Friday, March 21, 2008

Live-blogging from Tampa: Drake-Western Kentucky

Gas: $126
1 cup of coffee, 1 Gatorade, 1 bottled water, 1 Yoohoo, 1 Vault: $9.48
1 #7 value meal from Arby's: $6.37
Driving 11 hours (691 miles) overnight to attend the NCAA Tournament in Tampa and witness one of the best opening round games of all-time: Priceless

Good afternoon everyone,

I'm here courtside at the St. Pete Times Forum feeling great after an 11-hour car ride (I drove 8.5 of those hours, by the way). Although the weather in Tampa is absolutely gorgeous, I'll be indoors for the rest of the day, bringing you all the latest news and notes, and I couldn't be more excited. This is heaven for basketball junkies like myself. Make sure to hit that refresh button and feel free to leave comments/questions below.

What's on tap in Tampa:

Game 1: No. 5 Drake vs. Western Kentucky (11:30 CT)
Game 2: No. 4 UConn vs. No. 13 San Diego (2:00 CT)
Game 3: No. 4 Vandy vs. No. 13 Siena (6:20 CT)
Game 4: No. 5 Clemson vs. No. 12 Villanova (8:50 CT)

Game 1: No. 5 Drake (28-4) vs. No. 12 Western Kentucky (27-6)

The atmosphere is electric, with both fan bases screaming on nearly every possession. Like the teams themselves, the cheering sections may not be the biggest, but I'd struggle to find many that are as spirited. The game is being played at a frantic pace and the fans are living and dying with every possession. College basketball at its best.

Since I'm right in front of the Western Kentucky cheering section, I'm privileged to some hilarious commentary. Two fans are all over the referees ("What's that, ref? You've got a Drake undershirt on?" and "Did you get a memo from the NCAA to keep the Cinderella story that is Drake alive?" are a couple of my early favorites). Something tells me it's only to get worse as the day goes on...

Best player you've never heard of: WKU's Courtney Lee. Everything about his game is smooth. He's got a good mid-range game as he's already hit a couple of tough floaters early and clearly has range as he just buried a ridiculously deep 3-pointer like he was Shan Foster or something. Lee's got great length and seems very attentive on top of the 3-2 zone .

Western Kentucky is playing very inspired basketball, leading Drake 47-38 at the half. The Hilltoppers are shooting an absurd 61 percent (20-for-33) from the field, including 7 of 16 from 3-point range. Drake, meanwhile, is 10-for-27, including 5-for-17 from downtown.

The only positive? Drake is 13-for-16 from the foul line, while Western Kentucky hasn't attempted a foul shot. "If the refs didn't want Drake to win, we'd be up 30," say the fans behind me. Of course.

Reason #3,128 why I love sitting on press row: Guess who is standing a few feet away from me at the moment? None other than UConn coach Jim Calhoun. A Celtics fan in the crowd just got Calhoun's attention and said, "Thank you for Ray Allen." Calhoun nodded and smiled. Great stuff.

My favorite moment of the day: Tyrone Brazleton just converted a four-point play right in front of me. Courtney Lee was the first to greet Brazleton, who couldn't help but let out a big grin. These guys are clearly enjoying the moment. Western Kentucky is now up 16 with 11:53 to play.

The arena is now near capacity as fans pour in for the UConn-San Diego game up next. With eight minutes to go, Drake trails by 15, which means the inevitably 12-5 upset is close to happening once again.

"Let's go Drake! Let's go Drake! Let's go Drake!" The Bulldog fans are fired up after their team cut the lead to 11. Does the Bulldogs have a fun in them?

Worst (no)-call of the afternoon: Brazelton went up for a lay-up and a Drake player grabbed the rim, causing the shot the roll out, which clearly should have been a goaltending violation. The great fans behind me let the refs know they missed one.

Lee just hit a sweet pull-up jumper from the foul line. Even though he hasn't put up the best numbers today, it's easy to see why NBA scouts are so high on him.

We've got a great one here as Drake has cut the lead to one with 1:12 to go. Western Kentucky is visibly shaken, but let's see if they can keep their composure and hang out for a victory.

Wow! Jonathan Cox just buried a deep 3-pointer to tie the game at 83. It doesn't get any better than this, folks. 24.6 seconds left, Western Kentucky has the ball.

And now we're headed to our first overtime of the tourney. 88-88. You have to give the advantage to Drake here, who's overcome a 16-point deficit in the second half, but you just never know.

Boneheaded play of the game: Boris Siakam just fouled Drake's Josh Young even though the game was tied. Young hit one of two free throws to put the Bulldogs up one. On the other end, Siakam calmly knocked down two free throws. 98-97 Western Kentucky with 21.3 seconds remaining. We'll say he's forgiven.

Drake just won't give up. After multiple efforts, Cox came down with the ball and was fouled with 5.7 seconds to go. He knocked down both. 99-98 Drake.

INCREDIBLE! Ty Rogers just hit a game-winning 3-pointer from the 26 feet out with three guys in his face. Brazelton took the ball up court before flipping it to Rogers, who let it off just before the red light went on. He turned the Western Kentucky crowd behind me and began beating his chest repeatedly as teammates swarmed him. Truly one of the best scenes I have ever witnessed.

I'm off to the press conference, but certainly an unforgettable start to the weekend.

After listening to the press conference and talking with some players in the locker room, here are a few of the highlights from Western Kentucky's 101-99 overtime victory over Drake:

Western Kentucky coach Darrin Horn summed it up best

“You’ve got to love the NCAA Tournament, don’t ya? I think what you just saw out there is why this is the greatest game on earth,” he said. “I think what you saw is what makes this event special. A bunch of young people out there just completely pouring their hearts out and fighting to the very end, and we were fortunate that we got the ball last.”

Thoughts on the final play and how it was supposed to unfold

“We tried to get the ball in (Brazelton's) hands and he tried to get the ball to the basket,” Rodgers said. “It kind of worked out good for me because I did have the ball out of bounds and I could see the play kind of right in front of me so once Tyrone tried to drive, he drew two defenders and I was calling for the ball and he hit me. He made a great pass. People don’t understand that with five seconds, most players panic and don’t try to make the extra pass.”

“We had five seconds and we knew five seconds was enough time to get the ball to the basket so coach figured that we should get the ball to the rim," Brazelton said. “During the time out, Ty Rodgers came up to me and told me like, ‘Yeah, don’t be afraid to kick it to me,’ so I just saw him open and the defense collapsing and I just kicked it to him.”

Thoughts on the final shot

“I didn’t even look it at until it went through the rim,” Brazelton said. “When I flipped it back, I was like, ‘yeah, he’s a great shooter; it’s about to go in,’ and I hoped and hoped and closed my eyes and it went in.”

On playing in a game for the ages

“With my parents, I’ve watched the ‘One Shining Moment’ song play every year at the end of the tournament,” Rodgers said. “It’s every kid’s dream. I’m just lucky. I couldn’t ask for a better moment.”

“I grew up watching it so I can’t even describe how it feels,” Brazelton said. “You can only dream about it. You never think it’s going to come true. I guess today it came true.”

It certainly did.


David Shochat said...

Tell Drake they better step their game up because i picked them in most of my brackets!!! I have them losing to UConn, but don't tell them.

David Shochat said...

there is a minute and a half left and i am still watching UT salt away American instead of Davidson and Zaga with under a minute left. How do yo leave the Xavier game yesterday but not this one. UGHHHH!!! CBS sucks at life when it comes to this.

David Shochat said...

Let's Go Drake!!! If they wouldn't have been jacking up forced threes they would be up by 6 right now. You are seeing a good one...

David Shochat said...

Wow. Best game of the tourney so far, and you guys were there. I am jealous. Buzzer beaters are why i love March Madness, and I was worried after yesterday this tourney would be boring. Even though i had Drake, I can live with it if the game is that good.

David Rutz said...

I have been to a lot of basketball games in my life; this may have been the most exciting. Ty Rogers told us the biggest shot he'd hit before this was one with 10 seconds to play against North Texas, and that was as a freshman. Now the senior nails the game-winner to send a 5 seed packing in the NCAAs for the first time since 2006 and at the buzzer also. Barge and I just stared open-mouthed when he hit that shot. Got to love it.