Because I love you guys, and because my mother would have words for me, I'll save you several hundred words of ranting about pinkwashing and the enforcement of BHA/Play4Kay as The Holy Cause For Women's Basketball. Besides, that would make me angry, and after a game like that, I don't want to be angry.
Great attendance for this one! We had some of the clinic kids whose events were pushed back from last week, of course, and the athletes running the clinics mostly decided to stay for the game, but there were a lot of other folks around too. Our section was full of people from Newark- they cheered loud and hard for all of the Newark players in the game, both St. John's and Cincinnati. There were guys from the men's soccer team behind us, cheering on a friend of theirs who was in the timeout shooting contest. (He didn't make any of the shots; I still maintain that if he was a soccer guy, he should have tried to throw it in over his head like Erin Thorn did that one time.) The crowd didn't really get into it unless Nadirah or Aliyyah did something awesome, but since they were often awesome, that worked out well.
Solid anthem. Band put in a lot of work because of ESPN's tendency to delay things. Cincinnati walked through the end of a dance routine once. (Still need to figure out what that song is that sounds a little like "Carol of the Bells" but is appropriate for all seasons.)
Lesha Dunn appeared to have a different definition of fouls than the officials and other participants in the game. I don't know, maybe they call things differently in Canada or something. I expected her to be more of a factor, but I don't know if Cincy wanted to take advantage of the height differential; looking at their roster, they're really not that tall a team, just a little bit taller than us. Alexis Durley had a really nice steal that she converted to a fast break lay-up. She played well for them off the bench. Jasmine Whitfield gave them some time in the second half. I sort of remember Shelbi Chandler being big, but that's all I can think of when I think of her. Tiffany Turner was first off the bench in both halves, but I don't remember anything that she did.
Dayeesha Hollins was in foul trouble for a good part of the game, and by the time she could get back into it, Cincinnati was well out of it. While that allowed the freshman Durley to shine, I think Jamelle Elliott would have preferred to get more than eight points out of her senior guard. Kayla Cook's hair kept distracting me; those little hanks of blonde hair at each of her temples made me want to attack her with hair elastics. I imagine they didn't help with her shooting, either. Chelsea Jamison was able to be in the right place at the right time a lot on defense. I don't know what it is, but there's something I like about her. Jeanise Randolph exploited the paint for most of her baskets. That's a big load of woman. And I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. I think the folks in front of us wanted to cheer for Alyesha Lovett, since she's from Newark, but other than her rebounding, she didn't do much to cheer about.
Early on, Cincinnati was exploiting our defense beautifully, making backdoor cuts and taking advantage of every mistake we made. It was 8-0 Cincinnati, and I felt the tournament fading out of our reach.
And then Nadirah McKenith happened. And then it was Nadirah 11, Cincinnati 10. And the rout was on.
Cedrica Gibson got to run the point for most of the second half, and she's a steady hand. She needs a little more time to learn the college game, but I think she'll adjust to being a solid guard. Sandra Udobi had a nice run in the second half- she did an amazing job of getting to the line, and while she needs to work on her quickness a little bit, she looked like the top notch recruit we brought in. Ashley Perez got hot from the corner and showed off her three-point shot (though not her two-point shot). She needs to get smarter on defense, but she's got time for that. Keylantra Langley demonstrated that old habit of hers where she hits the shot with the shot clock running down. She also played well on D. Amber Thompson got lucky that she didn't get tagged with any turnovers, because there was a loose ball that she looked like she kicked out of bounds. I'd like to see her be more aggressive after the ball, but she was efficient and reasonably effective in her minutes and new hairdo. Be more awesome, Amber! I know you can!
Shenneika Smith had a tough night shooting, whether it was because she was taking stupid shots (I'm thinking of the one that hit the side of the backboard that looked like she was going for the foul instead of actually attempting to hit the shot) or because she was well guarded. Fortunately we didn't need her to get going. Briana Brown was solid, cleaning up on the boards and snagging loose balls. She wasn't as effective on post defense as she usually is, but she's 5-8, I don't exactly expect her to play in the post. I'm 5-8, and I definitely don't expect me to play in the post! Mary Nwachukwu didn't play a lot of the game, and was kind of tentative when she did. I expect her to at least try to grab at least one rebound, but she didn't even seem to be looking for her shot when the team wanted to get everyone on the board. Aliyyah Handford had a rough start, but then she got hot and started doing amazing things that should be on SportsCenter.
But not quite as awesome as Nadirah McKenith, which is why Nadirah gets her very own paragraph. I repeat: Nadirah 11, Cincinnati 10. And then she assisted Aliyyah's first basket. She hit shots from all over the arena. She picked a Bearcat's pocket clean as a whistle and broke it down the floor. She had a little bit of everything, and all of it without a turnover. She proved her worth as a pro prospect today. She dragged her team back into the game, and they followed her lead.
The officiating was... I believe our colleague Ray would refer to several of the calls, especially late in the game, as "game management" calls. Out-of-bounds, travels, differing levels of contact... it felt like we were getting the worst of the calls, but clearly it didn't matter. (And we hit our free throws! It was amazing! It was a revelation! I heard a choir of angels with every rustle of the net! Okay, not really, but St. John's is Catholic, you never know.)
This was PinkZone/Play4Kay/whatever it is they're branding it as these days, so pink shirts abounded. The cheerleaders with the donation box had parked themselves in front of the t-shirt bin, and we had a communication breakdown, but I was okay with that. It was a better shirt than most years. The corporate branding wasn't as obnoxious. And internally, the focus was on the fund for Clare Droesch, not on Play4Kay, for which was relieved; I'd rather the focus at the game be on something that's relevant for the school, while ESPN can do their thing over the airwaves. (Also, my belated and eternal gratitude to the St. John's graphics crew, which has finally stopped referring to the "Crush Clare Droesch Fund" and clarified it to "Crush Cancer for Clare Droesch". Much easier to donate to that!) Your intrepid blogger ran around the arena until finding the guys with the ducks, then handed them twenty bucks and came away with a tray full of ducks. We started naming them during slow parts of the game: Cathrine, Jillian, Paul, Daisy, Darkwing, Jean-Sebastien...
"Go home, mom, you're loopy. GO HOME, MOM. You're loopy." Because I love my mother, that's the only part of the conversation you get.
It was a really good game, a really good atmosphere, and a great chance for Nadirah to strut her stuff. I can't ask for any more than that.