Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The First-Hand Account

Earlier in the day you saw my post detailing why I was foolish for not going to the Marquette game, and my reactions after watching it on TV. Lucky for me, my friend Dez, who happens to be articulate, witty, and one of my favorite basketball viewing partners, was in attendance, and shot off a late night email to me recaping the game after he returned. His recap is artful, accurate, and could perhaps only be written by a true fan who's witnessed an unbelievable game, and has sat down to record his thoughts, as Dez notes, "after a few post-game cocktails." Enjoy the thoughts of a gentleman who was smart enough to actually go to this game:

Admittedly, this is coming to you at 1:30AM after a few post-game cocktails, but frankly, I'm still too fired up to go to bed. I thought you might like a first-hand account of Marquette's thrashing of UConn tonight.

Its been a long time since I've heard the "OVER-RATED" chant used effectively. Sure, I've heard it by over-zealous high school kids, and at Division III games where no one really knows where teams are ranked, but tonight it couldn't have been more fitting at the Bradley Center, as our Marquette Warriors, err Gold, err Golden Eagles took #2 UConn to the woodshed in an old-fashioned 94-79 beat down.

I arrived at the game with Lindsay, Dave and Austin and we all agreed that UConn was probably the best college team that we'd ever seen live.

We marveled that the spread for the game was only 10, all of us expecting Marquette to get blown out, considering UConn's apparent advantages in size, skill, and future NBA players. 10 would be a moral victory in our eyes, even in Unfrozen Caveman Coach Crean wouldn't admit it.

My pre-game predictions were that Rudy Gay would show why he is mentioned among possible #1 draft picks and that Josh Boone would have 40 points against a Marquette interior that was suspect at best. For MU to even stay close, Joe Chapman (starting for the stress-fractured Wesley Matthews) would have to play like a senior and have the game of his life, MU would have to set roughly 786 screens for Steve Novak, and the freshmen would have to keep their composure against a more experienced UConn team that was sure to get the benefit of the doubt from the officials.

MU got down early, but kept the game close. My initial observation was that Dominic James is not intimidated by anyone, certainly not recently re-instated Marcus Williams (who entered the game to a chant of "Where's my laptop" from a loud, winter break-sized MU student section). On several occasions, Williams would shimmy and shake, only to have James stand still, staring at him, as if to say "is that all you got?" The first 12 minutes featured slashing drives from James and Jerel McNeal, who officially held his coming out party at the BC tonight. UConn looked surprised at their speed, but I guess Quinnipiac doesn't have that type of athlete. Steve Novak quietly went about his business, knocking down threes and (much to my surprise) pulling down big rebounds on the defensive end. I actually heard the the MU house announcer call two plays I never imagined I'd hear - "rebound, basket Steve Novak" and "Coast to coast, steal and basket Steve Novak." I've not been a big Steve Novak supporter over the past three years, but he does tend to step up in big games and tonight was no different. Once he hit the 30-footer from the "M" in the MU logo at half court I knew he was feeling it.

MU was up by 6 at half, a lead none of us thought was safe. However, MU seemed to actually turn the intensity up a notch in the 2nd half.

UConn seemed flustered, and Jim Calhoun called two quick time outs after halftime, even abandoning his usual procedure of conversing with his assistants and then talking to his team. I could sense his anger from Section 209. On the MU side, everyone stayed calm, McNeal, Novak and James continued to hit big shots and the revolving door of big men had a surprising number of big rebounds and tip-ins. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect Marquette to out-rebound UConn. I guess the bubble must have worked in practice this week.

Other quick bullet points:

--The MU bench got real short tonight, with Chris Grimm and Mike Kinsella getting 1 minute of action. Only Dwight Burke,Dan Fitzgerald (who fouled out in a Grimm-like 11 minutes), Ousmane Barro and Jamil Lott saw significant minutes.

--The one player that looked severely overmatched tonight was Ryan Amaroso. He started, but only played 17 minutes and didn't get any of his usual good-position points or rebounds.

--Dwight Burke played the normal Ryan Amaroso role tonight. He could really benefit from the Wesley Matthews injury, but not by playing on the perimeter, as Crean alluded to in the media earlier this week. I think that was just Crean blowing smoke before this game.

MU played almost perfectly tonight, but the ball was also bouncing their way. After Jamil Lott grabbed an offensive rebound on a missed MU free throw, I brought out what I thought would be the line of the night, that MU "doesn't get those against Lewis, but somehow they're getting them tonight." The two guys in front of us (one of which was a very quiet UConn fan) laughed and said that that was almost as funny as my wife commenting at the 12-minute mark after a bad MU shot that "this is no time to f*** around."

Overall, Marquette played as close to a perfect game as I've seen since the final four run. At the beginning of the season I said that they'd steal a game or two against a better opponent. Tonight they caught UConn on a night where they shot 38% from the floor and 50% from the line. I'm sure UConn is better than they showed tonight, and frankly I hope they continue to win to help MU's RPI, but tonight showed why college basketball is the greatest game on earth. I thought that this would be a great week if MU could split with UConn and Cincinnati (here on Saturday), but now I think MU has to sweep and enjoy some national ranking publicity on Monday.

I hate to sound like Digger Phelps, but if you would have told me that Rudy Gay would have fouled out with eight points and Steve Novak would put up 41 and 16, I would have said you were crazy. Overrated indeed.


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