Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Falling A Little Short

TigerBlog was watching the women's basketball game against Penn yesterday.

Along with the co-worker who was sitting next to TB, they were the only two people sitting in section B9 in Jadwin. Late in the first half, two other fans came in, looked at their tickets, and walked two-thirds of the way up, to the row directly in front of where TB was sitting, where they sat down.

Here was an entire section with only two seats filled, and they sat down ran in front of the other two people. Okay, TB gets it. Their tickets for the men's game was for those two seats.

Still, the men's game was still two hours away, and the entire section was empty. It was somewhat odd, especially when the two sat down and started casually chatting and reading a newspaper, apparently oblivious to the obvious, that they could have sat anywhere until the women's game was over and instead sat directly in front of the only two people in an otherwise empty section.

It was somewhat laughable. And, since TigerBlog was hoping that Princeton would win the showdown for the Ivy League title, it was unfortunately the most entertaining part of the game.

Penn defeated Princeton 80-64 last night in the winner-take-all regular-season finale, earning the Ivy League title and NCAA tournament bid and ending Princeton's four-year run of league championships. Princeton's consolation prize will be a trip to the WNIT.

Penn took an early lead, built it double figures in the first half and then responded to every challenge Princeton could come up with in the second half, especially after the Tigers cut a 17-point deficit to 10 and then entered the key stretch, when four times Penn scored and then four times Princeton answered. Had the Tigers gotten a few stops in that period and could have gotten within eight or six or so, it might have been different.

On this night, though, it wouldn't be different. Penn played an outstanding game at both ends, led by Alyssa Baron's 23 points and Sydney Stipanovich's 19 points, nine rebounds and intimidating defensive presence.

TigerBlog wrote yesterday that even though Princeton had defeated Penn 11 straight times in women's basketball, it had the feel of the 1996 men's basketball playoff between the two schools. Back then, Penn had defeated Princeton eight straight times, which meant that, just like in the case of the women prior to yesterday, no current Princeton player had ever won a game against Penn.

But it didn't make it impossible.

TigerBlog had the same feeling in reverse before the game yesterday that he had back in 1996 before the start of the playoff game. Something just felt different. And once the game started, that feeling only got stronger. From the opening tip, Penn as in control, and Princeton never found its comfort zone.

As for the men's game, Princeton defeated Penn 70-65 to reach 20 wins and finish tied with Columbia for third place.

T.J. Bray scored 18 points, giving him 995 at the close of the regular season. Will he get another chance to reach 1,000 in one of the postseason tournaments? That remains to be seen.

And keep in mind, Bray missed four games this season, or he would have easily been past 1,000.

To their credit, the Tigers played to win the game straight up, not to get Bray the 23 points he needed to get to 1,000. Bray took 11 shots in the game, right at his 10.8 field goal attempts per game average, so clearly he wasn't forcing anything to reach the milestone.

For the end of the men's game, TB sat next to John Nolan, who had done the audio for the women's game for the Ivy League Digital Network. Nolan, by the way, is a recent Syracuse grad who has a real future in broadcasting and who is off to his second season in Ft. Wayne doing Single-A baseball.

Anyway, as it was becoming clear that Bray was going to fall short, Nolan said something profound well beyond his years: "Society's obsession with round numbers in ridiculous." In other words, why would 1,000 make Bray a better player than 995?

It doesn't. Bray is a wonderful all-around player, not just a scorer, and he's also been a tremendous leader. It would be great if he got another chance to play and reach 1,000, but if he doesn't, it won't change how great a player he's been at Princeton.

It was in fact exciting to have a winner-take-all game, even if Princeton didn't win.

Still, that doesn't mean that TigerBlog thinks that the Ivy League needs a basketball tournament to determine its NCAA tournament reps.

Nope. Penn on the women's side and Harvard on the men's side have earned the right to represent the league next week. And TB cannot for the life of him understand why one-bid leagues would want to leave their NCAA spot to the kind of chance that goes along with a conference tournament.

Just because it's exciting doesn't make it smart.

Even if it means that most years won't feature high drama at the very end to determine the automatic bid, so what? Sending the right team is most important.

Penn is the champion for 2014, rightfully so, convincingly so last night.

The Princeton women? They won four straight, something that had never happened before in the double round-robin era for Ivy women's basketball.

And just as TB had the sense before the game that something wasn't right for the Tigers, he had a different sense after the game.

Princeton will be back.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Like you, TB, I had an uneasy feeling of discomfort before the women's basketball "championship" game Tuesday night. Not because we had beaten Penn eleven times in a row but because I've learned that, whenever a great offensive team plays a great defensive team, whether its Broncos/Seahawks or Syracuse lacrosse/Princeton lacrosse in the 1990s, take the defensive team.

It's a cliche but, across almost all sports and especially as you get into playoffs and then championship games, outstanding defense beats outstanding offense. That did not bode well for our ladies Tuesday night.