Friday, January 25, 2013

Memories Of Levien

TigerBlog looked through the closed blinds of the Lou Gehrig Room and out over the court at Columbia University's Levien Gymnasium, and the first thought he had was of Mike Bechtold.

It was back on March 2, 2002, that Bechtold had the biggest night of his Princeton basketball career, as he went for 25 points - more than half the Tigers would score - in a 49-48 win over Columbia here at Levien. Bechtold shot 5 for 10 from three-point range that night, and his fifth three-pointer was the game-winner in the final seconds.

Bechtold shot 9 for 15 from the field in that game; every other Princeton player combined was 6 for 28. Trivia question, with answer to come later, is this: which Princeton player played all 40 minutes in that game.

As TigerBlog peeked through the window, he could still Bechtold's last three-pointer, launched from straight on above the top of the key, right at the basket TB was looking down on through the class yesterday. He could see it as it rattled around and eventually splashed through.

TB was at Columbia yesterday for an Ivy League meeting. Actually, he's back right now for Day 2.

As an aside, the way people drive in Manhattan is fascinating. It's almost like there's an assumption that following 80% of the traffic laws is good enough, and people weave in and out, make turns from two or three lanes over and mostly cut each other off rather than give up the unforgivable sin of allowing someone to gain a car length on them.

Anyway, TigerBlog pulled up both yesterday and today to the familiar entrance to the parking garage at Columbia, the one with the entrance on Amsterdam Avenue at 119th Street. From there, it's a winding walk through the part of Columbia that is not on any admissions publications (and, in fairness, is the way in for almost no visitors to the otherwise attractive campus), past dumpsters and parked facilities vehicles and side doors into buildings on this side campus, before reaching the ultimate destination of the building that houses Levien Gym, the university's athletic offices, squash courts, the pool and such.

There's an old gym that is a few hallways away from Levien, where as TB came in yesterday and today some of the Columbia softball players were getting some swings in.

Just before the entrance to the old gym is a stairway that goes up to where the visiting lockerroom is for basketball. TigerBlog has spent many winter evenings waiting outside that lockerroom to take Princeton's coach at the time and players to the postgame interview area.

Usually, it was after a win. But not always.

In addition to Bechtold's big night - one that gave Princeton a share of the Ivy League championship that ultimately ended up with a loss in the Ivy League play-in for the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament - TB remembers the night in 1990 when Princeton, on a night when Matt Eastwick would be the high scorer with 12 points, defeated Columbia 67-39. Late in the game, the Columbia students would chant "you may be winning, but we're building character."

There was another 9-for-15 performance by a Princeton player in an Ivy-clincher in Levien Gym, this time in 1996. That night, it was Steve Goodrich who carried the Tigers, this time with 24 points, as Princeton edged out the Lions.

The significance of that game? Well, nobody ever talks about it, but it was huge. The Princeton win left the Tigers at 12-1 in the Ivy League, while Penn would finish 11-2. The next three Princeton games were the 14-point loss to Penn at the Palestra on the closing night of the regular season and then the playoff win and NCAA tournament win over UCLA.

No win over Columbia? Probably no NCAA tournament in Pete Carril's final season, since it would have made the game at the Palestra winner-take-all.

They weren't all wins. In 1993, Buck Jenkins lit up Princeton for 32 points as the building rocked. Jenkins would be the Ivy League Player of the Year.

Oh, and the trivia question? Let's up it to this: one Princeton player went all 40 minutes in the 2002, 1996 and 1993 games at Levien. Can you name all three? Hint - two of them have the same first name.

Levien Gym is an interesting place.

It has a lobby with plaques for Columbia's athletic hall of fame inductees. It's tucked into a building where, from the outside, there's no way to tell that it's a basketball arena.

The fans sit behind the court on both sides, but there are no stands behind either basket. The walls are very close to the end of the court.

Almost every time that TB made the Cornell/Columbia road trip, he went up-and-back to both schools rather than staying over. As a result, there were a lot of Friday and Saturday nights driving into Manhattan, seeing the life of the city as the theater crowd gathered 80 or so blocks to the south.

He's always liked going to Levien, a friendly place where he'd always see Princeton alums he knew - and almost always would see competitive games with rabid, vocal home fans.

TB isn't sure what year he stumbled on Alex Oberweger, who was a Columbia student broadcaster when TB first met him.

Today, Oberweger is one of the top members of the Columbia athletic administration. He is a smart and pragmatic, a very good combination, and TB has no problem seeing him as a athletic director one day. Or an upper administrator within the university itself. What he can't see is Oberweger's ever leaving Columbia or New York City, where he was born and raised.

During yesterday's first day of the meeting, TB and Oberweger talked briefly about Princeton-Columbia men's basketball, and he remarked how big this year's games between the schools will be.

Right now, Columbia and Princeton are two of the four teams at 1-0 in the league (along with Harvard and Brown). The Lions are 9-6 overall, and one of those nine wins is a convincing thumping of Villanova, who just beat Louisville.

Princeton will be at Levien four weeks from tonight in what figures to be one of the defining games of the Ivy season. The building will be sold out, TB assumes, and he also assumes it'll be loud.

It'll be a big contrast to right now, when there is mostly silence here, save for the people who work here and a few Columbia athletes, as well as the people in TB's meeting.

It's quiet here.

And yet TB can still see all the memories of Princeton-Columbia basketball for all of the years he's seen games here.

Oh, and the trivia answer:

2002 - Kyle Wente.
1996 - Chris Doyal
1993 - Chris Pavlic

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