Monday, November 24, 2014

A Report from The Pit

It is scarf and gloves weather in Albuquerque. The high temperature today is 46, the projected low is 28 and there’s a wind chill factor as a bonus. Fortunately, it is not umbrella weather. The arena is a 20-minute brisk walk from my hotel, providing me with some pre-game stimulation, which it would turn out was not needed. This game had more than enough stimulation.

The University of New Mexico had a promotion for the Stanford game called “Pack the Pit” with all seats priced at just $2. The Pit wasn’t packed--it looked about half full and I calculated that to mean about 7,500 seats filled. Official attendance was 6,594. It was a good thing the arena wasn’t full because the fans that were present were deafening enough when the they came alive as they did midway in each half when New Mexico started cutting into Stanford’s lead. Once the crowd got going it didn’t stop. The Pit is a very intimidating place to play under these circumstances. The crowd worked itself into a frenzy when New Mexico was threatening or when Stanford was at the free throw line. This was nerve-rattling. The Pit acoustics must amplify the noise.

The crowd shouted at the refs at every call against New Mexico. One man near me kept shouting varied insults at the officials in a booming voice throughout the game. His favorite line which he angrily roared over and over in the final minutes was: “They’re #1, they don’t need your help!”

Lili was present, but not suited up. I asked Eileen before the game the reason and she told me she didn’t know. I was unable to ask Ashley, the KZSU announcer, so I never did learn why Lili did not play. She walked normally and looked ok, but did not participate in warm-ups. Just now, from the Stanford website I see Lili was ill. That’s better than an injury. Hopefully, she will recover before the Hawaii tournament. She was missed. Without Lili Stanford was on the ropes at the end of each half. This team needs Lili.

Stanford started in splendid fashion, led by Karlie with three 3s in the first 6 minutes. Stanford led 22-6 at the 14-minute mark. That 16-point lead was the peak of the first half. I felt sorry for New Mexico at that point for being so out-classed. Was I ever wrong--they were not out-classed. The Lady Lobos suddenly found their footing midway in the half and began cutting into the Cardinal lead. The crowd went especially wild when the Lobos got within one point at the 5:39 mark. At the same time New Mexico became effective, Stanford seemed unnerved, lost its poise and couldn’t get anything to go in.

Kaylee was getting offensive rebounds, but couldn’t make put-backs. She got to the free throw line, but couldn’t hit the basket. Tara tried many player combinations in the first half, but none worked once the Lobos went off. Stanford was down 32-35 as the half ran down when Amber delivered one of her clutch shots with a buzzer-beater three to tie the game 35-35.

Stanford started the second half almost as well as the first, going on a 12-2 run to achieve a peak 12-point lead at 15:34. Then when the Lobo defense caused a Stanford shot clock violation, the crowd went wild to begin its second half frenzy. And again, about half way through the second half, New Mexico began to shave the Stanford lead and the crowd never quieted down. During its lead-cutting runs in both halves, New Mexico played as if inspired and with luck on its side while Stanford looked plodding and pedestrian. There is one Lobo guard who shoots high, arching threes as Lindy LaRoque once did. It seemed to me she could launch these in profusion endlessly, although the box score does not support this impression.

Then came the ending. With two minutes to go the Stanford lead was 64-62. The Lobos tied the game at 1:30 64-64. Both teams were in the bonus. A Lobo got to the line, but made only 1 of 2 free throws, bringing the score to 64-65. And then the miracle of the Stanford free throws began. Amazingly, Kaylee, the poor free throw shooter, made two under the pressure of saving the game and with the crowd on its feet in a bedlam of noise. Tara, anticipating New Mexico desperation fouls, put Bonnie and Karlie in. Bonnie was almost immediately fouled and calmly plunked in two. Then Amber was fouled and calmly plunked in two. And then it was over, with the six Stanford free throws being the final points scored, resulting in a final score of 70-65.

Wow, what a game! What difference might Lili have made?

Three Cardinal players scored in double digits and Kaylee had a double-double.

Karlie had 23 points, 2 rebounds, 6 of 12 threes, 1 of 2 free throws in 34 minutes. Amber, the dependable clutch player, had 18 points, 5 rebounds, 1 of 3 threes—her buzzer-beater—and 3 of 4 free throws in 35 minutes. Kaylee, the remarkable freshman, had 10 points, 22 rebounds, 6 of 10 free throws and 2 blocks in 34 minutes. Twenty-two rebounds! Taylor Greenfield had one of her best games, ending with 8 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists, no threes, no free throws in 30 minutes. Bonnie’s great contribution was those two free throws at the end.

Eight Stanford players were in the game for 10 minutes or more and carried the load, and the strain of playing in a hostile environment: Amber, Karlie, Kaylee, Kailee, Taylor G, Bonnie, Erica M and Alex.

Holy Moly, that was really something. I saw only a handful of Stanford fans scattered here and there in the arena. My guess is that less than 50 Cardinal fans were present, swallowed up in the semi-packed Pit. Those who were there saw a doozy of a game.

So, all’s well that ends well. Right?

Let’s see, I guess it’s on to North Carolina in Hawaii.

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