My Blasphemous Saturday
It was a huge weekend for basketball, with Saturday in particular being ridiculous. Marquette, UWM, and UW-Green Bay were all playing in Milwaukee, and Wisconsin was on TV. The division three national tournament continued. High school regionals took place. And to top it all off, Duke vs. North Carolina was taking place during the evening. This day was tailor made for me. It could have perhaps been the best day of the year, with the exception of every day of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. And that’s why it’s so shocking that I only saw one game on Saturday (Wauwatosa East vs. Wauwatosa West in a high school regional final).
Few things in life take precedence over watching a good game of basketball, but meeting up with a good friend happens to be one of those things. So when my friend Jeff from Minneapolis called a couple weeks ago to see if I wanted to meet up with him in Madison for the Wisconsin vs. St. Cloud State hockey game on Saturday night, who was I to say no? Sure, it really cut into my basketball watching, but sometimes you need to make concessions to your friends (particularly those that you don’t see all that much). And if that means drinking beer and watching hockey, instead of drinking beer and watching basketball, then that’s what you do.
Notes from the snippets of various basketball moments from my weekend, with particular attention to the one game that I did attend:
1) As I approached the Wauwatosa East gym to take in the rematch between Wauwatosa East and Wauwatosa West, I noticed the Tosa East students holding a tailgate, which really took me back in time. Though I was not present during my high school days at what I believe to be the first of these tailgates (I can’t quite figure out why I would have missed this), I was there the second year fighting a wind-chill of several degrees below zero (you’ve got to love Wisconsin in March). It was so cold that the mustard on my brat froze almost instantly, and I was unable to feel my feet until the third quarter of the game (wow, do I sound like an old man or what?). It was worth every second, though, and I’m glad to see that the tradition continues.
2) Walking into the gym for the Tosa East-Tosa West game (Tosa East won the season’s other meeting by a small margin), I suspected that it would be an intense afternoon. A hard fought contest earlier in the season, this game would be different, due to a boost of confidence that Tosa West was bound to have due to Tosa East’s Jerry Smith being sidelined with a foot injury. The Trojans would be up for this one as a chance to escape Tosa East’s long shadow, and the Red Raiders would undoubtedly be looking to prove that they could win without their star player. Students were in their seats and cheering nearly an hour before tipoff, a custodian was shining the backboards, and there was a general feeling of big game excitement. As the cross-town rivals took the floor and started the game, they did not disappoint. Within the first minute, I would guess that no less than four players hit the deck diving for loose balls. Both teams, and both crowds wanted this one badly–that was certain.
3) Tosa East again ended up winning the game, thanks to an excellent run in the fourth quarter which saw them overcome a 7-point deficit. And while the Red Raiders took home the victory, Tosa West showed, as they did the last time around, that they’re getting closer to their cross-town foes. This could lead to some great rivalry games in the coming years.
4) I wasn’t sitting anywhere near where it was called, so I can’t pass any sort of informed judgement, but I have to be honest–the technical foul that Tosa West received late in the game was somewhat perplexing to me.
5) Players of the game in the Tosa East-Tosa West game? The obvious standout for Tosa West was Rico Combs, who was a scoring and shot-blocking force. I was honestly shocked at the end of the game when I saw that he only had 20 points. I believe he was perfect in his many trips to the foul line, as well. Teammate Dan Christensen was also solid. I liked him more every time I watched him this year, and was sort of sad that Saturday’s game was his last. As for Tosa East, they had some surprising players step up in Jerry Smith’s absence. Guard Tony Walls seemed to have big steals at all the right times in the fourth quarter. Forward Charlie Birts was remarkably steady and hard-nosed, rebounding, playing defense, and generally stabilizing the Red Raiders while he was on the floor. For a man who could not exactly be called "consistent" a year ago, Birts has undergone a phenomenal transformation.
5) Note to self: If you’re at a high school game and you hear students doing a chant that is covertly off-color, and which no one under the age of 30 would understand, don’t chuckle to yourself about the cheer. Because undoubtedly there will be a parent sitting nearby that will want you to tell them what the kids are saying, and why it is amusing. And that will be an awkward moment.
6) On Saturday night, I caught up briefly via telephone with a friend of mine who was attending the Duke-North Carolina game. During our phone conversation, I noted that I would not be watching the game, since I was watching hockey. He replied "Are you feeling okay?" That was pretty much the standard response to my Saturday activities.
7) As I drove home from the hockey game on Saturday night, I was flipping around the radio dial searching for something to listen to. One of my stops was on a sports talk show called The Chris Russell Show. As Mr. Russell was going to commercial break, he noted that one of the things that he wanted to talk about when he got back from break was that he thought Duke was undeserving of a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament, was something of a fraud this year, and that J.J. Redick is not a big game player. I would have stuck around to see where he was going with that, but it was pretty clear to me that he was just saying these things to cause a fake radio conflict and generate callers. So I quickly changed the channel. After that topic played out, I assume that he stated that he hopes the NFL will get rid of its salary cap, and that he thinks Pete Rose should be in the baseball Hall of Fame. I guess that’s what I get for listening to sports talk radio at midnight on a Saturday–talk show hosts that goad callers with outlandish phony opinions.
8) During my drive home, I think some sort of higher power must have been sending me a message that I shouldn’t have made the trip to Madison to watch hockey, and should instead have enjoyed more basketball in Milwaukee. That message came in the form of me being pulled over for driving eight miles over the speed limit on the way home. Fortunately, I only got a warning. However, it seems curious to me that after going nearly 12 years since I received my drivers licence without being pulled over by the police, I’ve been pulled over twice in the exact same spot on I-94 twice in the span of just over two months (and one of those times when I wasn’t going outlandishly fast). On second thought, maybe it wasn’t God–maybe I’m just hitting an overzealous speed trap.
9) Saw the end of the Gonzaga-San Diego game on Sunday night. The game itself was interesting enough (Gonzaga won in overtime), but what I really got to thinking about was how Gonzaga will do in the NCAA tournament. One school of thought would say that they won’t do well because their soft conference schedule where they didn’t exactly bury their opponents shows that they’re not in top form. I see some validity to that, but I also tend to think that emotions will be much higher in the NCAA tourney than in the WCC. I honestly don’t think Gonzaga can get excited for its conference games anymore, but that they’ll be ready to attack some fresh foes come tournament time. Then again, I was burned last year when I thought the same thing, so who knows...
10) I didn’t catch any of the games by Wisconsin college teams this weekend. The closest that I came was listening to about 75% of the Wisconsin-Iowa game on the radio while I was in my car. Given the Badgers’ second-half collapse, I’m sort of glad that I missed the game. Why couldn’t I have been listening to the Marquette game instead?
11) I officially don’t understand Syracuse. Coming off a week in which they get down by 40 points to lowly DePaul, they give Villanova a tough game. College basketball this year defies comprehension.
And with the end of the weekend comes the meat of championship week. Join me in the early part of this week as I tune to ESPN to watch games of teams who I’ve probably never seen and whose names I can’t really pronounce. This info should come in handy come NCAA tournament time, but I’d be lying if I said I’m not going to be confused until the power conferences start playing their tourneys.