Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Monday, March 31, 2014

Monday Grab Bag: The Final Four is Set

I'm sorry to say it, but the women's season came to an end in El Paso Friday night, as they fell 68-60 to the host Miners in front of over 8,000 fans.  The ladies played well, especially considering the hostile environment.  Jamee Swan came off the bench to post a monster 15/7/2 line, but it just wasn't enough to sneak past UTEP and Kristine Vitola (22/5).  The wait for November has officially started in earnest across the Boulder campus.
2013-14 ends on a sour note.  From: the Prospector Daily
Much like with the men's team, this is going to be a very introspective offseason for the women.  They failed to live up to expectations in 2013-14, and have plenty of difficult questions to answer over the summer months.  Thankfully, there is more than enough talent staying on the roster, which gives me hope that the stumbles in January and February are just a blip on the radar, and that the program will continue to reclaim their glorious past.  Onwards and upwards...


Today in the bag, I'm talking about the excellent Elite Eight action from the weekend before reminding everyone that today is Opening Day for baseball.

Click below for the bag...

The Elite Eight: Saturday - 

Saturday struck me as your typical Elite Eight day.  Sure, there was a surprise entrant (11-seed Dayton), but the other three combatants were regional heavyweights.  Between Florida, Arizona, and Wisconsin, you just had the feeling that any could wind up winning the title.

Cinderella lead off the weekend as Dayton took on overall #1 Florida in Saturday's first game.  It went... about as expected.  The Flyers played well, even taking a lead midway through the first half, but the Gators were just too talented to fall to some A-10 upstart.  Florida finished the first half on a 15-1 run, and never really look threatened in the second half.  The 62-52 final made things look close-ish, but I never really feared for the odd-on title favorites once the final frame started.
I believe I can fly...
Hey, just getting this far is a big coup for Dayton and head coach Archie Miller.  Remember, it was just a season ago that CU was beating these guys in the Charleston Classic, and now they're an Elite Eight finalist. Still, you could see a vast disparity between them and Florida.  The Gators were +11 on the boards (including +7 on the offensive glass), +20 in free throw attempts, and lead by as many as 17 with 11 minutes to go.  Against those numbers, even the most stalwart of carriages is going to turn back into a pumpkin.

The only other remaining #1 in the field, Arizona, was less fortunate, having to play a very tough Wisconsin team to make the Final Four.  In the game of the day, the Wildcats and Badgers battled to overtime.  With just over two seconds left on the clock and down one on the board, Arizona's All-American Nick Johnson collected the ball at the top of the arc, and weaved for an open look.  The only thing is, he had no where near the time he thought he had, and the Wildcats, easily one of the best teams in the land, lost 64-63 without even getting a shot off.  Where were you going, Nick?
Dude... you don't even get a shot off?
Stealing the show was Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky.  The lanky forward dropped 28/11 on the Giant Death Robot in a stunning display that I didn't think was possible.  The Wildcats had nothing on him.  No one on that bench wanted any piece of defending the Lisle, IL native.  Kaminsky's performance, combined with some (at times) awful shot selection from Arizona (TJ McConnell was far too eager to show off his jumper, and went 2-10 from the field), kept the game nip-and-tuck throughout.  When it came to overtime, Kaminsky took over, scoring six points to propel the Badgers into the Final Four.

The Elite Eight: Sunday - 

Sunday was a little more chaotic.  Neither the Midwest or the East had their #1 still alive, leaving unconventional 4 vs 7 and 2 vs 8 matchups to decide the last two spots in the 2014 Final Four.  Take your chalk and shove it.

The early game featured the surprising UConn Huskies in a semi-home game at Madison Square Garden against the media-darling Michigan State Spartans.  It being the Garden, and the Huskies still being, at least at heart, a Big East team, it should surprise no one that this one was a slow, physical exhibition.  In the end, behind a brilliant performance from Shabazz Napier, who scored 17 of his game-high 25 points in the second half, it was the Huskies punching their ticket to Dallas by a 60-54 final.
Where did UConn come from?
I can't say enough about Napier, who has been Mr. UConn the last two seasons.  He was fantastic, dropping dagger after dagger on the poor Spartans, who had no one capable of containing him.  It was a performance easily reminiscent of the great Kemba Walker, who dragged the Huskies to a national title only three years ago.  He's not the monster that Walker was, but damn is he talented.

In the weekend finale, and, for my money, the best game of the weekend, it was the suddenly overachieving Kentucky Wildcats beating the Michigan Wolverines 75-72.  This one, just like the two that preceded it, came down to the wire.  The difference here is, where Wisconsin/Arizona and UConn/MSU were trench warfare, UK and UM engaged in repeated cavalry charges, lighting up the scoreboard possession after possession.  Combined, the two teams shot over 50% from the field.  While Coach Boyle would lose the rest of his hair looking at that stat-line, it wasn't completely a result of poor defense.  This was an example of brilliant offensive pieces setting off fireworks, and it made for a delightful end to the weekend.
Cold.... Blooded
The tilt came down to the final possession, with Kentucky and their band of freshmen in possession of the ball with a chance to win.  It was tied 72-all, and, after Michigan took their foul-to-give a little too early, the Wildcats had about 10 seconds to run their play.  It was for Aaron Harrison coming off a screen about 24-feet from the basket.  He rose over Wolverine Caris LaVert, and nailed the shot to win the Midwest. Michigan would have a chance to take a final heave from midcourt, but it never really threatened. Kentucky, whatever you may think of them, is back in the Final Four for the third time in four years.

Baseball's Opening Day - 

I don't mean to break up the basketball-only theme of this grab bag, but it is baseball's Opening Day.  While it will never be a national holiday, Opening Day still holds tremendous sway with this diehard baseball fan.  A day of hope, fleeting as it may be, for millions across the land, even if they root for the Houston Astros!

Sure, the baseball season technically started with the Dodgers double dip over the D-Backs in Australia, and the first game played on American soil took place last night when those same Dodgers lost to the Padres, but baseball really doesn't start until all 30 teams have their say.  That all started about an hour ago when the Cubs and Pirates took the field.  I don't know why we no longer give seasonal first pitch rights to Cincinnati, the home of the nation's first professional outfit, but it is what it is.

For my White Sox, we're still going to be garbage this year, but at least it'll be interesting garbage.  The last few seasons, My Sox have been mired in a slow slide into irrelevancy.  With an aging, ineffective roster and no minor league talent worthy of the title, the team has been less than watchable.  Thankfully, the rebuilding process is well under way.  Old, boring, expensive pieces have been traded for exciting new prospects, and management spent big bucks on the Cadillac of Cuban hitting prospects, Jose Abreu (*squee*).  Add to that the third pick in this summer's MLB draft, and I'm truly excited for White Sox baseball for the first time in years.
New toys are fun.
For the Rox... well, they still don't have any pitching.  While the four-man rotation has, thankfully, gone the way of the dodo, the starting five and supporting bullpen is subpar, particularly for Coors Field. To my eye, the Rockies are still in baseball purgatory - good enough to win a few games, but not good enough to truly compete. They have some beautiful foundational pieces, but seem to still lack the organizational will to actually go for it.  A shame, that.

But, none of that matters.  All but the Dodgers, D-Backs, and Padres started the day 0-0.  Both the Rox and My Sox have a magic number of 163, and a theoretical shot at the pennant.  On Opening Day, that's all that matters.

Happy Monday!

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