Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Good Game, Good Game, Good Game

TigerBlog sat at the end of the scorer's table as the final seconds of Princeton's 59-34 over Cornell in women's basketball ticked away Saturday night.

The game ended as Princeton dribbled out the clock near midcourt, so there were still a few seconds on the clock as Cornell head coach Dayna Smith walked towards the Princeton bench to shake hands.

The handshake line is a fascinating part of athletics, at least it is to TigerBlog.

The most famous handshake lines, of course, are the ones at the end of a playoff series in the NHL. Perhaps those were the original ones.

Aside from that, professional teams don't seem to do the formal postgame handshake line. Instead, it's something of a handshake here and there on the way to the lockerroom.

Every other level of sports has the postgame handshake.

TB has coached enough of his kids' teams to know how it works. Game ends, and everyone lines up.

In lacrosse, the team lines up behind the goalie, with the coaches at the end. When TB coached TigerBlog Jr., he never was really sure if he was supposed to be fist-pumping the other team's players' gloves or trying to actually shake their hands while they were wearing their gloves.

With Miss TigerBlog's basketball team, TB has the familiar routine of the high-five while saying "good game, good game, good game, good job, nice game, good luck, good game" and on and on - followed, of course, by a healthy dose of Purell at the finish line.

TigerBlog is a huge fan of something that is completely lacking in athletics today, and that's sportsmanship. The handshake line is a last outpost of that long-since-vanished concept, the one that says that you should play as hard as you can while having a healthy amount of respect for your opponent, who should be doing the same.

Too often today, it's more about showing up the opponent and glorifying your own self.

TB has seen way too much of it. And not just in the pros or in BCS football and basketball. He's seen it all the way down to the youth level, where, in fairness to the poor kids, what chance do they have with what they've grown up seeing on TV?

TB has always stressed the importance of good sportsmanship to kids he's coached, and the message has gotten across almost all - but not all - of the time. In the case of his own kids, TB hopes they realize that if they cross the line, their playing days would be over immediately.

The handshake line, though, at least gives TB hope.

It is there, in the few seconds when the teams cross paths, that there is an acknowledgement of the purity of the competition itself. Unless a brawl breaks out.

TB especially likes when two players who have gone at each other all night give each other more than just a little handshake, in a gesture that is purely about respect.

Meanwhile, back at the handshake line Saturday, Smith reached out to shake Niveen Rasheed's hand directly in front of where TB was sitting.

There was nothing special about it, as Smith continued one way and Rasheed continued the other.

As it happened, though, TB could not help but think of what was going through Smith's mind. It had to be something along the lines of "I am so glad I don't ever have to go through a handshake line with her in a Princeton uniform."

Rasheed was the Ivy League Player of the Week again, for the fourth consecutive time, the sixth time this year and the 13th time in her career - a career that was shorted a full Ivy season by a torn ACL.

Rasheed will be the unanimous Ivy League Player of the Year again this year, and then she'll graduate after completing a career that makes her one of the three greatest women's basketball players in Ivy League history, along with Harvard's Allison Feaster and Penn's Diana Caramanico.

And you can make a case for her as the No. 1 of that group.

It's a relatively easy formula, actually: Talent rarely if ever seen in this league x an equal amount of determination = all-time, shake-your-head-at-how-she-plays-every-night, great.

This is a huge weekend for Princeton basketball.

On the women's side, Princeton is mathematically in a three-team race. The Tigers have gaudy numbers that include a league-record 33-straight league wins, with 24 straight by double figures, including every game last year and this.

Princeton is 37-0 in Ivy games in which Rasheed has played.

On the other hand, it can change dramatically in one night, Friday night, should Princeton fall to a Harvard team it beat by 16 in Jadwin two weekends ago.

Harvard is 6-3. Penn is 7-2.

Should Harvard find a way to beat Princeton, then Penn at least can get a least a tie simply by winning out.

Then again, for Princeton not to get to the NCAA tournament, it would have to lose two of its last five league games and then a playoff game.

The men's game at Jadwin Friday night is huge.

Princeton is 7-2; Harvard is 9-1. Every other league team has at least five losses.

A Princeton win, and the teams would be tied at two losses and possibly headed to a second playoff in three years. A Harvard win and the Crimson will be two games up with three to play.

On the women's side, Princeton could clinch an outright title this weekend with a sweep and Harvard and Dartmouth wins over Penn or a share of the title with a sweep and a Penn split.

Oh, and Princeton hasn't won three straight titles and put itself in this position to win a fourth just because it has Rasheed. The rest of the team? It's also very impressive.

Actually, it's more than that.

It's deep. It's athletic. It can shoot. It defends everywhere. It has a great balance of upperclassmen and younger players. It plays together at all times. It's confident. It plays hard.

It's not a coincidence that no women's basketball team has ever won more consecutive Ivy League games.

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