Heart pounding. Tense. Ecstasy on one end, and for the other team–ultimate heartbreak.
Rebounding was the story of the second national semfinal at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. In front of the largest crowd ever to pay to watch a college basketball game–79,444 fans saw Kentucky run off 17 straight points from the end of the first half to the first few minutes of the second half before Wisconsin caught fire from the arc.
But just like Butler/Michigan State in 2010, Duke/Indiana in 1992, and Duke/UNLV in 1991, this game became a battle of wills. Which team wanted to win the most? Even without Willie Cauley-Stein out with his ankle injury that he suffered in the strangest of ways during the Regional Semfinal round, a TBS camera caught Julius Randle briefly tweaking his ankle during the first half.
However, it was not all doom and gloom for Ashley Judd and other fans representing the very vocal Big Blue Nation. They seemed to blend in well at Jerry Jones self-proclaimed billion dollar “Palace of Dallas”, aka the home of America’s Team during the NFL season in the Dallas Cowboys.
Traevon Jackson made 2 of 3 from the free-throw line, which turned out to be the only miss Wisconsin had from the charity stripe all night. And why, oh why was Andrew Harrison left so wide open again from the left wing? Wisconsin could barely get a finger on him, let alone a hand.
But as most devoted Badgers fans were accustomed to seeing all season long, there was Jackson again going for the game-winning shot. He beat Michigan at home with a 17 foot jumper. Jackson also beat Michigan State at the buzzer. Personally, I felt he should have driven harder to the basket and get a call ala Rumeal Robinson of Michigan getting bailed out against Seton Hall in overtime during the 1989 title game at the old Seattle Kingdome.
Instead, Jackson’s shot skimmed the upper right corner of the rim and bounced high off the rim. Kentucky again escaped with more than their white sneakers on, 74-73. Wisconsin only graduates two players, including spark plug Ben Brust so they will be back to try again in the rugged and expanded Big Ten when Rutgers and Maryland try to take their best punches when they fly to the Midwest next winter.
A lot of rewriting history to take place on Monday night…
For Kentucky, they become the first school to have the lowest ever margin of victory as far as point differential is concerned leading up to the championship game–at 18 points.
For Connecticut, they passed the Virginia Cavaliers of 1984 as a 7 seed to reach the championship game. That year, the last season the tournament had only 48 teams, Virginia lost to Houston in the national semifinals.
This is also the highest combined seeds to reach the final game, 15–the previous record was 2011 in Houston, when UConn was a 3 and Butler was an 8 seed.
Besides Villanova’s nearly perfect effort to slay the giant kings in the Georgetown Hoyas during the 1985 title game, the other 8 seed to reach the final game (but their appearance was later vacated) was UCLA’s first final game appearance following the retirement of legendary Coach John Wooden in 1980, when the Bruins lost to Darrell Griffith and Louisville at old Market Square Arena in Indianapolis.
Yes, I will admit–my bracket has finally busted:(.
But I still wanted Kentucky to lose, and the last time they lost in the NCAA’s was to, you guessed it–UConn at the 2011 Final Four in Houston (the previous record setter for largest crowd to ever see a college basketball game until Monday night).
UConn is perfect “Deep in the Heart of Texas”
They won their last two titles in the Lone Star State:
2004, beating Duke and Georgia Tech in San Antonio.
2011, beating Kentucky and Butler in Houston.
Again, it will come down to rebounding–but I think UConn has learned a lot, especially after Scottie Wilbekin turned his ankle in the closing minutes back on December 2 before that wild scramble for the loose rebound before that game winning hoop by Shabazz Napier.
My final thoughts concern the media coverage on the three Turner cable channels…
TBS mostly kept a similar look and feel that we came to expect from CBS. Even with the pregame show expanding from two to three hours, it was still an informative and fun time.
And yes, I did not really miss having Lesley Visser or Tracy Wolfson doing some taped segment honoring the Chevrolet (later Lowe’s) Player and Coach of the Year.
The only difference, but it was a subtle difference was seeing two sets of analysts inside the stadium:
The primary crew consisted of Ernie Johnson (Turner), Clark Kellogg (CBS), Kenny “The Jet” Smith (Turner), and Sir Charles Barkley (Turner). By the way, did anyone bother to catch the gem when Barkley was at Auburn back in the day and he mentioned to an NBC camera eight of his favorite nicknames? Barkley said that was, “one of the best moments of my life.”
The secondary crew had Greg Gumbel and Seth Davis (CBS), along with NBA analysts from Turner in Reggie Miller and the recently retired Grant Hill.
As for the launch of the Gamecasts, they were definitely lots of fun to watch:
I took turns watching mostly Florida over UConn in game one, and of course–watching Wayne Larrivee getting somewhat excited for Wisconsin during game two. Halftime was still handled by TBS.
Each team of specific announcers gave us some cool nuggets profiling each of the school’s season capsules and digging up past players for quick interviews.
The best interview involved Gators alum Chandler Parsons. Not only was he engaging in his talk with James Bates, but he gave off a cool fashion reminder for any of the ladies that might have been watching on TNT: He showed off his very colorful blue and orange painted athletic shoes. Too bad it did not come in handy during the second half though.
The best use of social media went to UConn, as many former great players from the legendary Jim Calhoun era, which included the likes of Richard “Rip” Hamilton to Kemba Walker all checked in to wish the Huskies the best of luck.
Overall, it will be interesting to see how the ratings shook out between TBS, TNT, and TruTV. Keep in mind that TBS will again be doing the semifinals come 2015 in Indianapolis.
Monday night will be just one set of announcers, one channel, one game:
CBS with Jim Nantz covering his 30th straight Final Four (24th as play-by-play announcer), Greg Anthony, Steve Kerr, and Tracy Wolfson giving us the cool action to wrap this truly unpredictable season.
The pregame show, renamed Championship Central, sponsored by Capitol One instead of the more stoic name, Prelude To A Championship–will start at 8:30 instead of 9 p.m. Eastern time. The final big change is that the tip time will occur 13 minutes earlier.
For many years, the tip used to be at 9:22 and later 9:23 p.m. But following ESPN/ABC’s lead these last several seasons during the NBA Finals each June, CBS will have the title game start at a respectable time of 9:10 p.m. Eastern time.
And sometime before the clock strikes midnight will be the penultimate edition of that very sappy 1987 anthem penned by Dave Barrett, One Shining Moment–to be again sung by the late, great jazz vocalist Luther Vandross.