Big East Live Blog, Day 4
Bringing you all five days from the Garden live.
And then there were four. It’s taken three days, 12 games and 38 hours of blogging, but we’ve reached the Big East Semifinals. At least three of these teams will be in action after this week when the NCAA Tournament starts (Syracuse, Villanova and Louisville) and with a win over Pitt last night, I think West Virginia may have punched their ticket as well.
I got some much needed sleep after last night’s 6 OT thriller between Connecticut and Syracuse. I still can’t believe that happened to be perfectly honest; it went beyond anything you could conceive of in a move or even a video game. For the rest of this blog though I will be referring to last night simply as “The Epic” because I can’t think of any other phrase that comes close to doing it justice.
I just wolfed down some dinner and I’m all set for the (only) two games that are on tap for tonight. Random site note; if you did nothing else but eat the food at a conference tournament you would be able to tell what round is being played that day. The quality of the food is directly proportional to the round. Day one at the Garden was salad, a sandwich bar and hot dogs. By last night we were being given the option of grilled chicken and roasted potatoes. Tonight: we’re going with fish, always classy. Of course the never ending hot dog basin is still an option for those who wish to keep it simple.
About 15 minutes until we get underway with game one, I’ll be be back momentarily with a preview of Louisville and Villanova.
Game 13: No. 1 Louisville vs. No. 4 Villanova
The last time these two teams met in Philly it was an absolute barnburner that ended with a flurry of tip in chances by Villanova at the buzzer that all failed and allowed Lousiville to escape with a one point win. Since that time though the Wildcats have been on a pretty torrid pace scoring the basketball. ‘Nova has topped the century mark twice and surpassed 80 points an additional five times since that loss back in January. Tonight Jay Wright is going to need his team to be shooting well from the floor again.
Yesterday was a thriller with Marquette. After leading by 16 at the half, the Golden Eagles came storming back and only a wild reverse layup at the buzzer by Dwayne Anderson gave Villanova the win. Scottie Reynolds put together a 21-point, 8 rebound performance but was struggling to get his shot going, shooting just 5-13 from the field. The sophomore was able to keep the points coming though by getting to the line and converting 10 of 14 attempts. The real key yesterday and I think a major x-factor today was the play of Corey Stokes who dumped in 20 points, including a trio of bombs. Dante Cunningham was a non factor but will need to be today against the super talented Louisville front court.
The Cardinals looked real good against Providence yesterday for streches, and they looked sloppy at other points. It was all about the interior play as Earl Clark and Samardo Samuels both went for 20+. Clark played maybe his best game of the year going for 24 points, 10 rebounds and dishing out 7 assists. Terrance Williams didn’t do a whole lot in terms of putting the ball in the basket, but he still hit the glass hard and ran the offense well as always.
If Louisville can establish the inside game again early and cut down on their sloppy turnovers, this one could be a route for Pitino’s boys who are playing their best basketball of the season at the right time.
– Terrence Williams gets off to a better start today than yesterday afternoon when he botched a wide open dunk attempt. The senior drains a three right in front of Jay Wright and flashes the signature smile. Pitino throws the press on right away after the made basket and catches the Wildcats off guard who have to take waste a timeout just 30 seconds into the game.
– Interesting match up to watch with Dante Cunningham covering T Will. A good defensive showing here would prove to NBA scouts that the senior is capable of covering pro caliber athletes out on the perimeter. The Wildcats “big man” gets them on the board with a catch and shoot elbow jumper.
– Cunningham picks up an offensive foul backing down Samuels as he drops his shoulder into the freshman’s chest. It may mean Louisville basketball going the other way, but I like the aggressiveness the senior is showing in the opening minutes. After posting just 7 points and 2 rebounds yesterday, he is going to need to be much assertive inside against the bruising Samuels. At the under 16 break the ‘Cats are ahead 7-6.
– The Wildcats are doing an excellent job of applying defensive pressure and rotating out of their positions. As a result Louisville hasn’t been able to get Clark many touches in the early part of this ball game. ‘Nova leads by three at the 13:44 mark as Clark gets called for an over the back on the offensive end.
– No one on Louisville seems to have figured out that the Cunningham loves to catch and shoot from mid-range, and more importantly, that he can hit from there consistently. He drains two straight from the elbow giving him 8 points and keeps Villanova in front. The senior, who has already eclipsed his point total from yesterday subs out for a breather.
– This is a very quick moving game, we’re already at the 10:22 mark as there is an official timeout on the floor. Clark knocks down a baseline jumper (he loves that spot from the left side) and yesterdays hero Dwayne Anderson answers with a three from the top of the key. Villanova is winning the early battle on the boards, out in front 8-3, and while I expect Louisville to ultimately wind up with more, if the Wildcats can keep it close in that department they will be right in this game. Shooting over 50 percent from the floor doesn’t hurt either.
– Pitino calls a 30-second timeout as the Cardinals throw another sloppy pass. As opposed to yesterday when Louisville started off hot offensively and started have lapses later in the game, they seem to be a mess right now. There doesn’t seem to be much rythym or pattern to the offense and it’s resulting in turnovers and forced shots.
– Cunningham is playing like a man possessed right now, he is everywhere. Defensively it doesn’t matter who he is guarding (it’s been three different players already) he is on them without giving an inch and has yet to get beat for a basket. Offensively he is hustling but also showing a great sense of where his teammates are. In transition he hits Corey Fisher for an easy lay in and on the next series grabs an offensive rebound that draws him a shooting foul. Under 8 break and Villanova is still out in front 21-16.
– The Cardinals take another timeout and Pitino is lighting into his team now. Louisville just looks completely lost on offense; they aren’t assertive, they seem to have forgotten basic basketball principles. An open three by Clark cuts the ‘Nova lead to 7 points, lets see if it gets the ‘Ville back into a flow.
– Need a big basket? Go inside to big man Terrence Jennings. The freshman out of Cali gets the bucket and the harm as Cunningham draws his first foul. The free throw isn’t close but suddenly it’s a five point game.
– Corey Fisher gets the Villanova faithful on their feet as he intercepts a T Will pass and takes it the other way for a bucket plus one (assuming he hits the free throw). The Wildcat defenders are doing an excellent job of bringing added pressure whenever the ball gets near the paint. The ‘Nova players are rotating over so they wind up doubling the basketball and taking away the nearest passing option. This has resulted in a couple of plays where Louisville ball handlers leave their feet for a shot, are forced to pass off instead and have the ball stolen away. Jay Wright’s undersized boys are flustering the much more talented Cards right now to the tune of a 7-point lead with 3:04 to go in the half.
– Scottie Reynolds (haven’t said his name yet tonight) get’s his first points of the night with a pretty floater in the lane to give Villanova an 8 point lead with a minute to go. At the other end of the floor Jennings goes up strong and is fouled; he gets 1 of 2 automatics.
– The half comes to an end with Jennings absolutely tossing a point blank attempt by Dwayne Anderson; the Louisville bench shouts its approval. At the break ‘Nova is ahead by an eight spot. I’ll be back in a few with some analysis of the first half.
– What I came away the most impressed about after the first half is the way Villanova is getting after things defensively in the paint. After dominating yesterday afternoon, Earl Clark and Samardo Samuels have combined for just 9 points, and the bulk of those came from Clark knocking down perimeter jumpers. Twice in the final three minutes of the half Louisville had a major mismatch with Scottie Reynolds guarding Clark and twice Reynolds fronted the post aggressively and forced a turnover. Granted the Wildcats were helped by the Cards being unable to convert some open looks from the perimeter, but you can give most of the credit for Louisville’s 30 percent shooting to great ‘Nova defense. The second half is set to start, can the Wildcats send the number one seed home?
– Clark starts the half off right, drilling a three from the right wing and then making an extra pass that sets up an open bomb for Andre McGee, the 37 percent perimeter shooter doesn’t miss. Jay Wright calls timeout with the Cards having cut it to a two-point game in a minute and fifteen seconds.
– Here come the Cardinals and ‘Nova calls time now trailing by 4 points with 16:24 to go. Louisville has hit four 3′s in the opening three minutes and Terrence Jennings is wreaking havoc in the middle. The freshman big has blocked two shots and altered a couple of more. That famed Pitino pressure has also started to force some turnovers and those Italian shoes just keep click clacking on his end of the floor.
– Terrence Williams goes down under his own basket after a series of tip in tries by Villanova. He comes up walking a bit gingerly on one leg and grabs a seat on the bench. The trainers are attending too him but from what I saw it doesn’t appear to be anything major that would prevent him from coming back into the game.
– Preston Knowles drills a three coming out of the official timeout; Louisville is now 9-18 from deep. Corey Fisher comes back the other way right at the Cardinal bigs and draws a shooting foul; he converts both freebies. Give Louisville a 5-point edge with 14:26 remaining in the game.
– Jerry Smith gets nasty, driving with the right, taking a bump at the rim and flipping it up and off the glass plus the foul. Louisville goes into the under 12 break with a four point lead looking to make it five. Villanova is refusing to go away, they’re just playing scrappy basketball at this point. The Cardinals length is starting to create problems for the ‘Cats as far as getting clean looks at the rim is concerned, but their refusal to quit on the boards is keeping them alive. While Louisville has certainly found its collective touch this half, they are starting to get just a tad too trigger happy from beyond the arc rather than trying to work the ball a little more. Samuels is still unable to get anything going at this point as he is being swarmed every time he touches the ball, often too fast for him to even consider kicking to an open teammate.
– Jerry Smith gets whistled for a foul in transition and the Villanova Wildcat shakes a finger at him. I don’t think Smith saw. McGee comes back and hits Louisville’s 10th three pointer of the game, but Corey Stokes answers with a bomb of his own. Pitino takes a 30-second break after a Dwayne Anderson lay in cuts the lead to a deuce.
– Things are starting to heat up in the Garden. The Villanova crowd errupts when Dwayne Anderson somehow, someway gets a tap in to go amidst three Louisville players that ties the game. Andre McGee drains another three at the other end though to quickly put the Cards back up three. On the ensuing possession T Williams throws a filthy pass through three defenders to Jennings under the basket. He’s fouled on the shot attempt and takes us to the under 8 break. The Greatest Arena in the World is packed and rocking for a second straight night.
– T Will intercepts a pass near mid-court and gets eye level with the rim on a double pump, two-handed flush. Jay Wright calls time.
– Reynolds gets called for an offensive foul and takes us to the final break of the game; Louisville leads it 60-53. Terrence Jennings has been a major boost for the Cards this half, scoring a couple of tough baskets in the lane, including a big two-handed jam. Jerry Smith has doubled his scoring average on the year and with 14 points is leading all scorers in what has been a balanced attack from both teams tonight. With the Louisville front court doing a much better job on the glass this half, I have to believe that the Cardinals will hold on in the final few minutes of the game to advance to their first Big East Championship game.
– Smith strikes again with a great pump fake and a driving finish. After a failing on their next try down the floor, ‘Nova tries to press but gets beat down floor by T Will and Clark is their to clean up the miss. It’s an 11-point lead with 1:22 remaining.
– Louisville starts to work the clock and the Cardinal fans come to their feet, they know they’re coming back for one more tomorrow.
– T Will gives a fist pump and Louisville gets their birth in the Big East Championship game. Williams finishes with a solid stat line of 5 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists. Clark hits a meaningless three at the end to give him 17, 7 and 5, but this was not as impressive of a game as he had yesterday. It was all about the three ball though as the Cards hit 13 from beyond the arc in the win. Villanova had three players reach double figures but shot significantly worse from the floor in the second half. Slot one for the title game is set, I’ll be back with a preview of the next semi-final in a little bit.
Game 14: No. West Virginia vs. No. 6 Syracuse
So here we go, Pitt vs. UConn…oh wait. Call this the upset side of the bracket with the Orange and Mountaineers pulling the rug out from under two of the nations best yesterday.
The Mountaineers had a convincing 74-60 win over the top five Panthers, putting up big scoring numbers against the nation’s top defense. Alex Ruoff, De’Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks all finishing in double figures; the freshman Ebanks led the way with 20.
Syracuse of course needs no real introduction after “The Epic”. Fatigue is the obvious concern after a 70 minute game that ended after 1:30 AM this morning. Jonny Flynn played 67 minutes and Paul Harris played 61; you know the Orange are going to need those two to be fresh and on their game if they want to advance to the championship round tomorrow. Arinze Onuaku with his superior size inside is going to have to go to work against the athletic but lanky duo of Ebanks and Kevin Jones.
The Orange fans are out in full force again tonight, tip off is next!
– Sorry for the brief delay folks. We’re all tied up at 9 with 14:03 to go in the first half. West Virginia came out looking sharp with De’Sean Butler nailing a three then getting a baby hook to go in the lane. Ebanks knocked down a baseline jumper, the kid has a good looking stroke and some range (NBA scouts take note). Thanks to some scrappy play ‘Cuse is right in the game and Devendorf drills his first three ball attempt of the night. No surprise he is jawing at the Mountaineers on the way back down the floor.
– We go to the under 12 break and the Mountaineers have a slight 2-point lead. Kristof Ongenaet has been a nice spark for the Orange, scoring a couple of tough baskets in the paint. Given that he fouled out early in the first overtime last night he is probably one of the more rested players Jimmy B can put out on the floor for this one. Syracuse will need contributions from everyone tonight.
– Ruoff drills a three right in Devondorf’s grill and gives him a quick stare running down the floor, could be interesting. Andy Rautins, as he did seemingly every time last night, answers the bomb with one of his own the next time down the floor.
– Ebanks is left open at the elbow and fouled as he gets his shot off. I have the feeling he could create some issues for the ‘Cuse 2-3 zone as he is too tall to be covered by a guard but quicker than any front court player the Orange can throw his way. The question now is whether or not the frosh’s J is solid enough yet. Flynn comes down the other way and hits a filthy fall away three with Ruoff practically in his jersey with him. The Mountaineers are holding on 18-17 at the 8:30 mark.
– Onuaku pins Wellington Smith and takes a lob inside; that’s a problem. The under 8 official timeout finds Syracuse having taken their first lead of the game at 21-18. The pace of the game has started to slow down somewhat and Jim Boehiem has to like that for his team. The problem for West Virginia is they aren’t a major fast break team so this current pace is right in their comfort zone. A faster game would certainly work against the Orange given they’ve played 110 minutes of basketball in two days.
– Syracuse is getting after it now on the defensive end. West Virginia hasn’t had an easy look in a couple of minutes and the Orange have force two jump balls in the last three defensive series.
– I look to my left and see the Syracuse Orange. I look to my right and see the West Virginia Mountaineer who looks like he is ready for a hunt. If the Mountaineer peeled the ‘Cuse Orange, would that be the equivalent of scalping him?
– Devendorf gets an offensive board and the put back; the mouth continues to motor as well.
– At the under 4 break Syracuse is ahead by five. Onuaku just had a series to forget; first getting stuffed by Wellington Smith, then on the follow getting denied by the rim. I think one of the West Virginia cheerleaders just had a rougher go at things though during the Aeropastal T-Shirt Toss. The young lady opted for the always exciting softball toss approach, but her release was a tad late, throwing a high arcing shirt right into the front row of the media section. If it was a punt her net yards would have been two. Looks like Onuaku and the WVU cheerleader both need a moment, they can split a Twix over it.
– Ebanks gets another bucket to go giving him ten in the first half. The freshman and Da’Sean Butler have combined for 21 of the 26 Mountaineer points. Guess who responds again at the other end with a bomb? Yup, Rautins strikes again. Bob Huggins calls timeout to draw up a final play of the half, trailing by seven and with 14.3 left on the game clock.
– Darryl Bryant drains a three from the top of the key with about one second on the clock. Not to be out done, Devondorf tosses one up from about two steps behind half court and drains it! While everyone else runs around Devendorf takes the opportunity to shout some words in the general direction of the WVU cheering section. After the officials review, the shot is called good, ‘Cuse leads by seven at the intermission.
– The stars are out again tonight at the Garden. I just walked past PTI’s Michael Wilbon having a conversation with one of the Big East’s all-time greats, Chris Mullins.
– A brief comment from some of the other tournaments around the country. How about Baylor knocking off another team in the Big 12 Tournament, taking down Texas today. The Bears still need to win the whole thing if they want a birth in the NCAA Tournament, but still a nice run for them. Temple strengthened their resume by knocking off regular season A-10 champ Xavier, and my Maryland Terrapins put themselves very much in position for an at-large bid by taking down Wake Forest down in Atlanta today!
– The Mountaineers shot a ridiculous 57 percent from the floor and are still trailing! Bob Huggins can’t be happy with this. So what’s the problem? Syracuse has fifteen rebounds, ten of them are of the offensive variety. If you give a team like the Orange that many second chance opportunities they are going to make you pay. WVU can’t expect to shoot that well again in the second half, they are going to need to toughen up inside. We’re just about set to get back underway.
– Syracuse opens the half with a swipe by Devendorf who hands it off to Flynn. The super sophomore takes one dribble and rifles a no look pass to Harris for a flush with the right hand. Ebanks cleans up the glass and gets a put back at the other end.
– Onuaku, facing a double team, panics and travels along the baseline. There are times when he looks like a lock to wind up on an NBA roster some day and at other points he looks like a mediocre post player. Still, given his size, strength and ridiculous efficiency, I’m willing to bet that he will be invited to the NBA Summer League by someone.
– West Virginia gets a run out in transition and Ebanks gets himself on another poster with a huge jam. The Mountaineers have cut the lead down to two and Jimmy B calls time for the Orange with 17:03 remaining.
– During the break with the music bumping, both the West Virginia and Syracuse cheerleading squads come running out on the court. I was expecting an all out brawl, instead the groups line up in alternate fashion (WVU, ‘Cuse, WVU, ‘Cuse) and perform an improvised routine. Here’s to teamwork.
– Da’Sean Butler drills a three coming out of the timeout and the Mountaineers their first lead since the 9:13 mark in the first half.
– We hit the under 16 break with both teams trading blows right now. Ruoff pulls up and drains a bomb from the top of the key and the Answer Man, Rautins, gets one to go for ‘Cuse at the other end. It’s a 42-41 WVU lead.
– Flynn drains a three to tie the ball game when suddenly I notice someone in the stands. Guess who’s here? The old Syracuse gunner himself, Gerry McNamara.
– The officials completely blow a shot clock violation call against West Virginia. Ebanks is able to grab the offensive board, draw a shooting foul and knock down both freebies to give WVU the one point lead with 11 minutes to go.
– Rick Jackson takes a lob inside from Rautins and throws down a huge one handed slam with pressure all around him. The Orange trail 50-49 with 8:18 remaining and for the second straight night it looks as though ‘Cuse will be in a close one at the end.
– Did I say one huge jam for Jackson? Give the big man a two-handed flush as well and a Syracuse lead.
– Devendorf and Butler trade three balls before Devendorf gets fouled going to the rim. He hits 1 of 2 and the Orange lead is at two with 5:30 to play. Bob Huggins is starting to get that cherry tomato complexion again.
– Flynn finds Devendorf wide open in the corner in transition, no. 23 drills it for a 5-point lead. Huggins mouths something to the effect of…well I can’t write that, and calls timeout.
– Flynn gets hacked in the lane going for two, so he’ll get the chance to earn them at the charity stripe. The sophomore has a chance to make it a two possession game with just over two minutes to go, and he does just that nailing both. Timout taken by WVU.
– Ebanks gets a prayer thrown up from the baseline to fall. Three point game with 1:10 to go. Don’t even tell me that ‘Cuse is going to another OT.
– A blocked shot flies out of bounds and West Virginia gets possession. With less than a minute to go Bob Huggins takes his final timeout with his team in position to tie the game up. Here we go!
– Wellington Smith gets a put back to cut the deficit to one. Syracuse calls timeout with 38.4 on the game clock and 28 ticks on the shot clock. West Virginia if they can pull down a rebound will get a shot to win the game. Gut check time at the Garden.
– Flynn gets fouled going to the rack! He hits 1 of 2, WVU chance to tied with 17 seconds remaining!
– Ebanks drives and is fouled with 4.8 seconds left! A chance to tie!
– With the crowd going nuts the freshman gets the front end to go.
– Jim Boehiem calls Syracuse’s final timeout to ice Ebanks and draw up a potential play if the freshman should hit the second freebie. What are the odds of the Orange being in this type of a game again?!?!
– Ebanks hits the second! Syracuse can only chuck up a prayer from half court and its overtime again for the Orange! Unbelievable!
– I don’t know what to say right now, but we’ve got extra time once again courtesy of Syracuse. Let’s see if they can go six OT’s again.
– Devendorf goes airborne and finds Harris underneath for a lay in and the first basket of the extra frame.
– Onuakua rebounds a Rautins miss and finds a streaking Flynn coming down the lane for another easy basket and a four point lead.
– Flynn has a look on his face right now that says, “I can’t believe we’re in overtime again!” Still, he’s going to the line for a couple after fouling out Wellington Smith and has a shot at making it a six point Orange lead with 2:16 remaining.
– Butler hits a mid-range J to cut the lead to four points, but ‘Cuse is going to work some serious clock now and try to get it to 40 seconds.
– Instead they’ll have to settle for Devendorf going to the line for a pair with 46.8 ticks on the clock.
– Devendorf gets called for a lane violation on his second free throw but the PA announcer mistakenly calls it his 5th foul. Orange nation goes berzerk before the correction is announced. Oh by the way, Kevin Jones is at the line for WVU down 5 with 28.2 remaining in case you were wondering.
– Out of the timeout the Mountaineers send Harris (73 percent free throw shooter) to the line and now we begin the fouling game.
– Harris makes 1 of 2 and Ebanks is fouled at the other end with 20.6 remaining; he gets a one and one.
– The freshman is money again! Ebanks gets both to go, making it a two point game, and Syracuse takes their final timeout. I’m starting to have flash backs of last night and getting that feeling in my stomach that this one isn’t quite finished yet. Either that or I’m just hungry.
– Harris is fouled on the inbounds and only gets 1 of 2. Butlers is blocked at the other end though and Devendorf takes the rebound the other way for an easy two! Ball game! Syracuse wins 74-69 in OT and is going to the Big East Championship Game!
– Butler and Ebanks have big games for the Mountaineers once again, each going for 20 plus points. Keep an eye on Ebanks, he is going to be popping up in the first round mock drafts next season, count on that. Devendorf is the high point man of the game with 23 points and Flynn nearly has another double-double with 15 points and 9 assists.
– The the final is set! Louisville and Syracuse will do battle for the Big East crown. Both are already going to the Big Dance, but this is about pride, this is about bragging rights. It’s a late start tomorrow at 9 PM but it’s going to be a great one, so don’t miss it. That’s it for day four, I’m signing off and will see you tomorrow night for the finale from the Garden.