Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Just not fair
Traveling to New Jersey to play the seventh seed (and preseason No. 3 in the country) on their home court, for starters. But more on that in a sec.
What's more unfair is that this proved to be the coda for a season and a team that bore no resemblance to it, in any fashion whatsoever. This team had defined itself with its precise and explosive offense--it's not fair for it to finish by shooting a miserable 20-of-72 (28 percent) from the field. This team had defined itself with the calm and poise of its senior leadership--it's not fair for it to have fallen into a shell-shocked 22-4 deficit straight out of the gate. This team had proven itself to be the best team in the Southeastern Conference and one of the top 10 teams in the nation--it's not fair for it to end its season on the wrong end of an 80-52 embarrassment. (I wish I felt like another word for it.) It's just not fair for DeWanna Bonner and Whitney Boddie and Trevesha Jackson and Sherell Hobbs to go out like this. Not fair, not fair, not fair.
But since basketball games are played in the real world and not in orange-and-blue tinted storybooks, not fair happens sometimes. And that's OK. Because all the stuff that came before is still the same stuff. This team still won the SEC. The seniors are still Bonner and Boddie and Jackson and Hobbs and all the things they made those names mean over the last four years. This team will never stop being one of the most (if not the most) explosive team in transition in women's basketball. Nell Fortner is still as good as any coach in this league and someone who's going to make Auburn as proud as any coach at the school for as long as she remains on the Plains. Nothing that happened in Piscataway changes that afternoon in Auburn when Pat Summitt's bunch was sent running back to Knoxville with their tails tucked firmly between their legs and the cheers echoing in a sold-out Beard-Eaves rafters.
In short, even a night as unfair as last night changes nothing about what this season meant: that Auburn women's basketball is back, and even if 2009-2010 maybe isn't quite as watershed as 2008-2009 proved to be, it's going to stay back. One day, it's possible the Rutgers game won't look unfair at all; it'll just look like one more growing pain on the way to a perennial championship program.
--I know women's basketball needs the fans and doesn't want its biggest games of the season played in front of row upon row of empty seats for the ESPN cameras, but the current setup is a joke. It's just a joke. Either go back to letting the protected seeds play host to their "pod" or follow the men's neutral-site procedures. Attendance issues or no attendance issues, sports that take themselves seriously don't let teams that earned higher seeds with their regular-season play suffer from obvious, overwhelming disadvantages when the games start counting. And yes, I would have said this if Auburn had won.
--The response to that is probably "having it at Beard-Eaves wouldn't have made up 28 points," but you know what? Maybe it would have. You don't know. What I do know is that it wouldn't have created one of those "never had a chance" situations where the home team is going against an underdog and the circumstances are so perfect the favorite never has a prayer, a la Auburn's Tennessee win earlier in the year.
--I've opined multiple times here that this Auburn team would have to get Alli Smalley going to have any chance of breaking down a quality, committed defense like Vandy's or Rutgers'. Her line last night: 2-of-11, 0-for-5 from 3, 4 points, 0 assists, 1 turnover. That wasn't going to work.
--Of course, pretty much everybody had a nightmare last night. When KeKe Carrier and her 7 points on six shots is Auburn's most effective offensive player ... well, it's been a bad, bad night.
--At least you can't fault the effort: Auburn grabbed a whopping 22 offensive rebounds on their 52 (!) misses, so it's not like they weren't trying.
--Auburn got a lousy draw not only in having to face Rutgers in New Jersey, but having to face Rutgers at all. The Scarlet Knights (as mentioned before, and as Graham Hays detailed in his post-mortem) were a preseason top-5 team that have been to four straight Sweet 16s entering last night with one of the best coaches in the game. As I detailed after the draw, according to Sagarin's computer ratings the Scarlet Knights were somewhere between a 4- and 5-seed in reality, not a 7. And could Auburn have gotten a worse match-up than a slow-paced, defense-first team that likes to clog the lane and force outside shots? In retrospect, the Scarlet Knights should have been the favorite and it's entirely possible Auburn will have faced a Final Four team in the second round. Stupid Committee.
--Look, we can probably be honest about this, too: it doesn't detract from their accomplishments, but Auburn's SEC title probably didn't mean as much in terms of their team quality as it normally would. The conference has already seen Auburn and Tennessee (who provided both of Auburn's best victories of the season) bite the dust, with Miss. St. also duly eliminated and Florida soon on their way after facing UConn tonight. Meaning that unless LSU upsets a very good Louisville team this evening (at least they're playing in Baton Rouge as the third-seeded Cards get the same treatment Auburn got), the SEC will have all of one representative--Vandy--in the Sweet 16. Oh well.
--I've got a hoops wrap-up for both Auburn teams planned for when the Auburn men finally wrap things up (hopefully not for another week), but for now: War Eagle, ladies. Hell of a season. Thanks for the ride.