Monday, December 11, 2006

Wisconsin vs. Marquette: Rivalry At Its Peak

My day on Saturday began at a pub where I was shuttling between my Badger fan group, some of whom had traveled from Madison for the game, and the guys that I sit with at Marquette games. I was hanging out with each party in 15-minute spurts. It was almost too much stimulation for me, having that many important basketball fans in one room. And after weeks of anticipation, it had finally come–my favorite game of the year, played by two of my favorite teams. Who doesn’t love rivalries? Here are the final notes from my weekend of Marquette hate:

1) Prior to the start of the game, when I met up with my friends at the bar, I was mildly surprised at the number of Wisconsin fans there. I had figured that most of them were probably staking claims to good seating for watching the game on TV, since Marquette has taken various measures to make it tough for opposing fans to get into the games. Back in 2004, it was a pretty lonely day to be a Wisconsin fan at the Bradley Center. This year, to my surprise, a pretty good number of Wisconsin fans made it into the building. While it was still clearly Marquette’s home court, there was a heck of a lot more red in the upper deck than I had been counting on. (A quick thumbs-down here, to my friend Curl, a Badger fan who wore neutral colors in order to avoid harassment from Marquette fans during the game.) And a few nice chants, to boot.

2) For as much rabid dislike between coaches, players and fans that this rivalry seems to produce, I’m happy to say that I saw nothing but very cordial interaction between opposing fans during my entire time at the game and downtown. Lots of joking and fun was had by all, and despite my bright red fleece in a predominantly gold section, nothing more than playful harassment was thrown my way (it may have helped my street cred that I attended the game with three guys decked out in gold). You always seem to hear about all of the bad things that happen when passionate fans clash, but what gets lost in those stories is that 98% of people see the game for what it is, and have a good time with it. Even if your team doesn’t perform as you’d like, it’s still possible to have a good time joking around with other fans.

3) So much for that big game from Brian Butch that I was hoping for. His two point, three rebound performance actually gave something for my Marquette fan friends to use to get under my skin after the game. My friend Greg was on the verge of getting me worked up while running Butch down, when I finally took a step back and realized that a) Greg’s one of those guys that it just never pays to get into an argument with, and b) regardless of what Butch did in this one game, Wisconsin still won.

4) Rough night for Butch, but at least the Marcus Landry that I’ve been waiting all year for showed up. And I'm out of ways to say that Alando Tucker's great, so I'll just stop trying.

5) Capacity for the Bradley Center is listed at 18,600. Attendance at the game was announced at 19,020. Despite this game going beyond a sell-out, my friends and I were fortunate enough to sit in an area where there was one empty seat to our right, and two empty seats right in front of us. Now that’s comfort.

6) I know that prior to the game, I had expressed some concern about how much Marquette would be able to run on Wisconsin and work their full-court press. I knew that the Golden Eagles wouldn’t have the stamina to pull off pressing the entire game, but I sure didn’t think that they would all but abandon it. Moreover, it was almost mildly insulting to the suppressed Marquette fan dwelling inside me that when they finally did break out the press in the final minute when the game was all but decided, it worked marvelously and forced a five-second violation.

7) I was actually sort of impressed at the restraint that Bo Ryan and Tom Crean showed in not using Jason Bohannon and Lawrence Blackledge, respectively. Both are two of the more intriguing newcomers for their teams this year, and Bohannon is actually a big part of the Badger rotation. Given Bohannon’s usual role, and Blackledge’s tantalizing ability to make athletic plays that would draw the crowd into the game (not to mention that the other big men for Marquette were very ineffective on Saturday), both would have been tempting to use. But I think both coaches were right in deciding that this game wasn’t tailored to their particular skills.

8) On the flip side of Bohannon and Blackledge, where the heck did Trevon Hughes come from? I had not been overly impressed by his play prior to Saturday, but he was rock solid in his first taste of major minutes for the Badgers. He appears to be a bit flashier and prone to attempting the spectacular than the average Bo Ryan player, but if he keeps playing the way that he did on Saturday, you’d have to think that Ryan will have to give Hughes a little more freedom than the average Badger during his tenure in Madison.

9) There was no musical chairs contest at halftime, though I must thank my friend Dave for buying me an unrequested beer when he went to buy one for himself, showing once and for all that Marquette and Wisconsin fans can be friends. Oh, and the Bill Cords retirement ceremony that pre-empted the musical chairs contest was nothing special. While Cords has undoubtedly done quite a few excellent things during his tenure as Marquette’s athletic director, and deserves much respect for his 20 years of service, he’s not exactly what you’d call a dynamic speaker.

10) Kudos to the young woman from the Marquette student section who was chosen to try and make a halfcourt shot to win an RV and threw the ball as if she was inbounding a soccer ball. Few people know their strength limitations when taking the halfcourt shot, and even though the young woman didn’t hit the basket, you have to respect her for knowing her that she wasn’t strong enough to make a normal shot, ditching standard shooting technique, and giving herself a fighting chance by shooting a line-drive at the hoop.

11) It’s funny how a team losing can cloud your thoughts. If you were to ask me about how the players for Marquette played yesterday, I’d have told you that Dominic James had an excellent second half, Wesley Matthews had a rough day on defense, Jerel McNeal had an all around tough day, and no one outside of the big three had a notable day. While there’s little arguing over the first two points, McNeal had 16 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists, which objectively, are pretty good numbers. And Lazar Hayward quietly put up 10 points and 8 rebounds, which I never would have known had I not looked at a box score. The game plan may not have been great, but the players do seem to have performed to the best of their abilities.

12) The best part of the game from my red-tinted perspective? After about the 8-minute timeout in the second half, both teams started playing their best ball, and the crowd really started getting into things. Marquette was scoring big buckets left and right, but Wisconsin leaned on their biggest strength, and simply stayed calm as they got the ball back. As a result, they kept answering Marquette with possessions that lasted 30 seconds and ended with spirit-crushing scores. Seeing Wisconsin look that experienced, calm and methodical on the road against a charging rival with a hostile crowd made me feel very good about the season. The Badgers might not win every game, but I can’t think of a lot of teams that they won’t be able to play with.

And with the end of the game, I held my head proudly as I walked out the door with my three Marquette friends and discussed why the game had played out as it did. Sadly, I had to let the glory of the victory go quickly, as I was headed out for a night at the theatre with some friends for the most metrosexual guys’ night ever. But the joy of a Marquette win won’t wear off completely at least until next year, when I’m getting nervous right before game time again...


At 5:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thumbs down for my dress atire at a b-ball game. That is harsh.

My impression of UW after seeing them in person for the first time in two years - they are BIG. They have some big bodies on that team. Should help in the Big 10.



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