Friday, January 15, 2010

There's Something About the Marys

Remember the movie "There's Something About Mary" with Ben Stiller, Cameron Diaz and of all people, Brett Favre? Pretty funny movie, especially the bathroom prom scene. Well, I was looking for a lead in about two teams named Mary - William and Mary and St Mary's. And for some reason, that popped into my head. Probably for the bathroom prom scene and.. "WE GOT A BLEEDER!"

Both teams, who are playing extremely well at the moment, were in action Thursday night. William and Mary, first in the CAA, was home to James Madison (cue Boss Hogg "Them Dukes! Them Dukes!"). Meanwhile, St Mary's hosted #14 Gonzaga in Moraga on ESPN2 for first place in the WCC.

Unless you have been under a rock or in a power conference trance, William and Mary (13-3, 5-1 CAA), known affectionately on this site as "The Mary", has been the darling of the media lately for their wins at Wake Forest and Maryland among others. And having seen them in person against Hofstra, they are legit and absolutely fun to watch.

The Tribe came out and gave the 3000 plus fans at Kaplan Arena at Williamsburg all they could ask for from their home team - a quick start. Danny Sumner's layup four and half minutes into the game put the Mary up 7-6, a lead they would maintain the rest of the game. Madison would try to keep it close as Darren White hit a layup to make the score 23-20 with 8:30 left in the first half.

But The Mary would extend the lead over the half, thanks to 59 percent first half shooting, including 6 of 14 from beyond the arc, a staple of the Mary's offense. William and Mary would score the next seven points to go up 30-20 with 6:38 left. Thanks to another run of 10-0, the lead would eventually become sixteen, before the Mary settled for a 46-32 halftime lead.

The Tribe's defensive philosophy was to try to stop one of the members of James Madison's dynamic duo of Denzel Bowles and Julius Wells. They decided to let Bowles get his points, which he did, scoring 12 in the first half. The Mary focused their attention on trying to stop Wells. They were successful. Wells was limited to three points in the first half on 1 of 6 shooting.

In the second half, the Tribe continued to lead but the Dukes started chipping into the lead. And it wasn't just Bowles and Wells. Darren White would hit two three pointers, the second of which would cut the lead to 50-46 with 15:07 remaining in the game. White would have 11 of his points in the second half.

But the Tribe would extend the lead again to double digits, as David Schneider's three put William and Mary up 12, 75-63 with 3:13 left. Madison would make one more run to cut the lead to 78-74 with 57 seconds left, but would get no closer. The Mary would hold on for a 85-78 win.

Quinn McDowell led five Tribe scorers in double figures with 19, while Schneider would add 17 for the Mary. Madison's Bowles 14 second half points gave him 26 on the game along with 13 rebounds. As noted, White had 15 points along with Pierre Curtis for JMU. JMU's Wells though finished with 12 points, five under his season average, on only 3 of 12 shooting.

I woke up yesterday morning at 4:00 am, the second day in a row. I can thank a very cute two year old son who lives for a bottle of milk. Hey, when you're hungry, you're hungry. So when I got home last night from work, I had dinner and I was so tired, I went upstairs for a nap at around 7 pm . Some nap. Nearly three and a half hours later, I woke up. But it was all good. Though I had not planned it that way, I was now wide awake to watch Gonzaga travel to Moraga, to face St Mary's at McKeon Pavillion.

Broadcasting the game is my favorite ESPN broadcasting duo, Terry Gannon and Stephen Bardo. Gannon is one of the rare play by play people I know who played college basketball as he was a member of NC State's national championship team in 1983. Bardo was a very solid player at Illinois and briefly played the NBA. They do a lot of the West Coast games and they admitted how much they love doing the games at places like the McKeon Pavillion.

McKeon Pavillion is basically a gym that holds 3500 people. And you know there is a sellout when you simply read "3500" next to the word attendance in the box score. It's a very loud place to see a game, where the fans are practically on the court. And Gannon while introducing the game, referred to the fans literally right behind him as "the crazy fans". It's the kind of place that when watching on TV you smile as soon as you see it. Then you become depressed because being a Hofstra ticket season holder, you have longed for games at the Mack Arena to be regularly like this (but alas they're not).

For St Mary's, there has always been the big bully up north. The big bully for the entire WCC, Gonzaga, who has won ten straight regular season West Coast Conference championships. The Gaels have strived to get their own identity to show how good a team they have been over the last several seasons. They haven't had a losing season since 2001-2002. In fact they have made the NCAA tournament twice in the past five seasons, losing to Southern Illinois in the first round in 2005 and losing to Texas in the first round in 2008.

That 2007-08 team of Patty Mills, Diamon Simpson and Omar Samhan knocked off several good NCAA tournament teams that season including Drake, Oregon and Gonzaga. Based on their success in 07-08, and with all three of their stars returning, there was much hope for the 2008-09 team. And the team lived up to the hype by starting off 18-1. In game number 20 of last season, the Gaels were beating #25 Gonzaga in Spokane at the half 39-33. But Patty Mills broke his hand only a few minutes prior to the end of the half trying to break his fall on a play. While Mills was out with the injury, St Mary's would lose that game to Gonzaga and then lose four of their next five as well (including a two point loss in the rematch at Moraga).

Mills would come back in the WCC Tournament and help lead the Gaels to the tournament final. But Gonzaga would paste St Mary's in the final 83-58, which probably gave the No Clue At All Tournament Selection Committee ammunition to make St Mary's one of the last teams left out of the tournament. They would end up in the NIT, win two games at home, including a dandy over Stephen Curry and Davidson. But they would lose to San Diego State in the quarterfinal game. A game that they played at San Diego State, despite having beat the Aztecs earlier in the season in a neutral site game.

With the graduation of Simpson and Mills leaving early for the NBA draft, with only Samhan returning, the Gaels were picked to finish third in the preseason WCC poll behind Gonzaga and Portland. But someone forgot to tell St Mary's that this was supposed to be a down year. The Gaels stormed out to a 15-2 record thanks in large part to "Enter the Sandman" Samhan, who is averaging a double double on the year, 21 points and nearly 11 rebounds per game. He has received help in the scoring department by Matthew Dellavedova who averages nearly 14 points and Mickey McConnell who averages nearly 13 points per game.

But again for St Mary's to be taken seriously by the No Clue At All, they needed a win at McKeon last night vs. the bully, the Zags, led by the tandem of senior guard Matt Bouldin and freshman forward Elias Harris, two fantastic players. Bouldin averages nearly 16 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game. Harris averages over 15 points and nearly 7 rebounds.

The game plan for the Zags in the first half was to make Samhan work for his points. And the plan was successful as Samhan would only have six points on 2 of 9 shooting from the field, often having to force fade away jumpers. But Dellavedova kept the Gaels in the game scoring 15 first half points, shooting 4 of 4 from beyond the arc.

The Zags would never trail in the first half (and eventually the entire game), but the Gaels kept it close. Samhan hit a field goal to cut the Gonzaga lead to 36-33 with 4:40 left. After a Bol Kong miss, the Gaels had a chance to tie the game. Mickey McConnell had an open look three but missed. As Bardo immediately noted, the crowd rose on the shot and then sat down on the miss. McKeon immediately went from frenzy to quiet, like a balloon had deflated.

And Gonzaga took advantage, finishing the half on a 9-0 run. Harris would finish the half with 16 points on 7 of 9 shooting as Gonzaga would shoot 57.6 percent from the field in the first half. Steven Gray had 9 points and Bouldin would add 8 at the half. The Zags held the Gaels to 34 percent shooting despite St Mary's shooting 6 of 13 from beyond the arc. Bardo correctly noted a few times in the first half that the pace favored the Zags and thought that Gaels coach Randy Bennett should switch to a zone.

The Gaels came out in the second half with a simple plan. Get the ball to Samhan. And they excecuted the plan and Samhan executed on the floor. In the first two and a half minutes, Samhan took five shots, hit four and also had a three point play.

The problem was that Bennett didn't listen to Bardo, who practically was begging St Mary's in the second half to switch to the zone, and stayed in a man to man defense. And Harris and Bouldin made the Gaels pay. Harris and Bouldin would combine for 29 second half points, including 16 in the first eleven and half minutes to put Gonzaga up 69-54 with 9:36 left in the game.

But Samhan, Dellavedova and McConnell would rally the Gaels by outscoring the Zags 18-9 over the next five minutes, and Gonzaga's lead would only be six, 78-72 with 4:37 left. But again, St Mary's would have no answer for Harris and Bouldin, who would answer with baskets of their own. The lead would be eight, 82-74 with 3:54 left on a Harris layup. Samhan would lead one last charge for the Gaels, who cut the lead to four 84-80 with 1:03 left on a Samhan layup. But Bouldin would seal the deal with four three throws down the stretch and Gonzaga would hold on for an 89-82 win.

Samhan would have an absolutely terrific second half, scoring 25 of his 31 points in the second half on 11 of 13 shooting. Samhan also had 12 rebounds for his tenth double double on the season. But despite the Gaels shooting nearly 62 percent from the field in the second half, they couldn't stop the Zags, who shot 60 percent in the second half themselves. Harris would also score 31 points and add 13 rebounds, while Bouldin scored 22 points and Stephen Gray had a double double with 14 points and 14 rebounds. The Zags outrebounded the Gaels 45-27 including 17-10 on the offensive glass. That lead to an 18-6 Gonzaga edge on second chance points.

So once again St Mary's fell short in their quest to defeat Gonzaga. It was their fifth straight loss to the Zags. But college basketball is often a game of redemption. The Gaels play at Spokane, February 11, which won't be an easy task. And there's always the WCC Tournament at the Orleans Arena at March. But St Mary's must somehow defeat Gonzaga once and hold serve in the rest of the WCC to have their at large resume seriously looked at by the No Clue At All.

At the end of the night, or should I say, early in the morning, I turned on "The Bracket" on ESPNU. And there was a segment called "Take Your Pick" where Andy Katz and Adrian Branch had to take three teams that are playing really well but not getting a lot of national attention. Katz did take Northern Iowa, but also picked Missouri and BYU. Geez, BYU is ranked, so doesn't that mean they are getting attention?!

Meanwhile, I figured Branch, a star at Maryland would pick all major conference teams. He did pick Virginia. But he also stunningly picked St Mary's and William and Mary as his other two teams. As he told Katz ,"You gotta dig deep!"

See, there is something about the Marys.

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