Sunday, January 25, 2009

They never had a chance

If I'd been able to attend the game, I'd have known it when I walked into the building. If I'd been able to watch it on TV--no, the handful of Ann Arbor sports bars I rang up did not have CSS--I'd have known as soon as they panned across the crowd and showed Beard-Eaves packed to its fire-code approved limits.

Instead, perched on the couch with the trusty Gametracker open and three different blogs in three different tabs for refreshing, I knew when I read this:
The arena can't hold more.
That was the sign that the last gear had clicked into place, the last number on the combination had been dialed, the last domino stood in its slot. Everything was perfect, everything in its place. Auburn was not going to lose that game yesterday. Tennessee may as well not even shown up.

I don't say that because of the crowd alone. Plenty of record crowds in all kinds of college sports have shown up for "biggest game in school history"-type showdowns and left disappointed. But many of those teams are big underdogs, Davids getting their clearest shot at taking down Goliath. The Vols might be the two-time defending national champion, but this year's version started three freshmen yesterday and has three losses. Auburn starts three seniors and has no losses. If anyone was Goliath yesterday, it was always going to be the team that had DeWanna Bonner.

Which is how you arrive at yesterday's foregone conclusion: on one hand, here is the team and the coach that for four years have been carefully building for this particular climactic season, and then have played such perfect basketball that this particular climactic season has seemed to build towards this particular climactic chance to exorcise 12 years of frustration.

And on the other, you have a crumbling, lifeless building those same players where for four years heard the echo of their own sneakers and the cough of the lady with a cold in row 16. And after four years, finally, finally those players see it properly crammed with cheers and shakers and Auburn t-shirts and life the way they've always deserved.

You think this team, at this moment, was ever going to lose in front of that crowd? That they might, in any scenario, have let this kind of opportunity get away from them? Uh, no. Auburn's 2009 women's basketball team was not going to let that happen. Yes, it was fun watching the Gametracker's little triangle-and-circle women steal the ball over and over again and lay it in over and over again and watch the lead balloon to 20-some-odd points. But surprising? Nah.

Here's the one downside to yesterday: it won't come again. Forgive the cliche, but that one shining moment won't come again. "Fate" and "destiny" and the gear-fitting and all the good intangible stuff that Auburn had on their side against Tennessee yesterday won't be there the rest of the way. From now on, Auburn will have to win games on their own.

The good news is that they're obviously good enough to win a ton of them that way. Maybe even their last one.

Other assorted thoughts:

--I wish I knew enough about women's college basketball to say that Bonner and Whitney Boddie are the best one-two punch in the game. I don't, so I can't. But it's impossible they're not in the conversation, and not just because of Bonner's 35 points or Boddie's 9 assists (after all, Boddie committed an uncharacteristic 8 turnovers, too). It's the 6--6!--steals for Bonner, the 7-of-10 shooting from the floor for Boddie, Bonner's zero personal fouls, Boddie running the point for a team that shot 58.6 percent in the second half. These are two flat phenomenal basketball players.

--Somehow, I seriously doubt that the word that came out of Pat Summitt's mouth to describe her team not taking a free throw in the first half was actually "B.S." I'll be honest: when Team A finishes with 12 first-half free throws and Team B doesn't take one until less than 18 minutes remain in the game, I think there's a little bit of wiggle room for complaint. That said: Team A had DeWanna Bonner, and Team B didn't. And perhaps more substantially, we're talking about college basketball in front of a packed house and rowdy crowd. Anybody's who really expecting a fairly called game in that situation is asking the impossible.

--If there's one thing Auburn could have improved on in this game (aside from Boddie's turnover count), you'd have to say it's the bench play. Yeah, KeKe Carrier and Reneisha Hobbs were the only two players to see anything more than a cameo victory-cigar appearance, but neither of them (or anyone else off the bench) even took a shot from the field. Auburn's probably going to need something from the reserves if they're going to survive the gauntlet of the SEC tournament in a month.

Then again, it might be good news as it affects Auburn's NCAA chances; because of the increased TV presence and longer timeouts, depth is less important once you hit the capital-T Tournament and more of an emphasis is placed on which team has the better set of starters. Auburn, you may have noticed, has one hell of a set of starters.

--Which means it's time for a shout-out to Alli Smalley and her 3-of-8 shooting from deep and 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. And while you can't say Sherell Hobbs and Trevesha Jackson exactly had "big" games--a combined 4-of-14 shooting, zero assists, and 1 steal in a combined 68 minutes--they also combined to only turn the ball over once. Meaning Auburn had the maximum amount of possessiosn to get the ball into either Boddie's or Bonner's hands. And, of course, all five starters had something to do with a defensive effort that resulted in 23 freaking turnovers.

--Here's to hoping someone on the Plains is printing up "Nell's Nuts" or "Fortner Frenzy" t-shirts, because it's pretty well past time she got the eponymous-fan group treatment. Jay Coulter:
Speaking to a group of Auburn alumni last fall, Fortner said she dreamed of one day being able to fill up Beard-Eaves Coliseum. She talked about standing on the sidelines at Jordan-Hare Stadium during a football game and looking into the stands and thinking about the impact it would have on her program if she could draw just one-tenth of that crowd.

Through hard work and belief, she got that and more yesterday. Fortner hasn't used the facilities at Auburn as an excuse to lose. She doesn't walk around saying things will get better when the new coliseum is built. Nell Fortner doesn't make excuses. She's literally built the program from the bottom up and made it a winner.
Dude, word.


Jonesy said...

There is a student group for the women. The Nellions.

Got probably 3 or 4 shirts in my closet from the last 3 years of college (I started in Ciampi's last year)

Jerry Hinnen said...

"Nellions." Excellent. Thanks for the correction.

easyedwin said...

WDE and major mega props to the women!! When do we play UNC?

Sullivan013 said...

Nell is a class act. Haven't been this impressed with an Auburn coach since David Marsh. Glad to see the women finally getting the support they deserve.

War Eagle! GO TIGERS!

tigerbuckeye said...

Jerry..I have been to many AU women's BB games over the years, and this team is right up there with those late '80's teams...I live in Destin, Fl and it is well worth the drive to see this team..may be a little far from Ann Arbor, though.