Friday, February 08, 2008

Inadvertent Game of the Night

I’ve been a bit relaxed about writing up games lately, having seen 4-5 contests in the past few weeks that I just never got around to recapping. No excuses here–sometimes it’s just more fun to relax and watch a game without looking for all of the subtle entertaining things. It did pain me, however, to skip over talking about Wednesday night’s announcers for the Wisconsin-Iowa game. The call of “Landy stuff’s the popcorn popper!” on an early Marcus Landry dunk was one of the most inexplicable things I’ve ever heard. What does that even mean? I own a popcorn popper, and have never stuffed it full of anything. Anyway, enough about my laziness and the Big Ten announcers stopping just short of exclaiming “Boom goes the dynamite!” On to last night’s basketball viewing.

Yesterday I was all excited to see the Washington State-UCLA game. Kevin Love, Tony Bennett, a shot for the Cougars to break out of their recent losing ways against the toughest team in the league–this one had everything. So when I got home from an appointment around 8:45ish last night, I thought I’d kill some time before the big game by watching the Illinois-Indiana game until the 9:30 tip out west. So much for that plan. I’ve told anyone that would listen that I think Indiana’s somewhat over-rated (name a signature win that the Hoosiers can hang their hats on this year), and that Illinois’ record boggles my mind (the few times I’ve seen them, this has not looked like a team that’s 2-9 in the Big Ten), but even I didn’t expect a double-overtime thriller. So I never saw Washington State-UCLA (well, I flipped on the end when it was nearly over). You simply can’t switch away from a game that’s that close down the stretch, particularly when the Eric Gordon situation caused a tension in Assembly Hall that made it seem like an all-out brawl could break out at any moment.

Three quick thoughts on the game before I talk about how borderline-implausible this one seemed down the stretch:

1) Maybe the call of the night was when one of the announcers, I believe Rece Davis, was talking about Indiana guard Armon Bassett guarding Illinois’ Chester Frazier on the perimeter and noting “Bassett is just hounding him defensively.” What made this comment great is that Davis didn’t even seem aware of the incredible pun that he had just touched on, which either makes this one of the best inadvertent comments of all time, or makes Rece Davis incredibly cool for slipping something in and letting it fall so far under the radar.

2) I commented after the Illinois-Duke game at the beginning of the year that after seeing Chester Frazier’s death stare at Kyle Singler that he’s one guy I’d never want to get into any sort of disagreement with. He upped his badass factor with me last night after they showed him throwing his shoulder into Illinois’ mortal enemy, Eric Gordon, during what was supposed to be their halfcourt handshake during introductions. Was this an unsportsmanlike move? Without a doubt. But the thing that was interesting about watching Frazier make the bump is that most guys doing such a thing wouldn’t even look remotely tough. Rather, they’d look like a pathetic cheap shot artist who you could just smack down when you went toe to toe with him. But Frazier’s not a bully just trying to get his one shot in before things get crazy–you know he’s tough, and a pre-game bump from him is actually intimidating.

3) It actually physically pained me watching Shaun Pruitt big shooting foul shots down the stretch. I’d seen him shoot before, and it’s never pretty, but after he went 0-6, I just felt bad for the guy. Jay Bilas commented during that 6th shot that Pruitt looked to be guiding the ball and getting away from his mechanics. As Bilas would probably concede, however, Pruitt’s normal mechanics are akin to those in a 1985 Yugo, so not much was lost there. Still, you never want to see a guy totally lose confidence like that, and you could just see on Pruitt’s face as they went to the second overtime that he felt like he had lost the game for them (and he undoubtedly would have if the refs had called the obvious foul that he committed on D.J. White during White’s desparation 3/4 court shot at the buzzer).

4) What stuck me most about this game, as it went into double overtime, is how much of the action teetered just on the edge of implausibility, as if a skilled writer had scripted things. Fortunately, things didn’t become totally implausible, as an injured Chester Frazier didn’t toss in a game-winning three pointer with Eric Gordon in his face at the buzzer, but consider the following amusing elements in the game:

–On one play, the Illini lost arguably two of their three most important players when Brian Randle fouled out and Chester Frazier turned his ankle. When does something so devastating ever happen? Had Shaun Pruitt fallen to the floor with appendicitis during the play, I would have called shenanigans.

–Despite looking like he was unable to walk, let along guard anyone, Frazier came back into the game a few minutes after turning his ankle and actually gave his team a few good minutes before the pain became too much.

–Illinois freshman Demetri McCamey had a career night, pumping in 31 points, and outscoring that other freshman that went to Indiana instead.

–The hated Eric Gordon’s two most positive plays down the stretch (other than foul shots) were both basically errors: his banked in three pointer with a hand in his face from about 25-feet out and his assist that came by mis-dribbling and essentially kicking the ball to teammate Jordan Crawford. So even when he screws up, he still burns Illinois fans. Heck, even his inexcusable 10-second violation in the second overtime when he walked the ball up the court too slowly didn’t cost Indiana, due to the Illini committing a turnover on the next play (though to his credit, Gordon was instrumental I creating the turnover).

–With the fallen Frazier out of the game, Illinois inserted Jeff Jordan, walk-on guard and son of the best player in the world, who promptly grabbed two rebounds and hit the first field goal of overtime.

So basically, had you scripted this one, it couldn’t have come out much better. I suppose that Illinois could have won, but sometimes the bad guys need to win in order to keep things interesting. And I suppose having a villainous Indiana team in the mix for the conference championship with a fresh-faced Purdue team, and my Wisconsin Badgers keeps things interesting for me.

Back next week with some thoughts on what’s sure to be a huge basketball weekend. Aside from Wisconsin hosting Purdue (battle of the Big Ten frontrunners) and Marquette heading to Notre Dame (historical rivals, lots of recent bad blood), I may have an extra event up my sleeve tonight. Should be fun...


At 8:45 PM, Anonymous Ben Fulton said...

Indiana's not really good enough to be villainous. Still, if they keep sneaking out these five-point wins I guess it amounts to the same thing.


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