Friday, November 23, 2012

Old Friends and Blue Devils (Recap of Iona vs. Duke Women's Game)

My time in New York last weekend was short. My flight from Charlotte got in to Kennedy Airport in NY at 9:00 PM Friday night. I spent most of Saturday celebrating my younger son’s birthday, sans the time I was at Hofstra for the 2K Classic games.

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.

The drive from Charlotte International Airport to Durham, where Duke is located, is a little more than two and a half hours. We stopped for breakfast in High Point, at where else, Waffle House.  As we went back to my car, we noticed a dog in the driver's seat in the van.  I had to take this picture because he really looked like he had wanted to drive.

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.

But I can't remember driving through the Duke Forest, let alone knowing that there was a Duke Forest. Turns out, 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.

When we got the to stadium, we got our tickets at will call and then had to wait a couple of minutes for the media passes.  The folks at Duke couldn't have been nicer and the wait was short.  As we entered the arena,  you are struck by a few things.  One, it's incredibly well designed for a seventy two year old arena.  I could see why it's so loud on TV.  It's perfectly enclosed and all the wood from the renovations in the late 80's makes it very picturesque.  If you didn't know what state you were in, you would swear it's where they play state championships in Indiana (yup, the movie "Hoosiers" is always foremost on my brain).

The second immediate thing you notice when you take your seats, especially behind the visitor's bench is all the banners.  Yes, Duke has won a few NCAA Tournaments, a few ACC championships and had a couple of very good players.  Yes, I am being sarcastic.  Try a lot of NCAA Tournaments, a lot of ACC Championships and a lot of really good players.  So there is a lot of history that goes with Cameron.

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.

Iona came out unfazed at the start of the game.  The Gaels were able to run their offense for a good part of the half, especially at the beginning.  Aleesha Powell buried a three and Sabrina Jeridore later followed with a jumper.  Three minutes into the game, Iona led 5-4 over the number three ranked team in the country.

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.

Haley D'Angelo briefly ended the Duke run with a three pointer to put Iona down ten points.  But again, the Blue Devils would respond with another run, this time outscoring the Gaels 12-1 over the next six minutes. Again it was mostly Vernerey doing the damage.  Joy Adams jumper temporarily stopped the bleeding for Iona, but they were now down 30-11.

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.

And what made Duke really scary was that perhaps their most athletic player, forward Elizabeth Williams, was coming off the bench.  However, the player on Duke I was most impressed with was point guard Chelsea Gray.  In a game, as Coach Bozzella noted later in his press conference, where Duke could have become easily undisciplined considering the score, Gray kept her composure the entire game.  She had eight assists with zero turnovers.  And Gray is so big and strong. She doesn't look like your prototypical point guard.  But she was incredibly effective and has great court awareness.

Duke continued to extend the lead and would enter the half up 57-18.  A few minutes before halftime, I ventured upstairs because I was the halftime guest on the Iona Women's radio show 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.

After talking on the halftime show with Nick, who always asks good questions, I went back down to my seat behind the Iona bench.  The second half was similar to the first.  The Blue Devils' size, strength and athleticism were too much for the Gaels.

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.

Duke would go onto a 100-31 win over Iona.  Vernerey led five Duke players in double figures scoring with twenty two points. The Blue Devils out rebounded the Gaels 56-37 and had twenty six assists to only eight turnovers. They also

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.

At the post game news conference, Coach Bozzella stated that a lot of  credit should go to the Duke conditioning coach.  He was real impressed with their strength.  Coach Bozzella was also pleased with his team's play.  He stated that when the Gaels get into conference play, those shots will fall and he won't face teams anywhere as strong as Duke (they actually played #18 St John's a lot closer a few days later, only losing by sixteen 71-55 after only being down seven midway in the second half).

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.

After he got dressed, we said our goodbyes. They had to get on the bus to get back to Raleigh airport to fly home.  We had to get back to South Carolina.   We wished each other well and a safe trip back.  Tieff and I headed back to my house in Columbia, but not before we hit a Golden Corral.  We both always wanted to see what the fuss was about.  And actually, the food was pretty good.  And yes, I did dip a marshmallow in "The Chocolate Wonderfall".   Not bad.

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment