Friday, March 26, 2010

Fighting Like Cats and Dogs

Yesterday, I went into work with a bit of a head cold. Coincidentally, it was a new guy at our office's first day, and they placed him the cubicle directly next to me. All day long, the guy was coughing and sneezing and generally sounding and looking like death. Already not feeling well and now exposed to another not so healthy person, I began to feel really weary and drained by the end of the day. I wanted nothing more than to go home and get some sleep.

Of course, we all knew that wasn't going to happen. Not with the Sweet 16 starting at 7. Not with the late games started after 9:30. I'd have to suck this one up and push through. After all, the tournament only comes once a year. Considering my condition, I was hoping for the first two games to be tremendous, and the two late games to be blowouts, a selfish move on my part. Literally halfway through the Butler-Syracuse game, I didn't think I'd make it, that's how worn down and tired and I was. So selfishly I wanted the late games to be blowouts so I could just go to sleep already.

I've never been happier to be unhappy in my life, if that makes any sense. (I'm fully aware that it does not.) Despite trailing by two at halftime, West Virginia methodically disposed of Washington 69-56 as Quincy Pondexter had his worst game in a long time. Not great timing on his part. But that game was nothing compared to the clash in Salt Lake City.

All season long, we've heard all about Syracuse's defense, the Orange's tenacious 2-3 zone. But last night, the Bulldogs flipped the script on Cuse, out-defending the team known for its defense. Butler applied nonstop pressure on Syracuse, forcing 18 turnovers, most of which came in the first half. The Bulldogs held the Orange to just 25 points in the first half, built up a 10-point lead and never looked back. It was a performance Davey Boy Smith would be proud of.

It's something that's been happening all tournament long to the Big East. Here was a smaller, less heralded school coming out and punching a Big East team in the mouth. And as was the case with Ohio against Georgetown, Xavier against Pitt, St. Mary's against Villanova, Cal against Louisville, and Washington against Marquette, the teams from the Big Bad Big East weren't suited to punch back, at least not hard enough. Because Syracuse did come back, did take a lead. Wesley Johnson, who was quiet in the first half, exploded in the second, looking to turn the tide completely with a tenacious put-back slam followed by a three to give Syracuse its first lead of the game in the second half. Andy Rautins hit a couple deep threes. Scoop Jardine made some late plays.

But the Bulldogs just kept punching and punching and punching back, eventually taking down the second No. 1 seed. The crushing blows to the Orange came at the hands of Willie Veasley, with a three that looked like it was off but somehow bounced in, followed by a tip in that all but sealed Syracuse's fate.

It was a wild game and wild finish, one that even the most casual of fans couldn't help but get excited about. Not even halfway to the Elite 8, and two No. 1's are already sent packing. Wow. I was half in a daze down the stretch, watching the Flyers on the bottom TV and the tournament on the top, but those last few minutes certainly woke me up. And that finish had me jumping for joy …  well, at least on the inside.

If I wasn't completely exhausted before, I certainly was now. That game was draining, and my body wanted to shut down. Time for bed, it told me. You don't feel well. Pray for a couple of blowouts.

Well, I tried. I really did. After surviving an initial flurry from Cornell, Kentucky simply used its superior talent and athleticism to run the Big Red off the court en route to a 32-16 halftime lead and eventual win. That game was all but over, I thought, so I headed upstairs to my room with the intention of watching the Kansas State-Xavier game and falling asleep to it. Even though it was just a one-point game at the half, Kansas State built a lead that went somewhere between 6 and 9 I think. I honestly can't remember 100 percent because I was beginning to grow delirious with exhaustion and the pressure building in my head. But then, boom, Jordan Crawford and Terrell Holloway went off. Off off.

So did Denis Clemente and Curtis Kelly for K-State. With 5:31 left, the game was tied at 58. After Xavier took a 59-58 lead on a free throw, the game went like this: Clemente jumper, 60-59 KS; Layup Jason Love, 61-60 X; 3 Clemente and a foul, 64-61 KS; 3 Dante' Jackson 64-64; Kelly jumper, 66-64 KS; 3 Crawford, 67-66 X; free throw by Kelly, 67-67, 1:53 to go.

The teams went back and forth with empty possessions, and then K-State got the ball with 47 seconds left and called a timeout. The Wildcats had to be looking to Denis Clemente or Curtis Kelly clearly. Jacob Pullen had struggled all game long, and those two were hot. Well, you know what they say about shooters … they keep on shooting. And with brass balls the size of grape fruits, Pullen took a deep three with 26 seconds left, and drained it. 70-67 KS. Ho-ly Shit! Fear the beard indeed.

Looked like a dagger right in the heart of the Musketeers. But seeing as this has been the best NCAA Tournament ever, of course it wasn't. Even after a missed layup by Holloway and a block y Curtis Kelly, Xavier stayed with it, as Jason love grabbed the board and laid it in, 70-69, 12 seconds to play. K-State inbounded the ball to Pullen, who calmly hit both free throws with 10 seconds left, 72-69 KS. It would take a three to tie, and K-State could foul before that to prevent a three from being taken.

They tried, but the refs didn't whistle a foul on the floor. Then the impossible happened. Or the absurd. After failing to get the foul on the floor, Chris Merriewether inexplicably fouled Terrell Holloway with 5 seconds left … as Holloway was shooting a three. Three shots at the line for the A-10's leading free throw shooter. Of course he hit all three. Tie game, 5 seconds. Pullen had one last shot to end this thing and got a good look, but the ball wouldn't drop. Overtime. No sleep for me. I was dying … and loving every minute of it.

Twice in OT, K-State went up three. Twice, Xavier's guards answered. 84-81 KS with 49 seconds to go, BAM! 3 by Holloway. Wow! Pullen answers with a two and K-State adds a free throw with 19 seconds to go, up 87-84. Then BAM! crazy three by Crawford. Double WOW! Tied again. Like his backcourt mate before him in regulation had a chance to win it, Clemente had his turn. When he fired, I thought it had a chance, but the ball didn't go in.

Double overtime. Fuck me. Running on fumes, much like the players, not even a hundred Ambien, my devastating cold or downing a bottle of Nyquil could stop me from staying up. I watched in amazement as Jordan Crawford continued to convince me he should be one of my favorite players in college basketball. He put Xavier ahead 89-87. Curtis Kelly answered with a jumper, then a dunk to put K-State up 2. Crawford answered right back, 91-91 tie. This was beginning to get ridiculous.

Then Crawford hit another jumper, 93-91, Xavier. But the Wildcats weren't dead yet. Not by a long shot. Pullen nailed a three, and after Xavier tied it with a free throw, hit another. 97-94. Terrell Holloway got two back on a pair from the line, but that was as close as Xavier would get the rest of the way. Pullen and Clemente iced the game at the line, finally, mercifully ending this most awesome of awesome games 101-96 after two overtimes and well past midnight. Insane. And to add to the excitement, we were all treated to Gus Johnson calling the most exciting game of the night. You couldn't have scripted this any better.

What a game! Instant classic! I love me some Gus Johnson.

I mean, damn. How much more awesome can this tournament get? Upset after upset. Crazy game after crazy game. It's pure insanity. And there hasn't been a game better than this one last night. I mean, just look at some of these performances. Jordan Crawford went bonkers for 32 points on 13-29 (29!) shooting. Terrell Holloway scored 26 points, went 4-6 from three and 10-13 from the line while dishing out 6 assists. Jason Love racked up a double-double with 11 points and 15 rebounds. Denis Clemente launched 24 shots, hitting 10 of them for 25 points while adding 5 boards and 5 dimes. Curtis Kelly went 9-17 for 21 points with 8 boards and 5 blocks. And Jacob Pullen struggled early but came on late, scoring 28 points on 9-20 shooting, including 6-12 from three and those two daggers in the second OT to help K-State advance. Insanity. Madness.

This tournament has been everything you could ever hope for. It's been perfect. Absolutely perfect. Every single day has been fantastic. From the first day to last night. Pure perfection. You don't mess with perfection. You hear that, NCAA? Don't water this thing down. Don't add more teams. Leave it just how it is. Because if you've been watching, you know it can't get any better than this.

BallHype: hype it up!

1 comment:

  1. Can you imagine if Gus Johnson and Kevin Harlan called a game together? I mean, it'll never happen, but a sports fan can dream.

    Duke is gonna go to the Final Four. I can't see them (or the refs) allowing Baylor to beat them. Then again, Baylor was upset in the NIT Final last year, and may use that as fuel to get to next weekend.

    I don't care who wins Tennessee-Michigan State. I love both of their coaches. Of course, you know how I feel about Izzo, and if he gets his team BACK to the Final Four, with no starting point guard, I will proclaim him The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived. Even greater than Cliff Lee.

    Someone said a while back that Clemente/Pullen is the best backcourt in college basketball, and I am officially a believer. Both of them can play the point and the two. Their frontcourt is nasty, and you gotta love Frank Martin. We'll see how Butler fares, because they're no slouch, especially with a 23-game winning streak.

    And to think people wanna fuck up a great thing, by tryna expand to 96...