Saturday, March 25, 2017

Live Sports Blog - College Baskeball & Soccer in a Single Day.

I went there when the basketball wasn't very good.
I have had a lot of wonderful sports moments over the past few years. My sports fandom was created and nurtured by my grandmother, who was the biggest Denver Broncos fan I had ever met - I couldn't even call her during games as she was that obsessed. It was simply amazing to watch them win a Super Bowl in 2016 - especially considering what happened in 2014. Just weeks prior, the soccer club that I have been supporting since 2001, the Portland Timbers, finally hoisted their first championship in winning MLS Cup out on Columbus, Ohio in rather dramatic fashion by a 2 to 1 margin. While these are impressive accomplishments in their own right, I've now watching another institution that I know and love with perhaps make history in their own right. In just over 30 minutes, my alma mater, Gonzaga University, plays for the right to advance to their first ever Final Four if they can beat one of the upset darlings of this year's tournament, the Xavier Muskateers.

I graduated from Gonzaga in 1989, which fell between the John Stockton era (the Hall of Famer graduated in 1984 and left to do great things, but he did serve me a burger and beer once back when) and the current run that started in 1995. That year, the unknown Jesuit school advanced all the way to the Elite 8 rather unexpectedly buoyed by some magical performances, and now, the team is a regular participant in the annual NCAA tournament. They've never advanced to the actual finale, however, but they have a chance today if they can outlast Xavier. With the Timbers playing today as well, I thought this would be a lovely time to put forth a live blog of my thoughts as the viewing goes on.

2:51 pm - I had to turn off the pre-game show when they went to puppets. Oh, wait, these guys are more entertaining that the real announcers. I'm sorry, but sometimes, TV tries too hard to be entertaining. Sometimes you just have to let moments live and create their own memories.

2:55 pm - My grey boy, GB, comes over to give me a much needed head butt before the festivities start. I think he knows I am nervous. This is a big deal.

2:57 pm - the puppets are back and GB has taken Jennifer's seat on the couch. It's his way as he looks for the warm play to lie down and my lap is currently occupied by my computer. Only 12 minutes left until the tip off, but I do find it weird this game is on TBS. For me, TBS will always be the channel for Atlanta Braves baseball games and odd programming, but they've changed their profile by bringing on a lot of different programming.

3:01 pm - SAP Center? Uh, okay. I swear these arena names just get more odd as we go along. Some of these statistics are dizzying, but not as much as Karnowski's beard. Seriously, that guy would fit in around Portland with that thing.

3:06 pm - So Xavier has an urn of ashes that they carry about during the tournament. It's not people or Soylent Green, but it's actually paper copies of their schedule for the month of February. It was so brutal that the coach thought it would a good omen to burn them in effigy. Have to admit, it's a great story and they even have a keeper of the ashes. Then again, we are talking about a Jesuit/Catholic university and Catholics deal in ashes - a lot. I would know.

3:11 pm - They finally tipped off and the game starts out with a Gonzaga turnover. Uh, oops, then another turnover, followed by missed shots and a foul. I hope this isn't a sign of things to come, but the Zags finally tie it with a post move. I will try not to mix up my basketball and soccer terms today, but I'm not promising anything.

3:14 pm - Nerves are abound as we now have more turnovers than points. Or at least that is how it appears so far, but it's not like this is a big game or anything. Matthews with a 3 and the Zags are up 6 to 4.

3:17 pm - It's now 12 to 8 as the Zags hit another 3 pointer. This is getting more and more like a track meet as it's now 12 to 11 after a Gonzaga foul. Not only are there 2 Jesuit universities playing in this game, but neither have ever advanced to a Final Four. Somebody breaks that streak today, but we have a TV timeout. Karnowski is out as Gonzaga brings on Collins for him.

3:22 pm - Xavier hits a free throw, but the Zags have hit 4 in a row to stretch it out. The Muskateers feel like they can allow outside shooting and Gonzaga is happy to take the shot, but Jordan Matthews crashed the board. Now Xavier does the same to the Bulldogs. Yeah, this one will be in the 70's at this rate. 

3:29 pm - Hey, look, everybody, it's John Stockton. After a TV timeout, Collins blocks a shot to give Gonzaga a run. 18 straight appearances in the tournament for the Zags, and they won 35 of 36 games this year losing only once. Yeah, it's been impressive but it's still close as we hit 22 to 19 with about 10 minutes left in the first half. About ready to see if we have starters for the Timbers - Crew match which starts in about an hour.

3:39 pm - My pre-game consumption of Gatorade and decaf coffee finally caught up with me, so I had to step away momentarily. Looks like Gonzaga is trying to pull away with 3 pointers as they lead by a 30 to 25 score. Another 3 by Williams-Goss and the lead is now 8, but Karnowski has his second foul as Bluiett drives in for a layup.

3:45 pm - So just found out it's Amobi Okugo in for Guzman & it's Asprilla in for Nagbe, but otherwise, the Timbers are playing the same players that destroyed Houston 4 to 2 last week. Gonzaga gets a foul, but Williams misses 2 free throws. For such a good team, they make shooting free throws an adventure. But a steal and drive give the Zags a chance to attack. Right now, it's 35 to 29 Gonzaga with 3 minutes left or so.

3:53 pm - Mathews just hits 3 free throws to push the lead to 9. Lead is now 11 with another 3 as Gonzaga is trying to pull away a bit before the break, and I'm getting excited for a food break where I can heat up some soup and unleash the beer choice of today. FYI - Timbers starters are Gleeson, Powell, Olum, Miller, Valentin, Okugo, Chara, Asprilla, Valeri, Blanco & Adi. Bench is Attinella, Myers, Farfan, Zemanski, Barmby, Mattocks, Ebobisse.

3:57 pm - Williams has been huge for the Zags in the first half as the lead remains at 11. Xavier is hanging tough as I would expect them to as they get a foul on Perkins to get free throws. Just like that, Xavier cuts it to 7 after a turnover and deep 3. Yeah, it's going to be that kind of day around here, isn't it as we head to another TV timeout.

4:02 pm - Strangest play I've seen was Gonzaga fighting for a rebound and bouncing the ball off the court and into the Xavier basket for 2 followed up by a running jumper for the Zags. Macura then hits a three quarter court shot running, but it was released just after the buzzer and doesn't count but it was a huge shot. It's 49 to 39 at the half and the Zags are 20 minutes away from advancing. Wow.

4:07 pm - Blah blah blah blah blah, highlights, something something dark side. Nooksack skookumchuk blargety blergh burp. I think Greg Gumbel just woke up from a nap.

4:18 pm - A player hits a three quarter court shot and I fumble a soup can trying to hit our recycling basket in the garage and it bounces harmlessly away. This is why my basketball career never progressed beyond 7th grade where I scored a grand total of 2 points in 34 games. I played in nearly every game, but only attempted 3 free throws and a total of 10 shots. Not exactly professional material.

4:27 pm - Gonzaga gets the first basket of the second half, but Karnowski gets his third foul as it remains a 10 point game within the first minute. It's a key moment of the game because the Zag big men are starting to pile up the fouls as Williams - Goss just hits another 3. I was hoping they would be further along, so I will have to track the Timbers on the computer while watching this.

4:30 pm - Johnathan Williams is having a huge game for the Zags so far with key baskets and rebounds. It is 59 to 42 as the Zags are on a 10 to 3 run to start the second half, and Xavier is having issues keeping up. Granted, this team knocked off Arizona so they are hardly a pushover, but Gonzaga isn't making it easy with their ability to hit from outside. At the TV timeout, I turn over to see Ross and Jake with their pre-match words as they prepare to call Timbers - Crew. It's going to be a lot of back and forth on the TV for the next hour.

4:35 pm - This is unacceptable. Both the basketball and soccer are on commercial. Can somebody out there do a better job of coordination here? Please and thank you.

4:39 pm - Williams has turned this game on its ear. After Gonzaga runs a great play to get a dunk, Xavier hits a 3, then Gonzaga misses but Williams runs down the break and then gets a running leaner. It's still a 14 point lead for Gonzaga, but Xavier is keeping it interesting with effort and playing hard. I just heard the Timbers have kicked off, so we'll be paying attention as best as we can through the next bit.

4:45 pm - so I flipped over to Timbers to hear that Asprilla scored early to give the Timbers a 1 to 0 lead as Gonzaga continues to lead in their game as we hit a TV timeout. It's a 15 point lead and Xavier is starting to pile up fouls although Collins for the Zags has his fourth. I was slightly thrown off for a second until I realized that Portland was wearing the secondary kits for this one.

4:50 pm - Gonzaga has stretched their lead to 18 when the Xavier coach gets a technical foul for arguing. Williams-Goss misses the free throw as the Bulldogs are trying to push the lead to 20 as Karnowski gets fouled trying to spin for a basket. He's at the line but it's starting to get to crunch time for the Muskateers. I guess the Timbers match is now level as somebody forgot to cover Meram on a corner kick and he easily puts in the goal. Asprilla was on a nice break there for the Timbers, but the ball was just away from him. So it's 18 point lead for Gonzaga and all level for the Timbers.

4:57 pm - With the other game at a break, I flipped over to watch Higuain flip a ball to Ola Kamara with the Timbers stretched out. With Jake Gleeson out of his goal to try and defend, Kamara chipped it easily into the goal for the 2 to 1 lead for the home side. It's only 20 minutes in, but it appears the Timbers are having some struggles early after Asprilla gave them an early lead. DOH!

5:04 pm - It's now 20 points for the lead with 7 minutes left, but the more Xavier throws up the shots, the more they are pressing. Gonzaga is running some clock now to try and keep the lead going. After a turnover, it's now 22 points as Collins cleans up a rebound. I am not going to get too ahead of myself here, but it's looking good for the Bulldogs even with 5 minutes left.

5:10 pm - It's down to 19 points with 4 minutes left as I flip back to hear about Valeri hitting the post and Asprilla having a good look. It appears the Timbers are very much in this match, but they've not had much luck since getting the early lead. Blanco took a hard knock and is still down, but Petrescu decided to not call a thing. The replay shows that the ball got stuck on Asprilla's feet but it was a clear break away as Valeri curls a shot just away from the left post. Wow.

5:15 pm - the best play of the second half was from one of the court attendants trying to clean up one of the keys, but Xavier turns it over and Josh Perkins has a break away dunk. The girl gets out of the way before the dunk, but it was a pretty wild play and it should be all over the Internet. The lead is now 22 points with just about 2 minutes left as Gonzaga gets it to 80 points.

5:18 pm - it's under a minute and it's a 21 point lead, and Gonzaga has done it. Coach Mark Few clears the bench and it looks like Gonzaga will get their first ever Final Four berth. Hachimura hits the Zags' twelfth 3 pointer and this one looks to be officially done. I can finally grab a beer as my alma mater will live to play another day. Wow!! I know what I'm wearing to work on Monday!

5:33 pm - So I had to find my beer of choice for the day - a Portland Brewing IPA. This was my choice for the Timbers match, but now it's a bit of a celebratory pint for my Zags. I was a little frustrated with the Timbers and their situation until I saw Adi's goal just before the half. It was a great leave off the Powell cross and the big guy didn't miss it. He had a swing and miss minutes earlier that led to some crazy antics and Diego Chara nearly getting his second yellow for a hard bump. It's now 2 all between the Timbers and Crew, which at least for what I saw from the match seems deserving. Both teams are getting up and down the pitch, and while Portland is doing okay, they clearly miss Darlington Nagbe and David Guzman.

5:44 pm - Portland earns an early corner kick and another and nearly took the lead with Adi getting a header just over the bar. Great way to start the half as the Timbers try and pressure to get a tie breaking goal. It's still 2 all and neither side has made any updates to their playing eleven.

6:00 pm - After a spirited start to the second half, it seems like the match has gotten a little static. Silviu Petrescu has had an abysmal half making calls as Artur should have been ejected for a studs up foul on Blanco, but it appears that Petrescu is just off. Ethan Finlay earned a free kick after he kicked Blanco's leg and fell down, and then now, Valentin was called for a foul for pulling the shirt slightly. Another Crew corner is coming here, but it looks like the Timbers are fighting to find some energy out there.

6:25 pm - It's been tough to watch the Timbers as they've not really been able to get much forward so far. The defense has been playing back on their heels and pushed back, which allowed the Crew to circle about. Niko Hansen hits a rebound goal off a cross that Ola Kamara punched in forcing a Gleeson deflection, but he was out of position and the defense was stretched. It's 3 to 2 Crew and Barmby (who entered for Valentin) just missed getting the equalizer. The Timbers have looked a little rusty, and while I understand they are missing 2 key pieces, it's obvious that Portland really can't account for their approach when Nagbe and Guzman are out. Granted, Columbus is a better side that we realize, but still, the Timbers should be able to find room and chances to attack the goal. It just hasn't happened.

6:37 pm - so while Gonzaga advances, the Timbers lose 3 to 2 versus the Crew when their defense wasn't able to overcome the constant pressure. While this one would be convenient to blame on who wasn't here - Guzman and Nagbe - for me, this one comes down to inconsistencies on the Timbers. The defense, which has been so good at collectively staying organized and compact, got stretched against a Crew side that isn't normally known for pushing teams. The officiating was quizzical at best in many of the calls, and the Timbers were lucky to have just a few yellows on this evening as Petrescu was a bit random for my taste. I get the Crew were more aggressive, so that gave them some benefit, but for me, falling down on the moment of contact is such a stupid way to draw calls. Yet the Crew were able to do this consistently because of their pushing tempo and advantage in possession. I know that the Timbers were never going to go undefeated on the season, and I will give them credit for fighting for the two goals that they did get, but honestly they looked out of sorts and you can't always blame that on who is gone. It's important to be consistent with who you have, and the Timbers did too much defending in the second half and it cost them in the end.

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