Thursday, November 29, 2007

Wisconsin vs. Duke: Smiling Through the Pain

Last night I was battling a cold and a sore back, my team lost badly, my ride home lost the keys to her car during the game, and I found myself up until 2am, knowing that I had a flight to catch the next morning. So why was I smiling all night long? Because I was watching the Badgers play at Cameron Indoor Stadium. And it’s simply not possible to keep from smiling when your team’s playing at that place. There may have been lots of misery during the evening, but that’s not what I’ll remember. I’ll remember an excellent night with great people in one of my favorite places to watch a game. Thoughts below on the happiest night I’ve ever had that involved a favorite team of mine losing.

1) You never know who you’re going to run into on trips like this, and it was a nice bonus before the game to run into my friend Matt, who I played tuba with in high school (I know, I know, stop trying to make myself look cool), and who is now attending Duke for his PhD. Matt was really more of an acquaintance, and I’ve run into him maybe once since high school, but it was still nice to run into a friendly face on the road trip. If nothing else, I had to do something to keep up with the friends that I was attending the game with, who seemed to run into someone they knew every 5 minutes. So thanks for making me look socially adept, Matt!

2) The first 4 minutes of the game lived up to every expectation that I had (for those of you who watched the game on TV, you really missed out on this due to the early game running long). I was sitting in the stands with my friend Mike, and we just sort of shook our heads in disbelief as both teams went back and forth, and came to the conclusion that this was going to be a great game if things kept up that way. So for at least 4 minutes last night, I had hope.

3) Wisconsin and Duke are both teams that tend to enjoy an advantage in foul differential in their games, so it was going to be an interesting thing to see who fouled less in this game. After a series of quick Duke fouls near the end of the first half, my cohort Mike, who’s a devoted fan of N.C. State (despite some closet appreciation of Duke), broke out his camera phone to try and get a picture of the scoreboard. His reason for doing so? He wanted proof that at one time in history, Duke had 10 fouls while their opponent had only 4.

4) For most things worth anything in life, there’s a price. And the price of my admission on Tuesday evening came not in the form of money, but instead involved me compromising my principles. As part of the deal for my ticket, my source told me that I was forbidden from wearing red. Obviously, that’s not the sort of thing that an opposing fan in hostile territory wants to hear, but I sucked it up and went with a plain gray pullover. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices for a greater goal. But not to worry--I had some Wisconsin red on underneath, because even when you make moral sacrifices, you can’t lose sight of who you are at your core.

5) Props to my friend who tipped me off about last night’s matchups making circumstances perfect for Taylor King to torch Wisconsin. Yeah, I’d say he got that one right.

6) I didn’t even see the blood coming out of Kyle Singler’s head until I got home and reviewed the television broadcast of the game, but even just seeing him hit the floor a couple times during the game, I was quickly convinced of how tough he is.

7) I remain somewhat uneasy every time Kevin Gullikson heads onto the floor.

8) Nice game for Jon Leuer last night, as he was forced to step into minutes due to a game flow that didn’t exactly play to Greg Stiemsma’s strengths. Late in the game, Leuer came in to give Brian Butch a rest. By the time Butch subbed back in for him, it felt less like Butch was done getting his breather, and more like he was being subbed in to give Leuer a rest. Welcome aboard, Mr. Leuer.

9) It’s a topic that’s been referenced quite a bit over the years, but I’m here to assure you that Cameron Indoor Stadium on game day is every bit as hot inside as you’ve heard. It’s even hotter when you’re wearing a long-sleeve outer layer to conceal your true fandom.

10) Loved the guys that I sat next to, who toted bags from the Duke bookstore with them, and joined in with several of the student cheers and hand gestures despite sitting three rows from the top of the arena. They may have been sitting next to a Wisconsin fan and an N.C. State fan, but it was pretty clear who looked like the tourists.

11) A friend that I was sitting with made the insightful point that Duke is not only deep, but they’re deep in a very versatile way. The skills of their players can be used in a variety of combinations to beat others. Coach K used his personnel fairly differently in the Marquette and Wisconsin games to account for vast stylistic differences and not surprisingly, both approaches worked.

12) Speaking of Marquette, were you guys watching this? You know, you can do a lot of the same things Duke was doing, right? I mean, you’re probably not going to knock down your three-pointers as well, but I’m just saying–the aggressive, extended defense, the upping of the tempo–these are all things that you can do. I’m hoping that you don’t do them, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think it was well within your abilities.

13) My friend that I was staying with during my visit to Duke mentioned that he had discussed this game with a co-worker earlier in the week and talked about the possibility of Wisconsin winning. The co-worker’s response? Not a chance Wisconsin could win this one, since it was their first time playing at Duke. And he was right. Quite simply, there’s no way to prepare for the intimidation of playing at Cameron. Heck, I’d been there twice before, and I was intimidated. And I didn’t even have to play basketball. Here’s hoping that Bo Ryan and the boys get a second crack someday. I suspect they’ll understand their circumstances a bit better next time.

So, with the game over, my Wisconsin friends and I came to accept our team’s shellacking. We had learned not to underestimate the difficulty of playing against a great team in a great environment. Our eventual drive back to my friend’s home was quite subdued in comparison to the jubilant post-game barroom celebration that I had dreamed about for when Wisconsin’s landmark victory occurred. But despite the 24 point loss and subdued evening, I still couldn’t shake the smile off of my face. I’d just seem my favorite team play at perhaps the coolest venue in all of college sports, done and seen mind-blowing things before and after the game, and hung out with some of the best basketball-watching friends around. And frankly, though there are undoubtedly things to work on, my team didn’t go out and lay an egg–they just ran into a buzz saw.

And best of all, the coming weeks see lots of intrastate action, starting with Friday’s Marquette-UWM game. Even with UWM’s recent loss to Sam Houston State, I’m still giddy with excitement. Notes on that game on Monday...


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At 12:38 PM, Anonymous dubb1 said...

Glad you enjoyed your trip and visit to Cameron. As a transplanted badger, I somewhat share the red--but as a Duke grad----I really enjoyed the game--they DID play well!


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