Sunday, April 5, 2009

April 5th, 2009: Louisville at Oklahoma (NCAA tournament)

Louisville Cardinals 61, Oklahoma Sooners 59

Angel McCoughtry cranks it up, the Cards D up, and alas, Courtney Paris will have to pay up.

Oh, what a game. This is what you pay the big bucks for.

We started our day out at Hoop City, where we saw lots of people and lots of different teams, sort of rubbed elbows with a bunch of coaches, got autographs from Nell Fortner, brought home souvenirs (I outshot him on the five-bar shootout, but we both got the same prize :(), watched the Battle of the Bands (Stanford got screwed because the fans were strictly partisan on their voting), the Mascot Challenge (the Louisville Cardinal won), and soaked in the experience.

After that, it was off to the Scottrade Center to join the rest of our fanbase. We were up pretty high, since we went through the lottery and didn't know people, though there was a woman giving out tickets for lower deck seats on the concourse. The people two rows behind us, who were nearly back into the wall, took full advantage of that.

A nicely performed anthem by the Louisville band, who seem to be enjoying their experience. Though it's technically improper, I do like their tradition of holding hands during the anthem- even with the mascot. They came out slow in the first half- really bad, looking like they didn't know what they were doing. They kept themselves in it with their defense, and it probably should have been a warning sign for Oklahoma that they'd kept two starters off the scoreboard and limited McCoughtry to four free throws, but they were still only up twelve. Then the second half started, and Walz, having screwed with his lineup in the first half, brought the players I think were his usual starters back in, and Hines especially played like someone had set a firecracker under her butt. And McCoughtry just up and decided that this wasn't going to be her last game, that if her team was going to make school history, they were going to keep making it. She was making plays she hadn't been making in the first half, and that really fired her team up. Bingham was the only relative constant, and I think she played her way up the draft board as a three, though someone is going to have to work on her shot so she doesn't do a split every time she shoots. Byrd showed questionable decision-making when it came to her shooting, but she set her teammates up well. Reid gave them good minutes when the wrath of the refs came down on their pivotal players- I think that was a critical part of what allowed them to come back. Becky Burke's threes were the back-breakers. I really liked watching Walz play chess against Coale, especially when McCoughtry, Bingham, and Byrd were all saddled with four fouls- he kept playing strong defense, but sent Burke and Reid after the ball instead of Byrd and his forwards.

I do have a soft spot for the Sooners, and I don't know that this was the way I'd have wanted them to go out. Courtney Paris just seemed off her game tonight, which I guess we can credit to the Louisville posts. I mean, don't get me wrong, she was a force inside on the boards, but she didn't seem to be fighting for her shots as hard as she usually does. Ashley was more effective as a scorer, but Louisville keyed on how to stop her in the second half. Hand's hot shooting early opened things up, but she couldn't replicate it in the second half. And though they deflected a lot of balls and got after a lot of boards, they weren't able to effectively convert them. In the first half, their offense was clicking, and that passing drill I mentioned in the notes from the open practice would come in very handy as they patiently chipped away at the Louisville defense until a shooter finally got open. In the second half, I don't know if the Cardinals were reading the passing lanes better or they were starting to panic, but they weren't moving as crisply and things just fell apart for them.

Refs sucked. Again, all I ask for is consistency. It doesn't even have to be competence anymore. It just has to be consistent incompetence.

Louisville traveled really well. I have to admit, I wasn't expecting them to, but they were loud and proud. Oklahoma was also well represented, though I was't amused when they all hied for the hills after the game. I can understand wanting to get away from this building of despair, but y'all did realize you basically threw $40 in the trash, right?

As a fan of the game, I'm disappointed for Oklahoma that it ended this soon, that the Parises didn't get to take one last shot at their title, that they crumbled under the pressure. As a fan of the game, I'm ecstatic that Louisville is extending this sparkling run, that Jeff Walz is really showing that he can shine as a coach, and especially that Angel McCoughtry has one more chance to strut her stuff on the national stage. I live for this.

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