And our reward is DePaul in their own arena at primetime! Yay?


March 6th, 2016: Marquette at Seton Hall (Big East tournament)

Just the Facts, Ma'am: Marquette started strong and always threatened, but Seton Hall had the final push to win 93-86. Tiffany Jones put up 29 points and 18 rebounds to power the Pirates, with Aleesha Powell adding 25 and Shakena Richardson 20. Allazia Blockton of Marquette led all scorers, putting up 31 before fouling out.

For freshmen, seniors, cheering one's self hoarse, missed lay-ups, big buckets, huge fan support, trophies, and pictures, join your intrepid and out of order blogger after the jump.

On to the second game, and much closer seats. Since our all-session passes are behind the opposing bench, we reached out to Tony Bozzella for Seton Hall and Veronica Mullen for St. John's to get behind the appropriate bench for our games today. Honestly, I'd prefer to be a little higher up, but beggars can't be choosers.

The Seton Hall band didn't make the trip, so we're borrowing someone else's band. I don't know whose.

There's a family of Marquette fans standing in front of our section, and it's kind of annoying.

There's also an Oregon fan here. I'm not quite sure where he came from. (Ah. He's an Owens.)

Marquette appears to have brought full band. It's pretty impressive. They win the shirt match-up pretty much by default, since the loaner band for SHU is wearing fairly generic shirts.

Shoutout to the Xavier people who stayed.

Scoreboard reads "SHU" and "MU". So much for that theory.

Marquette's band does know they're playing "Tequila", right? You're not technically supposed to know about that, college kiddies.

Is Creighton just following us? They're over in our section now.

The Golden Eagle has an interesting feather-do. Looks like he's doing the blonde faux-hawk thing Clarendon did and Natisha Hiedeman does.

The offset on the shot clock by the road bench is really weird. It's way off to the side. I think it's throwing off Tabatha Richardson-Smith's shot.

At halftime, we've definitely got more offense than we did last game. Seton Hall is up 43-41 on Marquette.

It's annoying, but Marquette's band has prepared an entire list of pirate-themed horrible puns to distract the free throw shooter, and some of them are so bad they're hilarious. ("And what is a pirate's favorite robot? Arrrrrrrrr2-D2!")

Marquette fans showed up! I mean, Milwaukee's close, but that doesn't mean fans will travel. I love the support the Golden Eagles are getting.

Our loaner band went to the trouble of getting pirate hats. I approve.

We can't afford to come out flat in the second half. Marquette's too good for that.

What a game! What a finish! What a performance by Tiffany Jones! What a performance by Allazia Blockton too! Players stepping up for both sides- that's what a tournament is all about!

Amani Wilborn had a good, solid, all-around game. I think she can be taken out of her game a little, get a little distracted, but she's a solid sixth woman who can fill in at multiple positions. Shantelle Valentine's impact was very limited- she's a big girl, but she seems a little tentative inside. She did have one big screen that picked off Martha Kuderer and gave Natisha Hiedeman space for a three. It wasn't quite a Screen of Death, but it will do.

McKayla Yentz spent a lot of time lying on her back on the ground, either getting a call or complaining about not getting a call. I like the hustle, but defense is played with the feet, not the butt. Erika Davenport kept getting lay-ups right at the basket with the extra pass from her guards. She didn't always hit them, but she had plenty of good looks. She did a nice job of following her own shot on a couple of occasions, including on a Gordon block.

Natisha Hiedeman's shot is so quick- as soon as she has space, that shot is going up. Her hands are really quick too- she was disruptive on defense. She's going to be fun to watch as she develops. Danielle King has a soft touch from beyond the arc- she needs to watch her footwork, but once she's in position to shoot, that is one pretty shot. And what can I say about Allazia Blockton that hasn't already been said? She's brilliant. Her offensive game is already so complete, inside and out, and she's only a freshman. She has the potential to develop amazingly. I want her to be awesome. Marquette deserves it. She almost single-handedly willed Marquette back into the game.

Claire Lundberg gave good minutes in relief of the forwards. Martha Kuderer isn't ready for the big time. Jordan Mosley had a huge block on Blockton early on. Say that three times fast. Jordan Molyneaux was Cottonelle soft on the inside, all but running way from rebounds and ducking the ball. And she almost managed to get a foul called on her on the bench, because the announcer couldn't count fingers. LaTecia Smith had a couple of really nice defensive plays, but she wasn't ready for the pressure on offense- Marquette pressed hard and she stumbled.

If we'd lost this one, it would have been dumped on Lubirdia Gordon's head. She missed way too many easy shots at the rim. She had a couple of big blocks protecting the rim on the other side, though. Tiffany Jones had herself the game of her life. She was hitting lay-ups, working the boards like a boss, hitting threes- she took command of the game. She wanted it and she took it, like a true Pirate does. Tabatha Richardson-Smith didn't have as luminescent an offensive game as she's capable of, but she contributed in other ways- on the boards, on defense, distributing the ball for the extra hot pass down low.

Shakena Richardson was out of rhythm early, trying too hard to be an outside threat, but as the game went on, she found seams in the lane and drove, either getting the lay-up, taking the midrange shot, or distributing to the open shooter. Aleesha Powell used her speed to her advantage, cutting to the basket and elevating for the lay-up, or hitting that soft three she loves. She had a great block on a low Davenport shot.

The only thing that really disturbed me for Seton Hall was the loss of simpatico between Bozzella and his point guards. Usually they're on the same page, but today, not so much. Hoping that gets fixed before tomorrow.

Officiating was wildly inconsistent, going from loose in the first quarter to tighter than a girdle in the second quarter to seeming one-sided in the second half. It seemed like calls weren't going both ways. I know I'm biased, but it was pretty awkward. There were a couple of bad calls against Marquette in that quarter too, as if to keep Coach Bozzella from going off on the refs.

That game was a shining example of what the Big East can be, and what it is. Seton Hall, with their seniors and graduate students, is the present. Marquette, laden with freshmen, is the future. We're in good hands.


March 5th, 2016: Providence at Creighton (Big East tournament)

Just the Facts, Ma'am: Creighton started strong and finished strong, staving off a Providence run in the middle, to win their first-round Big East tournament game 70-53. Audrey Faber had 16 points, 12 in the second half, and eight rebounds to lead the Jays. Clara Che's 14 points off the bench led Providence.

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Hello, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls! The Game Notes of Doom are on the road for the next few days, dancing in Chicago with the Big East. We're coming to you from section B of McGrath-Phillips Arena, watching as Providence and Creighton prepare for their first-round game.

It looks like Providence brought their band, or someone's band. That's good. Drum kits were setting up so far ahead we thought that was all they had, but there's the rest of the instruments. I don't see Creighton, though.

McGrath-Phillips is a nice enough arena. I like the way the banners are mixed on the walls. I do feel kind of awkward with the Latasha Byears banner staring at me. Worse, there are two softball banners over to the right of it...

Technically, backpacks and totes are not allowed in the arena. No one said anything today, though. We'll see how long that lasts. It might just be because of attendance or lack thereof for neutral games.

Great. They're packing the place with kids' groups. Fantastic. And of course the ones in front of us are among the first ones to show up.

We have Bluejays! Not sure if they're band or cheering students, but they have the blue tees and the blue-and-white striped pants. One guy has his face painted. I approve. Creighton cheer has arrived as well.

On band uniforms, I give Providence's gray bowling-style shirts the edge over Creighton's shirts.

The group in front of us is doing an appearance thing with some of the DePaul players. Lots of picutres are being taken. If I cared about seeing the Creighton dance team in action, I might be more annoyed than I am.

Harry Perretta and Doug Bruno are sitting together in the next section over, and my God do I want to be a fly on the wall over there. Such knowledge. Very basketball.

At halftime, Creighton is up 33-28. That's after opening the game on a 15-0 run. Providence actually had a chance to cut it even closer, but Aliyah Miller missed two free throws after a post-trey foul by Audrey Faber. Creighton is doing a nice job of getting inside. Providence is living and dying by the outside jumper- not necessarily the three, but long jumpers.

Oh dear gods that woman is wearing an emoji purse. I can't.

I tell you, Creighton is going to be scary next year, with all these players back plus Marissa Janning. Jade Owens is just fun to watch.

Providence made it very interesting in the third quarter, getting it down to 40-38 at one point, but they couldn't sustain it. The defense started to fall apart and lose steps, and once that happens, Audrey Faber starts doing things.

I like the Providence band better than the Creighton band as a band, but I like Creighton's band better as a supporters' section. Edge in cheer goes to Creighton- they had fewer people, but their routine was better and I like their dresses better. Billy the Bluejay wins the mascot contest by default, as Providence didn't bring their mascot. Creighton obviously brought more fans, since a) Omaha is closer than Providence, and b) Creighton has more of a chance to advance than Providence did.

Very nice touch by the announcer when Evi Iiskola was subbed out near the end of the blowout- he indicated her class, giving us a hint that it might be time to applaud her as she left her final collegiate game.

T-shirt toss fail: one of the t-shirts landed on top of the cage that protects the emergency lighting/camera. One woman tried to boost her kid up so he could grab it. Security told her that was a bad idea. They ended up fetching a broom to bring it down. People. Seriously. It's only a t-shirt.

I'm working on the theory that as Sarah Beal goes, so go the Friars. It's not necessarily a statistical thing, but she got hit with a cramp in her right leg that brought her to the ground and forced her out of the game. Second time I've seen that happen to her in the third quarter- happened against St. John's too. They wrapped her up and hydrated her, and she was eventually good to go back in.

Physically, Clara Che reminds me of Ticha Penicheiro. There's very little similarity in terms of style of play, since Che actually shoots, but I can't get past the resemblance. I think she's still trying to grow into her body, but I like her potential. Jovana Nogic spearheaded the big run in the second quarter to get the game to within five. I thought the matchup of Aliyah Miller and Brianna Rollerson was going to be interesting, but it turned out to be Miller versus Audrey Faber that was a more even match. Miller's a bruiser, but she was wild shooting, pressured by the Creighton defense. Erica Meyer isn't ready for the big stage yet. She had a couple of moments, including a big block on Jade Owens to set up a break opportunity, but she showed some freshman jitters. Another year and some time in the weight room will help her.

Brianna Frias took the tip for both halves, but Coach Fruchtl was quick to take her out when she could see who the hot hand was. She really didn't make much of an impact. Evi Iiskola had some moves in the lane. Allegra Botteghi lists as a guard, but she plays more like a forward, so she's going to go in the frontline paragraph. She's very tough on the glass and has a good nose for getting to the basket.

Sarah Beal never seemed to find a good shot to get off. She scored a little on jumpers, and had a nice steal, but I felt like she was trying to do more than the defense was allowing her to do, and at the same time was trying to do too much for her team. Sometimes it's better to lead by an example of omission, not commission, if that makes sense. Maddie Jolin has decent defensive instincts, and you always want to see a player try on defense, but she needs to do more to get into position so that she reaches left. But stop me if you've heard this one before: she's a freshman, she'll learn.

Providence showed a lot of heart and a lot of hustle, but they don't have the talent to compete. Fruchtl's done a lot to get talented internationals to Providence, and we'll see how well they blossom in the next couple of years.

Jim Flanery emptied his bench in the last couple of minutes, so we got to see a lot of the deep reserves. Honestly, I didn't even realize that Aimee Rischard was eligible this year, but there she was with the rest of the bench. Everyone was trying to get a shot for Tessa Leytem, and they were super disappointed when she wasn't able to score. Myah Mellman showed some hustle, and her reward for it was to get scratched in the eye by Sarah Beal for no good reason. Ali Greene looked a little scared to be out there. Kylie Brown showed a little bit on defense. Brianna Rollerson was a presence down low, but seemed a little slow to react on both sides of the floor. She looked like a woman coming back from injury and trying to get back in the saddle. Lauren Works brought the defensive hustle (and a student with a "WORK IT!" sign, which seems appropriate).

(There were a few other signs, including a shaped "FEAR THE FRO" for Rollerson that one girl wore on her head.)

Bailey Norby really didn't see a lot of time- Flanery had her on a short leash, and went small for much of the game as well. But I like the work she does on the floor, rebounding and setting screens- she had one fantastic play on the boards that set up MC McGrory for the rebound. She's so good at the little things. Audrey Faber got loose in the second half to get buckets inside. She set a really nice pick to get Lauren Works open for a three to help Creighton pull away.

I just really like watching Jade Owens play basketball. She brings energy at both ends of the floor. She has a beautiful finger roll and a shot that's sort of just a "throw it up, oh hey, nothing but net, that's cool" thing. She had a steal to get a fast-break bucket. And she passes well, too. Sydney Lamberty had a block so monster I didn't even see who it was on. She's tall for a guard, but she plays like a guard, and it gives Creighton much more flexibility with their lineups. MC McGrory came on strong in the second half when Providence was threatening. She made a key defensive play on a Providence break in the fourth quarter and shut them down. She brings a lot of toughness to the floor (and cleans up surprisingly well- I almost didn't recognize her when Creighton came to sit by us).

I don't always like Flanery's attitude on the sideline, but he coaches his team well. There's a nifty little change of direction move that a lot of their players use that demonstrates good body control and court awareness- I saw it first from Owens, but Faber and McGrory showed it as well. I'm also not used to a Creighton team shooting so few threes with Rollerson off the floor, but they adapted well to Providence hustling on the perimeter.

I thought the hit by Beal on Mellman should have been reviewed for a flagrant, but it may have been inadvertent. Officiating was otherwise unremarkable, which is always a relief.

I really liked the bluejay hats two Creighton fans were wearing. I'm going to try and get a picture during the quarterfinals. Creighton-Villanova will be very interesting.


Saturday, March 5, 2016

March 5th, 2016: Butler at Xavier (Big East tournament)

Just the Facts, Ma'am: Tori Schickel's lay-up with 1:32 to go gave Butler their final edge in the first round of the Big East tournament, as the Bulldogs defeated Xavier 48-47. Blaire Langlois had 20 points and eight rebounds to lead Butler. Jenna Crittendon had 14 points for Xavier before fouling out.

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Good afternoon once more, gentle readers. The preparations for game 2 are underway, as the Musketeers of Xavier and the Bulldogs of Butler take the floor. Their colors are depressingly similar. The Big East really has a bad case of the blues.

What even is this remix of "Rolling in the Deep"? No. I do not approve.

The group around us seems to be leaving, which annoys me as much as their showing up in the first place. It's a double-header, for Pete's sake. I'm never happy, what can I say?

One of the Creighton players came by- I think she has family here. Either that, or she really liked that cup of whatever she was holding.

That awkward moment when you realize you've accidentally sat with the team whose butts you just whooped. Janning, Lamberty, and another Jay just moved up into our row.

Xavier's band is super fresh- they're currently doing an arrangement of "Shut Up and Dance". Both bands have been great.

At halftime, Butler is up 24-15 with a late push. Jenna Crittendon has 11 of the 15 for Xavier. Butler's scoring is a wee tiny bit more balanced, with Blaire Langlois's 11 leading the way.

We get performances from both dance teams at halftime of this one! I give Xavier the edge, but they're both pretty decent.

Best band moment: band collaborations! So far we've had Xavier doing the instrumentals on "Hey Baby" and "Sweet Caroline", with Butler contributing vocals (though "Sweet Caroline" got interrupted by the arrival of the teams).

The shooting in this one has been so bad that the Butler band got tired of doing the "airrrrrrr-baaaaaaalllllll" chant at Xavier. We're up to four, plus one by Butler.

I think it's awfully confident of Georgetown to come watch this game instead of preparing for the 4-5 game tomorrow.

If Xavier's band had pulled out the Shinedown earlier, we would have been rooting for them. That's some seriously hard rock to arrange for marching band. As it was, Butler dodged a couple of bullets on the missed free throws by Ward.

Michelle Weaver played briefly in the second half, but her lack of size was painfully obvious, and she didn't look ready for the postseason. Tori Schickel made plays at the basket and made space for her teammates to work. Nicole Orr showed some intriguing flashes of athleticism around the arc.

Blaire Langlois was the star of the show for the Bulldogs. She scored from all over the floor. More importantly, her team had faith in her to get the job done. Everyone looked to her- at least that was the sense I got from the way they all interacted on the court. Alexa Bailey was very quiet in the first half, but came up with a really nifty steal late in the game (which, granted, was promptly stolen back by Maddison Blackwell, but it was a nice play). Sydney Buck left no real impression, though I think she was involved in some of the Butler defensive pressure in the backcourt.

Belle Obert had some good plays boxing out and getting on the glass. She ensured that her teammates would have room to rebound. Brittany Ward has a lot of athletic moves right at the basket, but she just couldn't finish. If Butler had lost this game, she would have been the goat for missing four straight free throws at the end of the game. I feel like I'm saying this a lot today, but she's a freshman. I think the pressure got to her. She's tough, and she'll get there in the end, but right now she's still clearly a freshman.

Jada Byrd came in for defensive purposes. Anniina Äijänen played briefly in the first half and did nothing of import, which is good, because there are only so many times I can attempt to type an umlaut before I start swearing at the character map. Leah Schafer did a bit of rebounding and screening, which is something I like to see out of posts. Marquia Turner showed some offense in the third quarter, when Xavier started trying to take the game back over. The big girl, Imani Partlow, got a stretch of minutes in the first quarter, but while she was able to get position in the paint, she wasn't able to finish at the rim, and I think Brian Neal got tired of it eventually.

Jenna Crittendon hits threes. She's really good at them. She was able to use her height to her advantage when Butler sent smaller guards at her. They got smart and started doubling her in the second half, and while she was able to get some space, it wasn't enough for her to be effective. That did, however, free up Briana Glover inside- she had a couple of very quick baskets to start the third quarter, and that seemed to give her more confidence down low. Raeshaun Gaffney also seemed to find her feet in the second half, playing with more confidence. She had a fantastic save on the baseline, throwing the ball over her head to get it in to a teammate.

I'm always simultaneously disappointed and self-righteous when players named A*li*yah have bad games- disappointed because they're not living up to the name, and self-righteously satisfied because that just means Aliyyah's better. Aliyah Zantt had a very disappointing game- she had two big baskets back-to-back in the fourth quarter, but that was it. Maddison Blackwell had a nice game defensively, and did a lot of the little things, but went AWOL on defense.

I thought the officiating at the end of the game was a little suspect, but it's probably more damaging to go ahead and make the call that conceivably gives Xavier the game than it is to not make the call and let the game play out.

For most of the night, it seemed like each team was graciously offering the other one the opportunity to get curb-stomped by DePaul in the second round, at DePaul's home arena. The game picked up in the second half, but it was not pretty. The band and the cheering fans more than made up for the lack of execution on the floor.