Sunday, February 17, 2008

Men's Basketball @ Arizona 2/16/2008

Stanford 67 Arizona 66 With a day to kill before we played Arizona, I decided to check out the much vaunted nightlife in downtown Tempe. As a Stanford alum who had flown in from Palo Alto to see the ASU game (and his girlfriend for Valentine's Day) told me, Mills Street was where it was at. The rain probably didn't help and neither did the early hour I decided to go but I walked away pretty unimpressed. Perhaps once you've been to Vegas, everywhere else pales in comparison.

Unaware of the 1 hour time difference between California and Arizona, I had booked the 7:30am shuttle from Phoenix to Tuscon on Saturday morning, and so Ben and I got to the U of A a good 4 hours before tipoff. We found the student union and grabbed something to eat. I chanced upon the Arizona Daily Wildcat where Jordan Hill was quoted as guaranteeing a win. Arizona's Coach was taken aback by this bold declaration and questioned whether Jordan was drunk, while Bayless called Jordan a "special person". I also found it amusing that more than half a page of ad space right next to the article was devoted to nearby strip clubs - student discounts included!
After spending a couple of hours at the student union, we headed to McKale Center. Security was tight and my bag was searched before I could enter. One of the attendants gave me a disapproving shake of the head and said that I should not be carrying a backpack on Saturday. I retorted with a "sorry but I came from Stanford" as I dumped out my clothes and books. He then tried to make a joke about how Stanford stuff wasn't allowed inside the arena. Jackass.

McKale Center went pretty high up and I was located in the visiting team's section (i.e. just the last row) and surrounded by Arizona fans. Given Arizona's basketball tradition, it was unsurprisingly a great basketball atmosphere. The students came in early and were loud (especially during one f the refs chant), the older folk got on their feet whenever Arizona went on a run and even the attendants got in the act, cheering fervently and yelling from time to time.
We started out the game playing good defense but Arizona just flat out made some tough shots. Bayless sans the shoe problems he had at Maples was ominously good, especially after he hit a 3 with the shot clock running down and Fred in his face. For the most part, Goods was on him and Bayless pretty much had his way with him, drawing a couple of fouls when Anthony bit on the pump fake and Bayless leaned in. Nevertheless, we didn't give up too much to anyone else and rebounded well as Arizona eventually started missing. Meanwhile, on the offensive end, Brook was Brook and Robin put together another solid performance. One worrying observation was that we struggled when Brook wasn't on the floor and Trent had to limit his rest time since Arizona seemed to go on a mini run whenever Brook was not on the floor. Most of our turnovers were off travels which at least weren't giving Arizona transition opportunities. The half ended with Bayless missing a jumper with Fred in his face and I was happy with the 2 point lead. Defense and rebounding, that's how we're going to win games, or so I thought.

In the second half, especially the last 8 minutes, it seemed as if both teams were scoring on every possession. First it was Bayless torching Anthony and then Budinger finally came alive when Law couldn't close him out fast enough off screens and his open 3 pointers hit nothing but net. When Bayless wasn't making jumpers or layups, he was at the free throw line. I believe he was 12-12 in the second with the refs ruining the game by blowing whistles on everyone and everything. It was hard to see from my vantage point but it looked like it was pretty even. We may have gotten one or two more calls although I'm sure Arizona fans who were riding the refs the entire game would beg to differ. One thing I don't understand is why Fred wasn't in the game for any extended stretch. If this is a team that prides itself on defense, why wasn't our best perimeter defender in the game when he could have been guarding Bayless. I seriously doubt that Bayless would have lit us up to the tune of 20 points in the 2nd if Fred was on him some of the time.

It was a miracle we were able to keep pace with Arizona. Solid free throw shooting helped, as did the absence of Jordan Hill who racked up fouls (some debatable) and could only watch from the bench to see whether his team-mates could back up that guarantee. When Brook had to sit out after he picked up his 4th, I wondered who we would get points from but it seemed that everyone managed to chip in. The teams went back and forth in the final 2 minutes - first with Brook's jumper, then Budinger's 3 to put Arizona up by 1, and then Brook drawing a foul that completely incensed the Arizona fans. I obviously had no way of telling whether it was a foul and it looked pretty clean to me although replays (which I'm sure Arizona fans will deny since they still think Chase was called for a foul) show that Walters fouled Brook. I know this is an extremely small sample size (2 games) but perhaps a top 10 ranking results in getting some calls that you usually don't get on the road. We sure as hell weren't getting those sorts of calls against Washington State. In any case, Brook showed that he can be clutch from the free throw line and thankfully, we had Taj and Robin (that was a tremendous play) do just enough to force a Budinger miss without fouling. Anthony also had the presence of mind to bat the ball towards our end of the court as time expired.

That was a nice bounce-back win for us after Thursday's loss, especially since Arizona was favoured to win this game. As I said on Thursday, I'd have taken a road split in Arizona and a 21-4 record. Now, if we can just protect home court, we should be able to mathematically sew up the Pac-10 2 seed before going on the road, with the potential to challenge UCLA if they slip up.
~ Zhihao

No comments: