Saturday, March 15, 2008

Men's Basketball Pac 10 Finals 3/15/2008

Stanford 64 UCLA 67 In my first 3 years at Stanford, we’d only won a single game in the Pac-10 Tournament. With 2 wins and a championship game berth this year, we’d already eclipsed that total and this trip down to LA was already a success. Of course, getting revenge on UCLA after last week’s controversial game, winning the Pac-10 Tournament and maybe even clinching a 2 seed with Duke’s loss to Clemson today would have been icing on the cake.

After grabbing lunch with the friend who had kindly put us up in his place for 3 days, we headed over to Staples. Judging from the scalpers outside the arena, tickets were in abundance. I guess some fans from other schools had dumped their tickets after last night’s session. When we got inside, I recognized some new faces among the 6th Man crowd. I guess they made it down just for today’s game. I was expecting an overwhelming turn-out from Bruins fans but it was actually about the same, if not less than last night. Perhaps the lure of 2 games, including one against rivals USC was more enticing. As for the Stanford crowd, I’d say that we had more people than the past 2 days. It was good to see.

Unlike previous games, most of the seats under the basket were filled and so 6th Man members who had higher up seats weren’t able to move down en masse. Instead, they formed their own 4 row cheering section. Quite a few of the Washington State fans from yesterday had returned and I noticed during player introductions that they were rooting for UCLA. I guess we had riled them up sufficiently the previous night. In fact, I later found out what the incident that I had mentioned in my previous post was in a 6th Man e-mail:

"Last night, the 6th Man section in Staples Center had a couple adventures of their own. Cougar and UCLA fans didn't know what they were getting themselves into when they decided to take us on. Three casualties later, other fans learned that we meant business. And by casualties, we mean that through acts of frustration, such as pouring beer over the 6th Man, Cougar fans were escorted out of the stadium."

The ushers were their usual annoying selves. They told someone that their sign was too big and couldn’t be held up. Then, with less than 2 minutes left in the game when UCLA was missing free throws and we were trying to mount a comeback, they came over and said that we had to sit down even though virtually no one was sitting behind us. One guy said that even though no one was complaining right then, if we continued to stand and there was a complaint, we would be asked to leave. That didn’t stop me from standing, but seriously, we’re at a sporting event, not the opera. There was little bit of back and forth between the UCLA fans in front of us, but it was good natured and mainly just fans rooting for their own team – the way it’s supposed to be. We shook hands after the game and wished each other luck in the tournament although personally, I wouldn’t be heartbroken at all if UCLA makes an early exit once Kevin Love gets a taste of some non Pac-10 refereeing.

While it was naturally disappointing to see us lose, UCLA is a tough match up and they pretty much have the blueprint to defeat us. When we played man, they used high screens and let Collison go to work on Mitch. Collison was simply playing to his ability (I think he tries to get his team-mates involved too much sometimes) and when he missed because one of our shot blockers challenged his shot, UCLA crashed the boards with abandon since we don’t have any threat of a transition game. There were times when we had Mitch rotating and trying to grab a rebound against someone significantly taller than him. It wasn’t pretty. On the other hand, we couldn’t crash the boards as much as we liked because of UCLA’s transition game which burned us repeatedly in the first half. That basically summed up the game which was a lot closer than it should have been thanks to UCLA’s abysmal free throw shooting. I feel that this is what teams in the tournament will try to do (and what teams have been doing in the 2nd half of Pac-10 play) and our best response would be for everyone to box out and go after defensive rebounds. Playing zone against teams with great guards who can penetrate is the other counter and I feel that we might have gone to the zone a little bit earlier in the 2nd.

On the offensive end, I thought we did a decent job except for a couple of unnecessary turnovers. It was nice to see Goods come alive, given that he’s battling several hand injuries. Hopefully he can get on a hot streak when it really counts. Fred was also going aggressively to the hole and had a tremendous steal and tight-rope walk on the sidelines for the bucket and foul. He also took a hard hit on the head during one defensive rebound battle and an inadvertent elbow from Robin but Fred’s a warrior and we need him to stay aggressive on offense so that he can earn his minutes to play lock down defense. Mitch threw up a couple of bad shots but I’m sure his mentality was that the big guys would clean up on the boards. UCLA, unfortunately, did a great job and limited the second chance opportunities that we thrive on.

At the end of the day, the guys battled hard but with 3 games in 3 days with this last one against a great team, I’m sure that legs were tiring. It’s been a tremendous effort these 3 days and now that a 3 seed has been locked up, it’s time to get some rest, wait for the selection show tomorrow and get ready for the Big Dance. We should be playing in Anaheim and I’m looking forward to my third trip to LA in 3 weeks, but first I need to take care of this little basketball distraction called school. I foresee several late nights on the horizon but it’s only going to make Thursday come even quicker. Let’s get ready to Dance!

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