Sunday, November 29, 2015

Tournament Champion

By Wally Mersereau

It was not pretty. It was not impressive. It was not encouraging. It was lackluster, non-urgent, maddening and frustrating. Maybe the team was tired in this third game in three days. There was an abundance of sloppy play by both teams and a general lack of vim and vigor by Stanford.

But the job got done, completing a 3-game Stanford sweep of the Florida tournament and bringing the tournament championship home to the Farm.

The final game on Sunday against Purdue was won in overtime 71-65 after regulation play ended at 59-59.

Some aspects of the game were remarkable, such as free throw shooting, such as Kailee making a crucial 3-point shot in overtime to keep Stanford in the game, such as Alanna going scoreless after putting up 22 points in the previous game, such as Bri making five of six 3-pointers.

Stanford got off to a fine start and led most of the game. But after the start it was touch and go with Purdue hanging doggedly just a bit behind. Lili was the most consistent player, in keeping with her being selected as tournament MVP.

Looking back from the end of the tournament, Stanford bounced back from its loss to Santa Clara to prove itself the best of the 8 tournament teams in Florida. There were some fine performances, but there was plenty of evidence of the need for improvement by the team and by each player.

The three games were a good test and should serve as a guide going forward for coaches and players.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Two Thrilling Games in Florida

By Wally Mersereau

Fort Myers is the largest city in Southwest Florida, the term the locals here use as we do Bay Area. The primary airport is known as the Southwest Florida International Airport. The population of the city is about 65,000. The fort named Myers was established on the Caloosahatchee River immediately after the Civil War as part of the national campaign to control Indian tribes, in this case the Seminoles. Fort Myers is the county seat of Lee County, located northwest of the Everglades. Thomas Edison first visited in 1885, liked it so much he established a winter home in Fort Myers and spent the last 40 winters of his life in the town. Edison’s buddy Henry Ford set up a winter home for himself next door. By the start of the 20th century Fort Myers was well known as a winter resort. Edison paid to add many palm trees along city streets, helping to establish this place as the City of Palms.

The Germain Arena, where the tournament is being held, and the Hyatt Regency resort are actually located in the city of Bonita Springs, a suburb of Fort Myers about 20 miles south. The arena is the home of the Everblades ice hockey team. Bonita Springs also is the home of Miromar Outlets, a collection of 140 outlet stores and assorted supporting retail uses in a center next to the arena. On Black Friday the center was crowded and was providing a shuttle bus to connect to overflow parking at the arena.

A resident told me yesterday that Snowbirds from the frigid north pour into this area in the months of January through April, substantially increasing the population and traffic congestion. In advance of this influx area freeways and major boulevards are more than adequate and seem to always be free-flowing. This apparently changes during the first months of the year. I didn’t ask where these seasonal visitors are housed, but I presume in various ways including hotels and resorts and, to some degree, in winter homes. There are quite a number of upscale, gated communities here, many built around golf courses. There is a lot of new residential construction of various types evident in Lee County. It seems to be a boom time in Southwest Florida.

During the tournament the weather has been perfect, with highs in the low 80s, lows in the mid-60s and no humidity. There has been a light wind each day.

Further up the west coast of Florida, roughly west of Orlando, is the large metropolitan area of Tampa-St. Petersburg, the dominant urban area on the coast.

Rita VanDerveer, Tara’s mother, is attending the tournament with Tara’s sister Beth. If you haven’t talked to Rita up close and personal, you should do so. You will be struck by the strong resemblance between Rita and Tara in appearance, in facial expressions and in voice and manner of speaking. The mother-daughter resemblance is inescapable. Rita often attends games at Maples and is happy to talk with any Stanford fan, or anyone else for that matter. She currently lives in Colorado Springs. She and Tara’s father were teachers in Chautauqua in western New York State where Tara and her siblings grew up. Tara often remarks that she considers herself to be a teacher, carrying on her family’s traditional line of work.

The last Friday game produced a win by Purdue over LSU, putting the Boilermakers into a semi-final game against Louisville on Saturday. The first semi-final game was between Stanford and Dayton. Both games turned out to be thrilling with both ending with outcomes highly desirable for Stanford fans.

Dayton brought a 30-piece pep band, male and female cheerleaders and a burly Flyer mascot wearing early aviator goggles, the only one of the eight tournament teams to do this. About 60 Dayton fans were present along with about 20 Stanford fans. Because there were few unaffiliated fans, total attendance was less than 100 at the start of the game. Attendance grew during the game as Louisville and Purdue fans arrived.

The Stanford game started poorly with a discouraging first quarter that ended with Stanford trailing Dayton 14-24. Stanford shot poorly, had too many turnovers and showed only a fair defense. It was not apparent until the end of the game, but the Stanford turnaround began in the second quarter and accelerated slowly through the rest of the game with each quarter better than the previous one.

Stanford was outscored by 10 in the first quarter and then outscored Dayton in each of the remaining quarters--by 3 in the second quarter, by 6 in the third quarter and by 9 in the fourth quarter. The cumulative effect of this superior play by the Cardinal was to gradually shrink the Flyer lead. At the half Stanford was down by 7, at the end of the third quarter it was down by 1, after briefly taking its first lead with 4 ½ minutes left in the quarter. The fourth quarter was the opposite of the first. Stanford built an 8-point lead with 7 minutes left that turned out to be the final winning margin with the final score being 74-66.

The turnaround was another excellent team effort. Lili had only four points in the first half, but racked up 15 points in the second half, a truly heroic effort. Alanna had the hot hand through out the game with six 3s contributing to her game total of 22 points. Erica had 16 points for the game. Karlie had clutch shooting at the end to put the game out of Dayton’s reach. In the second half Stanford improved its defense along with its scoring gains and was able to get some drives to the basket. After the dismal first quarter the Cardinal outplayed Dayton more and more to the final splendid win.

The final game of Day Two was Purdue vs. #22/26 Louisville. All four Stanford coaches scouted the entire game. Louisville is a dangerous, aggressive, opportunistic, disruptive team with strong teamwork. It is well-coached and does really well at the free throw line. Purdue is a more “normal” team, much to be desired as an opponent rather than Louisville.

Louisville led at the end of the first quarter 11-9, at the half 28-20, and at the end of the third quarter 42-38, setting the scene for an amazing upset by Purdue in the final minute. In the last 1:20 of the game the lead changed 7 times with Purdue somehow able to make two free throws with 21 seconds left to win the game 62-60.

And so the final game on Sunday will be between Stanford and Purdue. This is much better than having to play Louisville. Purdue has played well in this tournament, beating LSU and Louisville, but I’m convinced the Boilermakers are the opponent to be desired in the championship game of this tournament. Stanford will need to play really well tomorrow, but its task was made easier by Purdue’s great win tonight.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Raining Threes in Florida

By Wally Mersereau

I devoted most of Thanksgiving Day to flying eastward from SFO, beginning before daylight. Arrival and departure boards showed a normal number of flights and my two flights were full, but the three airports involved were not crowded. I did not reconcile these somewhat conflicting observations. By late afternoon I was on the west coast of Florida riding in a taxi from the Fort Myers airport to the exotically named Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort, the hub of the Gulf Coast Showcase College Basketball Tournament. The weather was reminiscent of Hawaii, sunny and warm, with a gently blowing trade wind.

Eight teams and supporters of one sort or another were in residence. The initial event was a Thanksgiving buffet dinner held outdoors on a lawn with seating at many round tables. Debbie Antonelli, freelance basketball analyst, briefly interviewed each coach about aims for his or her team in the tournament. One coach said one of his goals was not to peak too early. Thinking of Monday’s game with Santa Clara, my first thought was that Stanford clearly had not peaked too early, but then I realized it was possible it had peaked in its home opener with George Washington. I decided that was unlikely and concluded the Cardinal could reasonably expect to resume its goal of progressing toward a late-season peak. Stanford’s three games in this tournament will reveal more about the team’s strengths and weaknesses and its progress toward its peak.

The tournament provides four games each day, with winners advancing to play other winners and losers playing consolation games against other losers. The Sunday result will be two undefeated teams playing for the tournament championship while other teams play for third, fifth and seventh place. Buses take teams, parents and fans the three miles or so between the hotel and the arena.

On Day One Stanford was in the second game against the Missouri State Lady Bears, preseason favorites to win the Missouri Valley Conference. This was the Cardinal’s first chance to redeem itself after the Santa Clara loss and it did so in fine fashion, the highlight being 15 three-pointers. The Stanford record for most threes in a game is 16. Today there were 8 threes by halftime, but long baskets made in the second half came up one short of the record. Lili and Karlie had five each, Bri had four and Brittany had one. This was a satisfying and reassuring win. The final score was 82-65.

Kailee was given an unusual amount of playing time: 21 minutes, despite scoring no points. Lili led in scoring with 26, Bri had 18 and Karlie 15. Erica had 9 points and 10 rebounds, Kaylee 5 points and 8 rebounds. This was another good team effort.

Today’s win advances Stanford to a Day 2 matchup with the Dayton Flyers who won their opening game today over the Maine Black Bears. Dayton plays a flexible zone defense that will present another test for the Cardinal that struggled against Santa Clara’s zone. Against Maine the Dayton defense was very effective, with a final score of 58-37. All four Stanford coaches intently watched the Dayton-Maine game. At the hotel, before the games began, I asked Amy if the team was ready for a zone defense and she replied “I hope so.” I hope so too. Tomorrow will reveal the answer.

There were about 150 watchers in the arena at the start of the Stanford game, including 11 Stanford fans. This shrank to about 100 when a block of Dayton supporters left before the second half.

The third game was a hard battle between the Louisville Cardinals and the Marist Red Foxes. The first half was close with Marist ahead 32-28. In the second half both teams were tired from their strenuous efforts. In the end the more aggressive Cardinals wore down the nice girls from Marist to win 65-53.

I did not stay for the final game between LSU and Purdue. The winner of that game will play Louisville tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Tournament Ticket Pre-Sale

The PAC-12, through host Seattle Storm, is selling Tournament passes starting now. Click the following link: Storm ticket sales. (If the seating chart does not appear, you may be blocking Flash plugins as many do; you need to unblock it for this site.)

There are lots of seats available as of this posting.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Toughing it out at Gonzaga

By Wally Mersereau

Spokane is a pleasant city of modest size that is the urban center of a large area of eastern Washington, northern Idaho and western Montana. Sadly, airline consolidation trends have made Spokane one of its victims. A decade ago air service to and from Spokane was far superior to what it is today. Non-stop flights now are mostly gone. From Bay Area airports a change of planes in Portland or Seattle is generally required, adding to travel time by Stanford fans attending road or NCAA regional games in the Lilac City.

Those who accept the challenge of getting to Spokane are rewarded with a pleasant experience and a relaxed pace. The Falls on the Spokane River are adjacent to downtown. The river is a tributary to the Columbia. Railroads were the primary cause of Spokane’s growth as a city. Today, Burlington Northern trains roll, seemingly continuously, east and west through the city center on a long viaduct, a constant reminder of why Spokane exists.

I flew in on Saturday afternoon to attend the 1 pm Sunday game at Gonzaga. On Saturday skies were overcast, the temperature was in the 50s, but there was no rain, allowing for some casual strolling and a fine dinner. I again stayed at the historic Davenport hotel.

Wayne Tinkle, father of Jos and Elle, grew up in Spokane, as did Bing Crosby. Crosby, the middle of seven children, probably is the most famous Gonzaga graduate. Elle is a senior on this season’s Gonzaga team.

The Gonzaga Bulldogs participate in the West Coast Conference along with Santa Clara and USF in the Bay Area, all three are Jesuit schools. Women’s basketball at Gonzaga became highly successful under head coach Kelly Graves. When Graves was hired away by Oregon, his top assistant, Lisa Fortier, took over the program and led her team to the NCAA tournament last season. Spokane strongly supports its Zags.

Sunday, the 6,000-seat McCarthy Athletic Center, called The MAC or The Kennel, was sold out, creating a potentially hostile environment for the visiting Stanford women. The best single game tickets available when they went on sale to the public were in Row 32, the very last row in the arena. There appeared to be only a handful of Stanford fans at this game.

As it turned out it was the Gonzaga women, not the crowd, that gave Stanford fits. It was a sloppy game until the last 5 minutes and touch and go until then as to whether the Cardinal could pull out a win.

At the end of the first quarter the score was 12-12. At the half it was 27-27. At the end of the third quarter it was 41-38 Stanford. In the fourth quarter the crowd, sensing a Bulldog win, came alive with Gonzaga up 1, 46-47. The crowd began clapping as if to carry its team home to victory and I began to lose hope.

I don’t know why it happened, but that was the high-water mark for the Zags. Somehow Stanford began to play the way it should have from the beginning. In the last 5 minutes the Cardinal outscored Gonzaga 19-1. 19-1!!! For the last 5 minutes of the 40-minute game Stanford dominated while the poor Bulldogs who had the crowd and themselves tasting an upset became unable to score. I have no idea why this occurred. But it sure quieted down the crowd. It stopped clapping, it stopped cheering and instead sat in stunned silence as the Stanford lead soared upward to a final score of 65-48. The final score was about what you would expect before the game began, but the 17-point winning margin all came in the final 5 minutes. This manner of playing is not good for the emotional stability of Stanford fans far from home.

I was drained, but happy when the game ended. The closeness of the game and the rising spirits of the crowd pointed to a Stanford loss as the clock ticked down, but when it seemed almost too late the team came through. Three consecutive 3-pointers by Lili and Karlie gave crucial momentum to the late Stanford run.

It would be nice if this team would start stronger and not wait so long to take command.

Alanna and Marta were troubled by fouls and played less than 10 minutes each. The playing load in this game was carried by Erica with 23 points in 35 minutes and Lili with 21 points in 29 minutes. Six players, Erica, Bri, Kaylee, Lili, Karlie and Brittany played 21 minutes or more. No other player was in the game for more than 9 minutes.

Monday, November 9, 2015

OSU tickets - General Admission only

If you plan to go to the OSU game in Corvallis on 24 January, here is what we know about tickets.

Start by opening this OSU seating diagram.

You will see that a few sections are colored gray, including section D, which is behind the visitors bench, where you may have sat in seasons past.

These gray areas are sold out to season-ticket holders. No single-game seats are available in them at all. So this year, we aren't going to be sitting behind the bench.

Note that all other sections are various colors of orange. These are mostly general admission. That includes J-F, which are lower-bowl benches (not seats with backs) close to the floor. If you click around in this map you will find there are a few sections in the corners (like 2, or FF) that are actually reserved and have seats available.

Nevertheless it appears that the best policy for this game is to be at the door when it opens, zoom in and grab the best GA seat you can find. This will be expedited if you have the tickets in hand rather than buying them at the window. You can buy print-at-home tickets at the page you opened above.

The Travel page notes a decent hotel that is virtually across the street from Gill Coliseum.