Monday, January 31, 2022

The Chuckle

TigerBlog has noticed that he has a simple, and reflexive, way of responding to athletic greatness.

He chuckles. Like he says, it's reflexive.

It's an acknowledgement that he's just seen someone do something that almost nobody else can. It's not something he does often, obviously. It takes something really, really special.

If he sees something that is unusally impressive, he finds that he nods his head. It takes something amazing to get the chuckle.

He's not sure how long he's been doing this. He knows it goes back to when Tom Schreiber would have the ball in men's lacrosse, and then later when Michael Sowers would. Or when Devin Cannady would do some of the things he did. Same with John Lovett.

It's not just greatness. It's unique greatness. It's the ability to do something that is otherwise unseen in a game, and, you can probably add, make it look routine in the process.

TB thought about that Friday night as he watched the Princeton women's basketball team play against Yale. It came on the first Tiger possession of the game, when Abby Meyers hit a turnaround jump shot from about 12 feet.

That brought a chuckle.

When was the last time you saw a player on any level in basketball shoot a shot that 1) used to be a staple of the game and 2) is hardly employed anymore in a world where analytics suggest it's a bad risk?

Meyers made it look so easy. She had a few of them in the game, as well as shots from basically everywhere else. Her biggest shot came with just under two minutes to go as the shot clock was expiring, when she tossed one in from way beyond the three-point line, basically sealing the outcome, which became 61-49.

The win improved Princeton to 6-0 in the Ivy League and made Carla Berube the first women's basketball coach in Ivy history to win her first 20 league games. If you're wondering, only one men's coach ever won his first 20, and TB doesn't need to tell you who that was (if you're wondering, it was Bill Carmody, who actually won his first 34).

Meyers finished with 22 points, a bit above her league-leading 18.2 average. She continues to be a player who has no fear on the offensive end, who shoots every shot with the utmost confidence, regardless of how the last few shots before that one went. As Pete Carril used to say, "give me someone who can miss 10 straight and shoot the 11th with the same confidence."

The win at Yale was different than Princeton's first five this year in that it was anybody's game into the fourth quarter. For three quarters it was a brilliant defensive battle between the league's top two teams on that end of the court, and as is the case when you have such matchups, the game is played with no more than a possession or two difference in the score at any point.

Such was the case in New Haven Friday night. From the midway point of the first quarter through the end of the third quarter, neither team ever had more than a two-possession lead, and it was within three points either way from Camilla Emsbo's layup with 2:24 left in the second quarter until Yale went up by four at 40-36 with 8:44 to go in the fourth.

That's a long stretch. That's 13:40 of gametime in which neither team led by more than three. That's a lot of pressure on each possession.

And so there was Princeton, who had been putting away its opponents in the first quarter, suddenly down four in the fourth quarter, on the road against a good team. Now what?

Well, now what was a 14-2 Tiger run that made it a 50-42 game on the aforementioned Meyers three-pointer. In addition Meyers, Princeton also got 19 points and 11 rebounds from Julia Cunningham. 

With that game over, Princeton can look ahead to this coming weekend at home against Cornell Friday and then Columbia Saturday as the league season reaches the midpoint. Right now, there are two Ivy unbeatens – Princeton and Columbia, who is also 6-0 with two games between the Tigers and Lions left to be played. 

Yale, even with the loss, is still 5-2 and in third place. From what TB saw of the Bulldogs Friday night, they won't be an easy out for anyone. 

Harvard had a big win over Penn Saturday, putting the Crimson at 4-3, ahead of both the Quakers and Cornell, who are both now 2-4. There are some huge games to be played as the season wears on, and this will be a big weekend at Jadwin.

For now, though, there's still a little time left to look backwards, to a game that was very entertaining, very hard-fought and, for a team that pushed to the limit, very impressive.

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