Friday, March 24, 2006

Oakland, Days 1 & 2

One down, one to go.

Welcome to, uh, beautiful (?) Oakland for the NCAA Regionals. I flew into San Francisco International Airport on Wednesday night and took a van over to Oakland -- it was about a 30-40 minute ride. I must admit San Francisco looked beautiful at night -- haven't really seen it yet during the day, but perhaps I'll get my chance later this afternoon. I'm in the media hotel, which happens to be right in the middle of Old Oakland, which seems to be reasonably nice so far. Kind of "rustic", but not necessarily authentically so, if you get my drift. Seems kind of fake.

The street signs are in English and Chinese. So that's different.

Actually, Oakland is much better than I thought it would be. It's definitely no San Francisco, but it's not bad at all. I am enjoying it.

After arriving at the hotel around 10:30 Pacific, I caught a quick bite to eat and tried to hit the bed as soon as I could, knowing that my 3:50 wake up call would be hitting soon. It is really odd to do my show in the morning, be completely finished, and look down to see that it's 6:00 in the morning here in Oakland. It would take me a long time to get used to that. Got a great view, though, so it's not nearly as bad as I thought it would be.

That said, I just got done speaking with the Cobra (Keith Parker, Executive Producer, Sports 56 WHBQ) and his quote to me was, "Peter, in terms of sounding tired, on a scale of one to ten, you're like a 1.5 right now. You sound dead." Apparently the adjustment isn't going as well as I had hoped.

It's for a good reason, though.

There was a weird atmosphere in the Oakland Arena last night (or afternoon) as the Tigers and Bradley tipped it off. The arena was about 3/4 full because a lot of the Gonzaga fans had yet to arrive, so it was just a bizarre scene -- such an important game, so much on the line, and a crowd very much like Grizzlies/Hawks on a Sunday at 3 pm. At least visually. Emotionally, it was like night and day.

As I talked about (and I know I wasn't the only one), for all their good qualities and two excellent players (Marcellus Sommerville and Patrick O'Bryant), Bradley is still BRADLEY. A 13 seed. Tied for 5th in the Missouri Valley Conference. Overmatched athletically. And that was exactly the case. I have a great deal of respect for what head coach Jim Les, his staff, and his players did to get this far. It was a remarkable achievement and one that will serve him well for years to come. But let's be realistic -- Bradley said before the game they would go man-to-man against the Tigers and try to run a little bit. We all thought that was maybe not the best plan, considering the edge the Tigers have in size, length, athleticism, and depth, but hey, I'm not the coach.

Jim Les and Bradley did man up, and they did try to run a little.

And it did not work out well.

But before we get too deep into the game itself, I have to mention this one thing: the Bradley fans had several of the "CBS" signs -- you know, the ones where you start each word of your phrase with C, B, then S in an attempt to get on television? One guy had my personal favorite CBS sign: "C huck norris B elieves in S ommerville" That cracked me up, mostly because I'm scared of Chuck Norris. Here's why.

From the tip, both teams looked a bit nervous, but it was Darius Washington and the Tigers who settled down much more quickly. Bradley took a good 3-4 minutes to get into the flow of the ballgame. Eventually, they did, but they still could never quite come to grips with the questions the Tigers asked in terms of athleticism and skill. Even though Bradley was keeping it close, it seemed pretty apparent that the Tigers were very comfortable with the way the game was playing out. The biggest reason the Tigers couldn't quite separate from Bradley in the first half was Patrick O'Bryant, who had 7 points and 11 rebounds at intermission. Joey Dorsey was getting overmatched a little bit, maybe because of nerves, maybe because of the matchup itself, but O'Bryant was grabbing boards left and right against Dorsey (and, to be fair, against Kareem Cooper, too).

I was also impressed with Sommerville. His game seems like it could translate well to the next level -- he's got a nice bit of size and strength for his position, and can shoot a bit -- kind of a poor man's Shane Battier. Shawne Williams agreed after the game, as he was very complimentary of his ability.

However, Bradley had a serious size disadvantage in the backcourt, one that was ably exploited early and often by Darius Washington, who stepped up and had a big game when his team needed him. They could not handle the size and speed of Darius. In fact, at one point in the second half, Darius knifed through the Bradley defense and laid in an easy basket -- that caused guard Tony Bennett (no, not the silver-haired crooner) to absolutely go off on his fellow guard Will Franklin. He was just screaming at the guy because neither one had the size or speed to stop Darius. That was the beginning of the end.

In the second half, Memphis played with tremendous poise and skill on both sides of the court. Defensively, they were just incredible, holding Bradley to 27% shooting in the 2nd half and outrebounding them handily as well. Bradley's tired legs caught up to them, too. It was just too much to ask to hang with Memphis for 40 minutes. Patrick O'Bryant fell back to Earth with a thud in the second half, scoring just one point and grabbing 3 boards. Joey Dorsey was much better defensively and offensively in the second, despite a bad technical.

As Geoff Calkins referenced in his column today, the only real exciting part of the second half came when no one, but two courtside monitors began smoking one after the other. And I don't mean a little bit, I mean smoking like someone shoveled dry ice into them. Jarvis Greer was sitting next to one of them, but I'm pretty sure Jarvo had nothing to do with it. At least, I don't think he did. Jarvo, you'll have to call into the show or email me to tell me for sure what happened.

Anyway, the eventual win was an inevitability greeted less with excitement and more with a business-like resolve. Just like Dallas. These guys expect to win every time out, and they will expect to win tomorrow against UCLA. It is in their makeup. To me, that is the best part of John Calipari's coaching job -- he has his guys believing they can run through walls and come out unscathed. They are mentally tough right now. No, they haven't played a "major" opponent yet, but I would defy you to find a more impressive run than the Tigers' in this tournament. They've won every game by 16. Nothing much more you can ask from a group of guys than that. I eagerly anticipate the game against UCLA tomorrow, because it is going to be an incredible matchup. Great guards on both teams, impact freshmen all around, and athletic ability to spare from both teams.

Speaking of UCLA, I still cannot believe they won that ballgame last night. That was one of the best games I've had the privilege to watch in person -- Gonzaga was doing everything right, and UCLA was doing everything wrong. UCLA did not make a field goal until there was 11:20 left in the first half. Gonzaga's defense was great, and UCLA looked tight.

In fact, even late into the second half, this game was over. Done. Forget about it. Gonzaga was completely in control -- Gonzaga knew it, UCLA knew it, and the numerous UCLA fans knew it. However, I give the Bruins and Ben Howland a ton of credit for never giving up -- and once they started putting some pressure on Gonzaga, the Zags got so nervous they could barely breathe. It was a serious case of tight sphincter. The only question was whether or not they could just hang on to squeeze out a victory. Obviously, they couldn't. They made tons of mistakes down the stretch, the biggest being J.P. Batista getting the ball stolen away, which led to the incredibly-named Luc Richard Mbah a Moute's game-winning layup.

After Derek Raivio lost the ball, leading to UCLA getting it back leading by one with 2.6 seconds to play, Adam Morrison started crying on the court. Crying while the game was still being played. Crying while his team was almost guaranteed to have at least a chance to tie with a 3 (they actually could have won it with a 3 because Arron Afflalo missed a free throw). I've never seen that before. I know he's a competitor, but that was really troubling. You can't cry before the game ends. You just can't.

Give big credit to the Gonzaga band -- they hit everyone with a tremendous rendition of "Don't Fear the Reaper", and OH YEAH, they had one guy just playing the absolute daylights out of the cowbell.

He explored the space -- no question -- he really explored the space. I liked what I heard.

One other thing -- despite the crushing loss, and the inexplicably premature tears, I have to give credit to Adam Morrison for playing his guts out. He had a stellar college career and lifted Gonzaga to impressive heights. He's going to be a great NBA player, and I have a lot of respect for the intensity with which he plays.

Well, there's just one step left on the road to the Final Four, but it's by far the toughest -- UCLA in a very pro-Bruin environment tomorrow. It's going to be incredible. We'll have a special pregame show tomorrow afternoon on Sports 56 WHBQ -- Eli and Rob will be hosting from Memphis, and I'll be here in Oakland with a full preview.

Special thanks goes to our sponsors Cougar Chemical Company, Bartlett Lanes, Olympic Fitness Center, Jimmy's, and Pizza Pro for helping make the trip out to Oakland possible. They are big Tiger supporters and good people, so it's nice to be associated with folks like that.

Also, extra special thanks to all of you who like the blog. And to those that hate it, long as you're reading it, it's cool with me.

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