Game Notes: First Round Running Diary
Live from Louisville/Morehead State, Vanderbilt/Richmond, BYU/Wofford, and St. Johns/Gonzaga.
by Cub Buenning
The first Thursday of the NCAA Tournament is a holiday at my house. Since I was just a wee tyke, this day was more important than any other in the sporting calendar. In my adult life, it was a day worth “taking off;” planting myself on the couch. All day. This year, the powers that be at the NCAA “rewarded” us Coloradans with a sub-region featuring some of the most exciting teams in the nation. The Jimmer Fredette show, two Big East teams in Steve Lavin’s Johnnies and the Louisville Cardinals and an intriguing match-up between Richmond and Vanderbilt to go along with March’s “official” darlings, the Zags of Gonzaga. Instead of the friendly confines of my mountain abode, I was forced into taking in the action from center court in the second row of press seating. With so much going on, it made sense for me to condense things into a diary format. At 10:30 AM Mountain Standard Time I sundered into the Pepsi Center. Below is a running account of what followed……
11:00: Found my spot: center-court right behind Bill Rafferty and (Steamboat’s own) Verne Lundquist. Not too shabby. I immediately stream the Old Dominion/Butler game on my computer. (SIDE NOTE-I FEEL ODU IS THE BIGGEST SLEEPER IN THIS TOURNAMENT!) Whew, the Monarchs are up five midway thru the first-half. Yes, I took ODU in this game and several others afterwards. Yes, believe the lunacy.
11:05: I can hear “Raff” as I am typing and I find myself imagining him saying “WITH THE KISS” and “MAN-TO-MAN!”
11:06: Louisville/Morehead State is 33 minutes from tipping. While I have been in this building probably 100 times in my life (between Nuggets/Avalanche games) it is the first time I have heard a pep band. SO NICE. Four games of high-end college basketball with nary a DJ or t-shirt launching dancer in sight!
11:10: For example, instead of some garbage top 40 tunes, Louisville’s band busts into a money rendition of the Bee Gee’s “Staying Alive.”
11:15: Streaming ODU/BUTLER at my courtside perch, as I try to simulate my home-couch advantage. C’mon Monarchs! They are playing super sloppy.
11:20: I am asked by an NCAA official to remove my coffee cup (which I got in the media area) because I was not using a Powerade official cup. Due to the 2 hours of sleep I was working with (my two young daughters are under the weather) I went back for more “Joe.”
11:28: Despite some sloppy first-half play, ODU clings to a slight two-point advantage. If they can take care of the ball a little better, they’d have a double-digit lead.
11:40: Tip time in Denver. Louisville and Morehead State, a Bluegrass-State battle! I am excited to see more of this Kenneth Faried cat from Morehead. 2000 points and 1600 career rebounds?!? Those numbers are a little absurd. 54 seconds in and Faried already has corralled two missed shots.
11:45: With today being St. Patrick’s Day, there is plenty of green in the crowd, but it is surprising that the Morehead contingency is larger and louder than their counterparts from Louisville. Both teams are jittery, bricking shot after shot. Almost 180 seconds into the game and we have just a solitary Faried free-throw on the scoreboard.
11:48: Pressing like a Rick Pitino-led team, Morehead, not Louisville, jumps out to an early 7-0 advantage.
11:56: Over five minutes into the game, Louisville has yet to score…. A point.
11:59: 13:50 left in the first-half and the Cardinals finally score! They trail 10-2.
Flipping over and ODU leads by 2.
12:02: JR Smith’s little brother, Chris hits a 3-pointer to make it 15-5. No “CHRIS SWIIIIISH!” call by the PA announcer.
12:10: Pitino’s press forces some turnovers and the Cardinals race back with a couple quick buckets to cut the deficit to six (19-13).
12:19: L’ville’s Peyton Siva makes a beautiful acrobatic double-pumping reverse finish And-1 over Faried. They are going to need more of this from the Seattle-area guard. Cardinals still trail 23-17 with just over six left in the first half.
12:20 Faried grabs a rebound on one end then runs the court for a nicely executed alley-opp. Dennis Rodman comparisons abound.
12:29: Preston Knowles makes it a one-point game with just over three remaining. Cardinal fans starting to wake up, but both teams continue to struggle around the hoop.
12:30: Louisville ties the game at 30. Then a Kyle Curic 3-pointer gives the Cardinals their first lead.
12:31: Morehead’s Terrance Hill hits a buzzer-beater to aptly knot the game at 33 going into halftime.
12:45: I have been gripping on this ODU/Butler game. Things are tight in the last two minutes. The Monarchs have not played like this since they got blasted around the New Year at Mizzou.
12:51: Dang, my boys from ODU gave up a bad put-back at the buzzer. Seems they just didn’t take care of the defensive glass and gave up way too many offensive rebounds.
1:00: I’ll be honest. I had ODU in my FINAL FOUR; hence my dismay with their last-second loss. However, as that game was ending, my wife sent me a text that our eldest daughter just got accepted into the out-of-district Kindergarten class that is taught by a good friend of ours. My disappointment is tempered by the good news.
1:05: Back to action in Denver, the second half gets off to a similar start with both teams struggling a bit, but the Cardinals hanging to a one-point lead.
1:10 A couple Louisville 3-pointers suddenly pushes the lead to seven at 44-37. The difference in talent is starting to become more and more apparent. Hill calmly hits a floater for Morehead to stem the tide.
1:20: Morehead keeping it close. Down just four with 9 left to play! Knowles limps off after a collision. Does not look good; looks like his left ankle/foot. With Knowles sidelined, the Eagles have a chance! Faried immediately grabs his 14th board and sets up Hill for another 3-pointer to make it just a one-point Cardinal advantage.
1:26: While the arena was about half-capacity at tip-off, it is filling in nicely now.
1:31: With just under 8 left, Morehead takes back the lead on two Hill free throws. JR’s little brother hits another bucket and is playing a great game. Hill promptly hits a three-pointer from Pueblo! (It was a DEEP one.)
1:37: Another run by Morehead spearheaded by another Hill three gives Morehead a five-point advantage with five left. Faried grabs ANOTHER REBOUND and gets poked in the eye. He is quickly substituted out and placed back in.
1:41: Two straight baskets from the quiet until-now Terrance Jennings and we have a one-point game with just under three minutes remaining. Not turning away from this one for anything!
1:43: After another Faried miss, Elijah Justice promptly nails a three to put Louisville back up by two! Four straight empty possessions by Morehead.
1:47: Peyton Siva sets up Jennings, again for the Slam. Now with 42 seconds remaining, the Cardinals enjoy a four-point (and more importantly, two possession-lead) advantage.
1:50: After Faried hits two from the charity stripe; Justice is at the line for a one-and-one up two. A MISS! 24 seconds remaining, Morehead ball, down two!
1:52: Morehead’s Demonte Harper isolates at half-court as the clock winds down and nails a deep three from the top of the key! 4.2 left, Morehead up one! Can Pitino and his boys pull this one out!
TO NO AVAIL! Last second three is blocked by Faried! Pandamonium!!! Great to see! What this thing is ALL ABOUT!
Vanderbilt and Richmond (a game I touted as the best of the first round) up next! Gonna go take care of some of my own business! Back at tip.
2:20: Back in the press room, Harper was asked about how the last play was decided upon, “We just listened to Coach. He told us, we’re going to take a three; we’re going to try to win the game.”
Faried added, “It’s the NCAA Tournament, you go big or go home.”
Coach Donnie Tyndall chimed in, “plus, I was tired from the altitude.” Plenty of laughs.