I flew back to Charlotte Sunday morning. But I wasn’t alone. My friend Tieff came with me for another basketball road trip. This time it was a drive up to Durham to see our good friend, Anthony Bozzella coach his Iona Women’s Basketball Team against Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
I have known Coach Bozzella for as long as I have known Tieff. They went to Glen Cove High School together and we have become very good friends over the years since we met in college. When Coach Bozzella told me weeks ago that he was playing Duke at Cameron, I immediately had November 18 circled on the calendar. I was not passing up the chance to see a longtime friend.
Also I couldn’t pass up a chance to see one of the most famous college basketball arenas in the country. I have tried my best over the years to see some of the best college basketball venues in the country. Three years ago, I was fortunate to go to Allen Field House to see Kansas host Hofstra.
This was not my first trip to Duke. I had been to Duke a couple of times a few years ago, once on vacation with my family and once as a finalist for a job interview at the Duke Engineering School. When I was with my family, we went to the Duke Memorial Gardens, which is one of the nicest gardens on the East Coast.
as their web site notes, the Duke Forest is over 7,000 acres and has been used for research and teaching purposes since 1931. It made for a scenic drive to the Duke campus.
When I was here last for that finalist interview in October 2008, I was quite enamored with the campus. Having worked in academia for twenty eight years, I have seen many college campuses. Based on the building architecture, the memorial gardens and the forest, I'd have to say Duke so far is probably my favorite campus that I have seen in all my years. But until last Sunday, I had not seen, let alone been in, Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The announced attendance was a little over 4,000 for this 9,300 seat arena. It seemed like there were less people in the seats than that. But let me tell you something, whatever the crowd size was, it was still loud in Cameron at game time. I could just imagine how loud it is when the men play in front of an always sold out Carmeon Crazies crowd (we could have actually stayed for the men's game being played later that night, but we had to get back to Columbia). Cameron holds sound really well.
But Duke is ranked third in the country for a reason. They have size, strength, depth and pass the ball exceptionally well. And the Blue Devils quickly ended the brief Gaels' lead with a 14-0 run over the next three minutes. Chelsea Gray, Duke's strong point guard started it with a three point play. Then Blue Devils' six foot five center Allison Vernerey scored the next six points. Duke went up 18-5.
What struck me was that Iona was able to run their offense. They actually got a good number of looks in the first half. But Duke's height and more importantly their strength affected Iona. The Blue Devils athleticism sped up the game that it through Iona off. Shots the Gaels would make against lesser opponents, like in their wins over Navy and Long Beach State, were rushed or altered due to Duke's size and speed.
with the great Nick Guerriero, who does play by play for the women's game and is the Assistant Sports information Director for Iona.
The radio booth is above section seven in the arena. To get up there, you have to inform the staff member that you have to get into the booth. Then they pull the ladder down onto the stairwell and you climb up. It's as old school as you can get and it's kind of neat. Plus you have a great view of the arena from the booth.
One play in particular in the second half stood out at me. Iona's Cassidee Ranger had buried a three pointer earlier in the second half from the corner, in front of the Iona bench. She again appeared to have an open look this time. But Williams flew over and swatted the ball over the Iona bench, into the second row, right in front of us. I nearly had a basketball in my lap. It was an impressive feat.
Despite the score, there were several bright spots for the Gaels. As I noted and as the score didn't show, Iona was able to get a lot of open looks and ran their offense surprisingly well. The shots just didn't fall. Against a much taller, stronger front line, Iona's Adams had ten rebounds, including six on the offensive end. Adams is only a freshman and a real find for the Gaels. Powell, despite six turnovers, ran the offense quite well and will cause grief once she gets into MAAC conference play. And Damika Martinez, who came into the game averaging 24 points per game, will not have many games where she is held to three points, like she was against Duke.
After the press conference, we waited around a few minutes before visiting the coach in the locker room. He was very happy to see us and very upbeat about his team's play. Coach Bozzella knows that he only has one senior starter, who was a reserve last season. It's a young team and he knows they will only get better.
It was great to see a dear friend as well as a great college basketball venue. One more item off the college basketball bucket list.