Quite a week.
Augie/USF basketball, Valentine’s Day, Storm opener, Stampede weiner dog races at the Arena, my dog lost a leg, and I turned 33, among other things.
* I’ll start with reviewing the Augie/USF game, specifically the men’s game, because there isn’t a whole lot to be said of the women’s game. Augie is just better (although USF played extremely well the next night against Wayne State, and seem to have found their starting center in Kelli Hoff if you ask me).
Big win for USF. Really big. The conference tournament is still out there, but the chances of them winning it are obviously pretty low, so this is likely to be the highlight of their season.
There’s nothing wrong with that. The Cougars are no worse off in the NSIC than the Vikings were when Tom Billeter first took over, so at this point, getting a handful of conference wins in their first year in the conference is a decent starting point. Getting a win over Augie — just the second since 1941 — in front of a big crowd and against a very good Viking team, well, it’s OK to say that’s your biggest win of the year.
I alluded to it in my preview stories for the game, but this was the right time for USF to strike, so to speak, because Augie is only going to make their first appearance in the Stewart Center once. From now on, they’ll know what awaits them. USF will always have a home court advantage in their own building and they’ve historically played well there, but this was the one time that they really had Augie in a vulnerable situation of being in completely unfamiliar surroundings, and it ended up being an even bigger factor than I thought it would.
The USF students came out in full force and were energetic, loud (and kinda funny) all night. I had wondered leading up to the game if Augie’s fans would turn it into a home game, but they didn’t turn out as much as I thought they would. The Augieholics did, but they were largely drowned out.
The crowd and the atmosphere obviously got in the heads of some of Augie’s freshmen — Dan Jansen in particular — and I was surprised at how willing Tom Billeter was to admit that. I think he viewed it as a teachable moment. Perhaps it’s a gut-check for the youngsters — a reminder that they’re not all the way there yet.
If you’d told me USF wouldn’t hit a field goal in the game’s final 13 minutes I’d have told you they got beat by 20, so that’s a credit to their defense. But to me, the story of the game was about a 10-12 minute stretch in the middle of the first half in which the Cougars were just unbelievably good. Everyone was hitting shots, they were defending, they were rebounding (the fact that USF outrebounded Augie 34-26 was the undersold story of the game) and simply playing with a confidence and a we’re-just-not-going-to-let-you-beat-us-this-time attitude that threatened to run the Vikings out of the gym.
The Vikings bounced back the next night to secure a quality road win at SMSU, and the Cougars laid a deuce on their home floor the next night against Wayne State, and that serves as a reminder that in the big picture it’s just one game among 22. Not a real damaging loss for Augie, and not a win that suddenly makes the Cougars a playoff contender.
But it was good for the rivalry. Nobody for Augie will want to admit it, nor should they, really, but if we’re being honest, it was good for USF to get on the board. Chris Johnson had said himself they needed to get one to make it a real rivalry, and they got one.
From the football game to the two basketball meetings this season, this rivalry is off to a terrific start.
* Michael Jordan turned 50, and a bunch of people wrote and said a lot of words about him. Most of it was utterly redundant. Michael Wilbon is in love, and I’m pretty sure he will be forever.
* A lot of people laughed when Carl Pavano hurt himself shoveling snow last month. Turned out he literally almost died.
* Remember Eric Hartzell, the mercurial Stampede goalie who was hot and cold under his dad, former head coach Kevin Hartzell? He’s a Hobey Baker candidate as the “best player on the best team in college hockey”.
* Tubby Smith dancing. Pretty good. Iowa, however, was not impressed.
* The Storm won their opener 64-41 at Green Bay. You can read a short recap in Monday’s editions, and if you missed it, my season preview is here.
* The Stampede set an attendance record on Saturday night with 4,788 fans. The weiner dog races were surely a big part of it (GiveJimOlanderARaise.com), but the attendance numbers for the Herd have been terrific all year. I honestly am kind of at a loss to explain it. But kudos to the Stampede front office, and their coaches and players, for what they’ve done this season.
* The lady friend got me arguably the greatest shirt ever for my birthday. And Dead Space 3.
* I wrote some non-sports stuff last week. In case you missed them, there was this ‘Get Fit’ piece, offering my friendly advice on getting in shape.
And there was this one about the trials and tribulations of my dog’s late left leg.
Zebbie and I would sincerely like to say thanks for the overwhelming support we’ve received in the last few days. I’ve received dozens of emails, texts, tweets, etc., many from people who have had three-legged dogs themselves. It’s been nice to hear, and while Zebbie still has lots of recovering to do, he’s off to a very good start.