Wendell Barnhouse is a nationally-known and respected columnist who has spent over 20 years covering collegiate athletics. He has reported from 23 Final Fours and more than three dozen bowl games and has written about the Big 12 and its schools since the conference's beginning. Barnhouse will be updating the Big 12 Insider on happenings and behind-the-scenes information about the conference.
|Friday, April 28|
OU's Rocha vs. UT's Jungmann
Aaron Fitt of Baseball America broke down the pitching match up of Michael Rocha vs. Taylor Jungmann in Friday night's series opener of the Red River Rivalry, Oklahoma at Texas.
Two of the four starting pitchers who comprised Baseball America's midseason All-America team will face off in a huge Big 12 rivalry series when Rocha matches up with Jungmann on Friday.
College pitching matchups don't get much better. Jungmann leads the Big 12 in wins (he's 9-0) and ERA (1.00). Rocha ranks second in wins (8-1) and third in ERA (1.19). Both righthanders pound the strike zone: Jungmann has 72 strikeouts and 13 walks in 81 innings, while Rocha has 61 strikeouts and 11 walks in 75 innings. Their pedigrees differ-Jungmann is an elite prospect with a chance to be drafted in the top 10 picks this June, while Rocha is a senior who lacks overpowering stuff-but their results are very similar.
Coming into the season, Oklahoma coach Sunny Golloway compared Rocha to Blake Cooper, South Carolina's senior ace a year ago. Like Cooper, Rocha does not look the part of an elite ace, (he's just 5-11, 209 pounds), and like Cooper, he relies on moxie and competitiveness more than stuff. But Cooper went 13-2, 2.76 to lead South Carolina to the national title last year, and Rocha is a similar stalwart for the Sooners.
"If you're in the other dugout, you'd look at Cooper last year and go, 'Come on,' " Golloway said. "Every team would be like, 'Hey, we're going to get this guy.' Then you look up in the sixth inning and you haven't gotten that guy. We have tremendous respect for him, and that's what Rocha is. The fastball's pretty good, the sinker's pretty good, the slider's pretty good, and they just don't hit him. He's not 6-foot-3, he's not the flavor of the month, he's not pretty standing on the mound, he just gets it done."
A big reason Rocha has steadily improved at Oklahoma (his ERA has dropped from 5.70 to 4.84 to 3.53 to 1.19 over the last four years) is the development of his slider. When Rocha arrived at Oklahoma as a freshman, he threw a slow, loopy breaking ball, but the Sooners don't favor that pitch because the wind is often blowing out in Norman.
"We like to control the break and know where it's going to finish," Golloway said. "There's got to be a defining moment where the slider is different from a hard curve, and instead of the round loop, you're getting that late break-there it was and now it's gone. I've seen him tighten it up. And he's got a good changeup that you've got to respect. He'll be right there anywhere from 88-91 with his fastball, and when he tries to throw really hard, the ball flattens out and it's not good for him. He lives off the ball moving and sinking. He's got as much movement as anybody out there."
Jungmann, of course, was a heralded recruit who will leave Austin this June as one of the most accomplished pitchers in school history. He went 11-3, 2.00 as a freshman to help Texas reach the CWS Finals, then went 8-3, 2.03 as a sophomore. Strikingly, his strikeout rate has actually dropped as a junior-he struck out 9.6 batters per nine innings as a freshman, 9.7 per nine as a sophomore, and has 8.0 strikeouts per nine this spring. But that's a sign of Jungmann's maturity. He has been remarkably efficient, allowing him to average just more than eight innings per start.
"(Pitching coach Skip Johnson)'s philosophy: hit the mitt, don't be afraid to challenge, let the hitter do what he's going to do," Texas coach Augie Garrido said. "Throw the ball to the catcher's glove and pitch to contact. He's better now because he's more consistent in his fastball, he has better command of his fastball, he uses it more effectively inside the strike zone when he chooses to and outside the zone when he chooses to. One of the big things is he has a much better breaking ball than he had. It's two-directional, it's later, and it's smaller, but he has better command of it because it's later and smaller."
The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Jungmann also has a plus fastball, of course, and the ability to command four pitches that rate as average or better on the major league scouting scale. That package makes Jungmann a premium prospect, where Rocha is more of a 10th-to-15th-round senior sign, as Cooper was (the Diamondbacks took him in the 12th round).
"There's a world of difference between the two guys on the mound as far as draft and projectability," Golloway said of Rocha and Jungmann, "but what they're doing right now, it's a pretty even deal: competing in college, pitching to win on Friday nights."
|Thursday, April 28|
One man's opinion on Big 12 hires
Jeff Goodman of FOXSports.com graded the coaching hires in college basketball. Here's what he had to say about the three new men's basketball coaches in the Big 12:
Missouri: Frank Haith replacing Mike Anderson. This hire was criticized, largely because of Haith's inability to consistently get to the NCAA tournament at Miami. However, that's not an easy job - as Jim Larranaga will soon learn - and Haith is a proven recruiter from his days as an assistant at Texas and at Miami. Grade: B-.
Oklahoma: Lon Kruger replacing Jeff Capel. Give Sooners athletic director Joe Castiglione credit for being able to lure Kruger from UNLV - especially with an NCAA investigation still hanging over the Sooner program's head. Kruger is a proven winner and is a huge get for Oklahoma. Grade: A-.
Texas Tech: Billy Gillispie replacing Pat Knight. I'm so torn on this one. I'm not a huge Billy Clyde Gillispie fan for the way he has treated people - and players - in the past. However, I do feel as though this is the ideal fit for him. He's well-liked in Texas, has had success at UTEP and Texas A&M and works his tail off. He has also assembled a quality staff - luring Texan Chris Walker from Villanova and retaining Chris Beard. Grade: B.
2 Big 12 teams expected to make 'significant strides
Jason King of Yahoo!Sports.com put together his list of men's college basketball teams he thinks will make "significant strides" next season. Two Big 12 Conference teams made the list.
Baylor: Not many teams in the country will boast as much talent as the Bears, who will feature two potential Top 10 draft picks (Perry Jones and Quincy Miller) in the frontcourt along with another future pro in Quincy Acy. The backcourt - last year's Achilles heel - should be much improved with the addition of freshman Deuce Bello, Cal transfer Gary Franklin, Boston College transfer Brady Heslip and junior college All-American Pierre Jackson. No team in the Big 12 will be able to match Baylor's talent.
Iowa State: It may be time to start calling Iowa State "Transfer U," as Ames has become a landing spot for players seeking a fresh start. Even though their 3-13 Big 12 record suggests otherwise, the Cyclones were pesky and tough to beat a year ago. The addition of transfers Royce White (Minnesota) and Chris Allen (Michigan State) will enable Iowa State to compete with just about every team it faces in 2011-12.
|Tuesday, April 18|
Links worth clicking
ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel writes that Oklahoma has a team loaded with talent and expectations - much like the team in 2009 that because of injuries finished 8-5.
So, who is Frank Haith? Steve Walentik of the Columbia Daily Tribune offers some answers in his profile of Missouri's new men's basketball coach.
Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com does an excellent job of explaining why the Big 12 Conference was able to snag its new deal with FOX.
Oklahoma's Casey Johnson is healthy and his improved offensive production has given the Sooners another potent bat in their lineup.
In a role reversal, Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden has been the teacher and new offensive coordiantor Todd Monkey has been the student during spring practices.
Ryann Krais transferred from UCLA to Kansas State and has become a valuable heptathlon athlete for the Wildcats.
|Thursday, April 14|
Links worth clicking
Jack Harry of Kansas City's NBC affiliate in his "Jack's Smack" segment gives two thumbs up to the Big 12's new television deal with FOX.
Andy Staples of SI.com puts the Big 12's new television deal with Fox Media Group into perspective.
And David Ubben, who covers the Big 12 for ESPN.com, did a comprehensive job of covering Wednesday's big news.
Texas A&M defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter has been in College Station for a year and he describes that time in three words: "An absolute blast."
Bruce Feldman, who covers college football for ESPN.com, gets some great behind-the-scenes access around the country. He recently wrote about new Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who has a unique way of approaching football statistics.
Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register sat down with Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg for a question and answer session that centered on his first season as the Cyclones' coach.
"Sports Show with Norm MacDonald" - you might remember him from his days anchoring the update on "Saturday Night Live" - made its debut on Comedy Central Tuesday night. One of the highlights was a bit called "Blake Like Me" where McDonald "became" Blake Griffin. The former Oklahoma star was aided by teammate DeAndre Jordan, a former Texas A&M player.
|Tuesday, April 12|
Iowa State's Hoiberg wins Shots From The Heart contest
Your Humble Correspondent's basketball activities are limited to solo shooting sessions at the local YMCA. Before the exertion overcomes the cardiovascular system (usually after, oh, 10-15 minutes), YHC likes to work on his free throw shooting. You never know when it will come in handy.
The best that YHC has ever done is make about 20 in a row. That's why YHC shakes his head in amazement and sends a respectful salute to Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg. He is the first winner of the Shots From the Heart event, a free-throw contest with Division I coaches to help raise awareness for the growing problem of heart disease and to benefit the American Heart Association.
The Mayor who is now The Coach is still A Shooter. In the championship match, Hoiberg made all 25 of his free throws to best Arizona coach Sean Miller, who went 24-of-25.
To reach the championship round, Hoiberg defeated Keno Davis (Providence), Billy Donlon (Wright State), Tubby Smith (Minnesota), Steve Alford (New Mexico) and Will Brown (Albany). During the competition, Hoiberg attempted 253 free throws. He made 252. That is not a typo nor a mistake. That's 252 of 253 free throws.That is eye-rubbingly unbelievable.
The former Cyclone star's 10-year NBA career was cut short when it was discovered he had an aneurism in his aortic root. He had open heart surgery in June of 2005 and a pacemaker was installed.
"It was an honor for me to participate in this contest and to help contribute to this cause," Hoiberg said. "For someone who is in the public eye, I feel it is my obligation to talk about heart disease and the benefits of the American Heart Association. I can live a normal life thanks to the efforts of the AHA."
Extra bases, softball category
* Texas Tech's Sandy James tied the school record with eight RBI in Sunday's 16-5 victory at Iowa State. James' 4-for-4 performance included a grand slam, a two-run double and a two-run single. She helped the Red Raiders break the school record for most runs in a Big 12 game - a record they set in Saturday's 15-5 victory over the Cyclones.
* Oklahoma rallied for three runs in the home half of the seventh inning to edge Baylor 3-2 on Saturday. The Sooners had twice loaded the bases earlier in the game but failed to score. OU coach Patty Gasso, though, never saw her players give up. "It was always looking at their eyes and saying, 'This team is going to find a way to do it,'" she said. "And we did. It was probably the most enjoyable game I've been a part of this season."
* Freshman Maddison Ruggeberg jump-started Missouri's offense with a one-out, game-tying double in the Tigers' 6-3 victory Saturday over Texas A&M. Ruggeberg wasn't expected to contribute to a veteran team but she has entrenched herself in the middle of the lineup thanks to a .444 batting average and a .667 slugging percentage. "I think it just stands for the fact that where we have good players and we have a lot of them," Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine said.
* Nebraska freshmen and twin sisters Taylor and Tatum Edwards continue to rip the cover off the ball. Taylor leads the team with a .419 average with 50 RBI plus has hit 15 homers. She joins three-time All-American Ali Viola as the only Huskers to ever hit 15 home runs and drive in 50 runs in the same season. Tatum is hitting .306 with 10 homers and 31 RBI.
* Texas extended its winning streak to 18 games with its 4-3 eight-inning victory at Nebraska Sunday. That followed the Longhorns' 1-0 victory on Saturday. Catcher Amy Hooks hit the game-winning homer Saturday and stole home on a botched squeeze play for the winning run Sunday. A game-winning dinger one day and swiping home the next day is a rare double for any player. Taylor Hoagland's two-out, two-run homer in the seventh inning set the stage for Hooks' steal.
Iowa State assistant Bobby Lutz leaves for North Carolina State
A chance to return to his home state has led Bobby Lutz to resign at Iowa State to join the staff at North Carolina State. The Wolfpack recently hired Mark Gottfried as their new coach. Lutz was hired a year ago to help Fred Hoiberg through his first season as a head coach.
Lutz, though, said that Hoiberg didn't require much help.
"He is already an excellent coach," Lutz told the Ames Tribune. "He really was when he got here. He just became more consistent at everything as the year went on, from practices to game plans. He has a flair for coaching. He has a natural presence for it that not everyone has."
Lutz is a native of North Carolina and the former head coach at Charlotte. The chance to be closer to his family was a major reason he accepted the job at N.C. State. His father suffered a heart attack in February, and his two daughters attend college in the state.
"Being near (my dad) is a big part of this for me," Lutz said.
Putting together football schedules is akin to aiming and hitting a moving target at warp speed. Factors include television, the schools involved playing the game, the conference schedule and the availability of the host stadium.
* The Big 12 announced last week that this year's Bedlam game featuring Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in Stillwater will be played on Dec. 3. That schedule change has put Oklahoma State and the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association. The Class 6A, 5A and 4A high school football championship games are scheduled to be played Dec. 2-3 at Boone Pickens Stadium. Oklahoma State said it will do "everything possible" to host the prep games as scheduled.
* Formula I racing and college football have about as much in common as Charlie Sheen and clear thinking. But there's a new Formula I course near Austin (bet you didn't know that) and it is scheduled to host a race in 2012. If that F1 race is scheduled during football season when UT has a home game, athletic director DeLoss Dodds says the school would consider changing the schedule to avoid a conflict.
* Kansas State will face former coach Bob Huggins and his West Virginia team on Dec. 8 at Wichita's Intrust Bank Arena. It will be K-State's first game in Wichita since playing Wichita State at the Kansas Coliseum in 2002, and its first neutral-site game in Wichita since a 1968 NCAA Tournament game at the Roundhouse.
* Texas Tech and women's basketball coach Kristy Curry have agreed to a new contract that will increase her compensation package by of nearly $1 million. The new five-year, $3.675-million contract will replace her previous five-year, $2.725-million deal. Tech, which reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005, went 22-11 last year and 8-8 in the Big 12, both of which were bests for Tech under Curry.
* After her first season at Missouri, women's basketball coach Robin Pingeton had her contract extended by one season through 2016. Her guaranteed salary will remain the same, but her deferred compensation will increase by $25,000 beginning in 2012. The Tigers finished 13-18 overall and 5-11 in the Big 12.
* Iowa State signee Tyrus McGee was named a first-team NJCAA Division I All-American. McGee, who will be a junior with the Cyclones next season, played at Cowley County Community College (Kan.). He averaged 20.1 points and made 115 3-pointers while shooting 48.7 percent from beyond the arc.
Early preseason top 25 rankings for 2011-12 college hoops
Early, way early, too early, extremely early preseason basketball top 25s for the 2011-12 season. Also, note that these were compiled before Baylor's Perry Jones III announced that he would return for his sophomore season.
Lots of other links
New Missouri coach Frank Haith overcame obstacles and challenges along his path to become a Division I head coach.
Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman writes that Texas freshman Alex Silver is playing baseball again four months after being diagnosed with cancer.
Vahe Gregorian of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch delves into how Missouri's search for a basketball coach led to the hiring of Frank Haith.
Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes that Missouri athletic director Mike Alden is being unfairly criticized by the school's fans, boosters.
Lon Kruger, Oklahoma's new basketball coach, has made his e-mail address public and wants feedback and opinions from Sooners fans.
Phil Bennett, Baylor's new defensive coordinator, brings a wealth of experience to his job with the Bears.
Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden believes he will be even better this season.
|Wednesday, April 6|
Blair waiting on Disney World
Texas A&M coach Gary Blair apparently has the national championship game confused with the Super Bowl, where the MVP gets to say, "I'm going to Disney World" after winning the game.
The Aggies coach got no such chance to utter those five words after his team defeated Notre Dame to win the national championship.
"I want to go to Disney World with my family, and nobody on TV asked me," he said. "I want to go there, preferably for free."
Blair is 65. He thinks that Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun, who is 68, would make a great travel partner to see Mickey, Minnie and the crew.
"Me and Calhoun can take our grandkids, and it would be a great promotion," Blair said. "Calhoun doesn't know who I am, but I know him."
Championship game fast breaks
* Texas A&M coach Gary Blair recognized our Armed Forces in his opening statement following the Aggies' victory: "Before we talk about the game, let's talk about Aggies all over the country, Aggies all over the nation, I got letters from Afghanistan, from Iraq, and everything today, just telling me how much people were getting up at 4:00 in the morning watching. We've got soldiers fighting in a lot of different places right now, but they're fighting for us to be able to play this little game of basketball and to enjoy the freedoms that we have."
* Notre Dame was playing just two hours from South Bend and appeared to have nearly three-quarters of the 17,473 crowd at Conseco Fieldhouse. "We've definitely been in some heated arenas," A&M senior guard Sydney Colson said. "I think this team, we've adjusted to adversity all year, and I think this team has such a mental toughness and a physical toughness to get through a game like that."
* Danielle Adams' 30 points were the second-most scored in a women's national championship game. Texas Tech's Sheryl Swoopes holds the championship game record of 47.
* Six years ago in Indianapolis, Baylor won the 2005 national title. The Big 12's four Texas schools now own a national title - Texas won in 1986 and Texas Tech in 1993 as members of the Southwest Conference.
* Texas A&M gave long-time trainer Mike "Radar" Ricke quite the present when they won the national championship. Ricke, a 1982 graduate of A&M, turned 51 Tuesday.
* This was the 30th anniversary of the women's NCAA Tournament and Final Four. There was a certain symmetry to Texas A&M winning the title considering that Aggies' coach Gary Blair was at the first Four in 1982 at the Scope Arena in Norfolk, Va. He was an assistant then with Louisiana Tech, which won the NCAA title that year with Kim Mulkey, now the Baylor coach, at point guard.
* Texas A&M became the seventh No. 2 seed to win the national championship and the first since Maryland in 2006.
* Texas A&M, which shot 68.2 percent (15-of-22) in the second half, finished at 54.7 percent for the game. That's the fourth-best shooting performance in NCAA championship game history.
* The Aggies' offensive efficiency in the second half was stunning. Texas A&M had 35 possessions and scored on 22 of those. The Aggies turned it over nine times so when they were able to get a shot at the basket, the scored on 22 of 26 possessions.
* According to ESPN.com, Notre Dame scored 28 points in the paint over the first 24 minutes, making 14-of-18 shots in the lane (77.8 percent). Over the final 16 minutes, the Irish scored just 14 points in the paint and were 7-of-19 (36.8 percent) on shots in the lane.
* Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw on Texas A&M's Danielle Adams: "We did not find an answer for her. We had a plan. We just weren't able to stop her. ... She's just a great player. She's got a big body and we couldn't get around her."
A triple play of analysis on Texas A&M's victory
Here's how ESPN.com women's college basketball writers Mechelle Voepel, Graham Hays and Charlie Crème analyzed Texas A&M's 76-70 victory over Notre Dame in Tuesday's national championship game.
Texas A&M knocked off back-to-back No. 1 seeds en route to the championship game without getting stellar performances from Danielle Adams against either Baylor or Stanford, at least by the standards previously established by the All-American. But the Aggies won their first chamapionship because their best player came up big in her final game. On a stage where so many seniors who defined the sport have been met recently with disappointment, including Candice Wiggins, Jayne Appel and Angel McCoughtry in the past five years alone, Adams rose to the occasion.
But more than simply being clutch in scoring 30 points, including 22 in the second half, she almost single-handedly killed off Notre Dame's momentum by devoting herself to the low post. As good as Notre Dame was all season, it didn't have to face a proven low-post threat of anything close to All-American caliber in the tournament (aided by potential future All-American Stefanie Dolson's foul trouble in the semifinals). And while both athletic and tough with Becca Bruszewski, Devereaux Peters and Natalie Achonwa, the Fighting Irish were not especially big -- especially with Achonwa in foul trouble all night off the bench before fouling out in the second half.
Largely giving up on the 3-point shots and mid-range jumpers she hit with regularity during the regular season, Adams owned the block and gave Sydney Colson and Sydney Carter two big numbers to throw the ball to in erasing a seven-point deficit with as little as 16:06 remaining on the clock. Few things are more demoralizing for a defense than watching an unstoppable post presence go to work, and Adams was just that Tuesday night.
Without going back over all the replays (a benefit the officials, of course, are not afforded in real time), it's difficult to cast any judgment on the substance of all the fouls. (Oh what the heck, there were some truly awful calls, including the fourth foul on Texas A&M's Carter to set up a three-point play opportunity for Skylar Diggins with under four minutes to play.) But what can't be argued is that the abundant whistles added a layer of complexity for both teams. Just about every key player had three or more fouls down the stretch. But Colson's ability to stay on the court for the entire second half after picking up three first-half fouls enabled the Aggies to get the ball to Adams and keep the game from slipping away against Notre Dame's toughness and big shots from Diggins.
Junior forward Tyra White ended up being the X-factor for Texas A&M this entire NCAA tournament. She is a versatile defender who was able to guard both interior players and guards, an important key for the Aggies' defense. White had 18 points in both the national semifinal victory against Stanford -- when she hit the winning basket -- and scored 18 again in the championship game against Notre Dame. Her 3-pointer with 1:07 left Tuesday against the Irish to beat the shot-clock buzzer was the basket of the game, giving Texas A&M a five-point lead.
In a wildly intense, back-and-forth game, Texas A&M just made more clutch plays. That will be the theme of the Final Four for the Aggies. It was the same way in the semifinals against Stanford. When a basket needed to be made, Texas A&M delivered. Tyra White did the honors in both games, hitting huge shots in huge moments. She also knocked the ball away from Skylar Diggins with 19 seconds left as the Notre Dame point guard was trying to get off a 3-pointer and re-establish a one possession game. Instead, White grabbed the ball and chipped in two free throws at the other end -- the final nail in the coffin for the Irish.
The Aggies missed only seven shots in the final 20 minutes and even that was just barely enough to beat Notre Dame, which wouldn't go away. The ultimate individual difference was Danielle Adams. Without a truly long defender on Notre Dame, Adams had more freedom on the low block. When her teammates made a better effort to look for her in the second half, she dominated.
What they wrote about the Texas A&M championship
Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News says that Danielle Adams followed through on her prediction of a national championship.
Jerry Briggs of the San Antonio Express-News writes that the Texas A&M victory created quite a hullabaloo in Conseco Fieldhouse.
Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle captures some of the postgame emotions as Texas A&M celebrated their title.
Texas A&M denied Notre Dame's championship bid and made sure that the Hoosier state had its second consecutive night of basketball disappointment.
|Tuesday, April 5|
Links for 'Title Game Tuesday'
Texas A&M's All-Sydney back court (Colson and Carter) will spearhead the Aggies' defensive effort against Notre Dame in the national championship game.
Texas A&M and Notre Dame traveled similar paths to reach the national championship game in Indianapolis.
Texas A&M's Tyra White, who made the game-winning shot in the Aggies' semifinal victory, has many nicknames but it's best to just call her "clutch."
Christine Brennan of USA Today names Texas A&M coach Gary Blair as the "greatest feminist" at the women's Final Four.
Mack Brown on agents, OU's tough 2012 schedule
ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel, in his 3-Point Stance feature, has two items of interest to Big 12 Conference fans.
1. Mack Brown doesn't have an agent but in remaking his coaching staff he became a fan of assistant coaches who have them. "Before you even decide whether you call [an assistant] coach," Brown said, "the agent will tell you how much money he makes. The agent will tell you how many years on his contract. The agent will tell you what it's going to take to get him." Because of that, Brown said, he knows that if a head coach calls for permission to speak to one of his assistants, the deal is already done.
2. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops is rare among the upper-echelon coaches for his willingness to schedule difficult nonconference opponents. But even Stoops has gulped at the 2012 linep, in which the Sooners are scheduled to play TCU and Notre Dame. With the Big 12 ramping up to nine conference games, the decision to play two powers is a big one. For what it's worth, TCU, which will move into the Big East next season, has no interest in moving the Oklahoma game.
Twitter: Social media (sometimes) at its worst
Twitter is a great mass communication tool but like any tool it can cause damage when in the wrong hands or used in the incorrect manner. (Here's an illustrative story on Twitter misused as journalism tool.)
True enough, Monday night's national championship game wasn't pleasing to the eye. Both teams were playing the kind of defense that in some states would be considered assault and battery. Connecticut had the superior size and strength around the basket and that resulted in Butler shooting just 18.8 percent, the worst accuracy in a national title game.
But according to the media folks - several of whom I consider friends, others mere acquaintances - the game was an unmitigated disaster because of the lack of points. It reminds me of the Russell Crow movie "Gladiator" where his character Maximus roars to the crowd "Are you not entertained?" after swiftly dispatching another gladiator.
Your Humble Correspondent has spent decades sitting along press row and in press boxes. The comments made during games among scribes can be cutting. We're all a bunch of smart alecs (or, another word that begins with "a"). The problem, as YHC sees it, is that Twitter is collecting those comments. Media folks are Tweeting their thoughts and it's like open mic night at The Improv. In 140 characters, everybody tries to be a comedian.
The difference is that what was once a clever/sarcastic/sardonic comment heard by the folks sitting nearby is being Tweeted and becomes viral.
Some examples culled from the Twittersphere:
* Finally, One Shining Moment - which is one more than we saw tonight.
* It would be poetic justice if UCONN has to vacate this championship. Truly, nobody should win.
* Shining Moment video should start with "The ball is tipped ..." then cut to black like the Sopranos.
* Just heard from a friend who said he'd had a higher blood alcohol level than Butler's shooting pct.
* OK, this is brutal. No other way to put it.
* Ugh. That is all.
* Someone tell CBS not to bother saving a spot for this game in One Shining Moment.
* Right about now, Norman Dale would be thinking about punching a player. (YHC comment: Nice "Hoosiers" reference considering Butler's presence.)
* The NCAA may need to stop the game to re-paint the rims. Horrendous. (YHC comment: This Tweet made by someone who played for a team in 1986 that shot 40 percent in the national championship game and lost.)
* Jim Nantz can't wait to get to Augusta National for the Masters. Someone is guaranteed to post a score at least in the 60's.
* (E)erily, eerily quiet here. Folks are stunned by the quality of basketball.
* This game is so bad THE WNBA IS MAKING FUN OF IT
* If this is the future of basketball, I want a cigarette, a priest and last rites.
* It was such a fun tournament pre-title game, but apparently there is such a thing as too many upsets. (BYH comment: This Tweet came from someone who covers college football. The Tweet seems to be disparaging the NCAA Tournament format. There were several other Tweets Monday night referring to football-type scores. BYH seems to remember the BCS title game was a 22-19 final matching teams who had the two most prolific offenses for the season. Dissapointing offense? Great defense? Failure to entertain us properly?)
Right around midnight, YHC read a Tweet that pretty much summed up the night on Twitter: "Tonight's real winner, in a blowout, is snark." Snide remarks ... Twitter wouldn't be Twitter without 'em.
|Monday, April 4|
Familiar face, familiar place
The last team to play for the national championship was Baylor. The Lady Bears won the title in 2005 in Indianapolis. The venue is different, but a Big 12 Conference team hopes to cut down the nets in "The Nap."
Baylor won at the RCA Dome (since demolished). This year's Final Four, which will end with Tuesday's championship game between Texas A&M and Notre Dame, is being played at Conseco Fieldhouse. That's the home court for the NBA's Indiana Pacers and the WNBA's Indiana Fever.
Kelly Krauskopf, a three-year letter winner for the Aggies who graduated in 1983, has been the Fever's chief operating officer for the last 11 years and its general manager for the last seven.
"It was a dream come true to see the A&M logo on our building," she said Monday.
Krauskopf, who was assistant commissioner of the Southwest Conference from 1990-94, remembers what it was like when she played at A&M in the early 1980s.
"We had to paint our own locker room," she said. "We went to J.C. Penney's and bought our own travel bags. Now to see Texas A&M in the Final Four and playing for the national championship, it's amazing and thrilling to see it happen."
One woman's opinion
Debbie Antonelli, who is an analyst for Big 12 Conference telecasts, is working the Final Four for the NCAA Radio Network. Here are her thoughts on the Texas A&M-Notre Dame matchup:
* "Both of these teams are known for the physical and mental toughness. Don't think this is going to be a high-scoring game. I think it's going to be a possession-by-possession game."
* "Danielle Adams can be a difference maker. In her last two games, we really haven't seen what she can do. I think Tuesday will be the night when she gets back to being that dominant scorer. It's going to be interesting to see her get in the low post and try to score against Notre Dame, see how Notre Dame tries to defend her."
* "Texas A&M pressed full court a lot against Stanford but I don't think they'll do that as much against Notre Dame. Notre Dame has more people who can handle the ball. I do think Texas A&M's pressure defense in the half court will be crucial. Watch and see how often the Aggies can force a tough shot, force Notre Dame to rush if they get the shot clock below 10 seconds."
Talking a good game
Put Texas A&M's Gary Blair in front of a microphone and you've got a filibuster alert. The man can talk. A word count of his transcribed answers during Monday's Final Four media conference checked in at 7,923. Converted to the printed page, that would fill up an entire page in your morning paper.
As a way of apology, midway through his time on the podium, Blair said, "I'm sorry I'm long-winded, but, folks, this is my moment, and I'm going to seize it."
Tuesday is a 'Maroon Out' in College Station
Texas A&M president Dr. R. Bowen Loftin has declared a "Maroon Out" Tuesday to support the Aggies' women's team as they face Notre Dame in the national championship game. Here's Bowen's letter that was distributed to students:
I'm asking all students, faculty and staff to "Maroon Out" campus-wide to show support for the Aggie women's basketball team as it prepares to play Notre Dame tomorrow evening for the national championship. As you know, the Aggie women won the right to play for the national championship - the first in Texas A&M women's basketball history - after an impressive come from-behind 63-62 Sunday evening victory over a Final Four-seasoned Stanford team that was one of four top seeds in the NCAA tournament selection process. One Dallas area Former Student summed the victory up succinctly: "There's no quit in those girls."
Please join me in demonstrating our pride in the Aggie women's basketball team, both on and off the court, and "Maroon Out" on Tuesday in honor of the team and its coaches as they play for the national championship at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN. I'll be proudly wearing my maroon bowtie.
Gig 'em Aggies!
Texas A&M coach Gary Blair on Sunday night after his team's victory over Stanford:
"At this level you just learn how to go hard. You get it finished. You go watch the next ballgame, you go home. You see everybody in the lobby there. That took an hour before I could get to Steak n' Shake, took 13 of us over there, my family members, and it was like a zoo. And we were all sober drinking orange freezes and having steak burgers, and it was good. But right now we're all on adrenaline."
Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw on facing Texas A&M:
"In some ways, we're mirror images of each other because we've got great guard play and an outstanding defense throughout the tournament. I thought throughout the tournament, as I watched them, they would be a very, very tough team to play. Be careful of what you wish for because now we've got them."
Texas A&M senior guard Sydney Carter:
"We're never out of a game. We're a team that doesn't give up and we've got to make sure we're doing the right thing at the right time. It feels great. I'm just ready to play again."
|Sunday, April 3|
It's Texas A&M vs. Notre Dame for the championship
Two No. 2 seeds will meet for the 2011 women's national championship at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in Indianapolis. Texas A&M (32-5) defeated No. 1 seed Stanford 63-62 in the first semifinal and Notre Dame (31-7) shocked top-seeded and two-time defending national champion Connecticut, 72-63, in the other semifinal.
The last time the national championship game didn't have at least one No. 1 seed in the 30-year history of the NCAA women's tournament was 1994 when No. 3 seed North Carolina faced No. 4 seed Louisiana Tech.
Both the Aggies and the Fighting Irish overcame similar hurdles. Texas A&M reached its first Final Four by defeating No. 1 seed Baylor - a that had defeated the Aggies three times previously this season. Notre Dame had lost three times to the Huskies before beating them Sunday night.
Notre Dame is in the Final Four for the third time; it won the national championship in 2001. The Irish reached the Final Four by beating Tennessee in the Dayton Regional. Notre Dame had lost its previous 20 games to the Lady Vols.
Another semifinal, another rally
Texas A&M overcame a 10-point deficit over the last six minutes to defeat Stanford and Notre Dame needed a rally to defeat Connecticut. Two minutes into the second half, the Huskies had a 34-26 lead. The Irish turned that around with a 20-point swing; with less than six minutes remaining, Notre Dame had control with a 59-47 lead.
Notre Dame sophomore guard Skylar Diggins scored 28 points with six assists as the Irish shot 51.9 percent to knock off the two-time defending champions. That was enough to offset 36 points by Connecticut's Maya Moore, the three-time player of the year.
"We had to be poised, I mean, we had to try to make Maya take tough shots, and I think she did," said Diggins, a native of South Bend who led her team to three high school championships in Conseco Fieldhouse. "And at the end we said, 'We have to stay poised on defense and we have to execute on offense.' We showed a lot more poise than we did in the first three games against Connecticut."
In its three losses to the Huskies, the Irish shot a combined 35.3 percent while UConn shot 47.4 percent. Connecticut shot 42.4 percent in the semifinal loss.
Quotes to note
Texas A&M coach Gary Blair:
"This is what women's basketball needs. It needs regional final games and semifinal games and final games like this to be able to sometimes wake up America, to be able to give us credit when credit is due. You saw two very good ball clubs out there, play with their hearts out."
"Everything is happening for a reason. It's because we don't quit. While you all were writing, I guarantee you a lot of you already had your story three-quarters of the way done. And now you're having to change it. Okay?"
Texas A&M's Sydney Carter on her late 3-pointer that pulled the Aggies to within one point:
"Honestly, I didn't even know I was going to shoot the ball, but when I shot it, I think I said a quick prayer, because I was like, 'This better go in or Coach Blair is going to be upset.'"
Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer on Texas A&M's game-winning layup:
"We scored, and sometimes you have people on the court that you need offensively to get the ball inside or make plays ... and we didn't have any time-outs at that point. Not that I necessarily would have taken one. We needed just a little more extra effort just to stop the ball and not allow them to get that point-blank shot.
Two Tweets on the Aggies' victory
Texas A&M defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter: "Talk about fanatical defensive effort! I hope the Wrecking Crew plays with that much grit next year. Congrats Coach Blair & the lady AGGIES."
Texas governor and Texas A&M graduate Rick Perry: "The Tree will make fine fuel for the bonfire!!!! Whoop.....Go Aggies!! On the Championship game!!!"
Texas A&M changes baseball game start
The first pitch for Tuesday's scheduled baseball game between No. 5 Texas A&M and Houston at Olsen Field has been moved up to 5:05 p.m. from the originally scheduled 6:35 p.m. start time. The move was made to accommodate Aggie fans wishing to see the Texas A&M women's basketball team play for the National Championship at 7:30 p.m. CT Tuesday.
|Saturday, April 2|
Adams, Griner named All-Americans
Texas A&M senior Danielle Adams and Baylor sophomore Britney Griner were named to the 10-player State Farm Coaches' All-America Team. The announcement was made Saturday at the Final Four in Indianpolis.
During the Aggies' news conference, a student journalist asked Adams to name their biggest achievement. Adams said it was "playing with these girls" - Sydney Carter and Sydney Colson, who joined Adams on the interview platform.
"Did you hear Danille," Texas A&M coach Gary Blair asked after the players had left the podium. "This morning she got the biggest award they can hand out and she said her biggest accomplishment was playing with her teammates and having fun. That's what that kid is all about."
The Gary Blair Show
Gary Blair, Texas A&M's loquacious coach, kept the transcriber busy during his 15 minutes on the interview platform Saturday. Here are some highlights.
* "Texas A&M, which used to be called a football school ... do y'all realize that in 20 sports we're in the top 10? It used to be you would hear about our football team and our band. Now all of a sudden we're a complete university."
* (On recruiting Stanford sisters Nnemkadi and Chine Ogwumike, who attended Houston's Cy-Fair High School): "Every time I flew out of Houston recruiting, I drove right by their high school. We recruited them hard. We lost them fair and square to a great school. But we're winning with the kids that chose us. And after I would pass Cy-Fair High school I would stop at Five Guys restaurant and get a big cheeseburger and it didn't matter by then."
* (After taking a question from a writer from the San Francisco area): "While I'm thinking of it, sir, your Giants beat my Rangers but I grew up a Giants fan. I'm a Willie Mays fan and if you can get me an autographed ball or his rookie card, you and I will have dinner and I'll be your fan for life. But Willie Mays ... and Whitey Ford, he was my other one. So that's what I really need. And then get Lary Bird to come to the ball game tomorrow night. Hey, what a great time I would have."
* (A Connecticut writer then asked if he could get something for Blair and the A&M coach referenced Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma): "Geno's paycheck. His restaurants. His summer camps, everything. I mean, what does Geno not have. ... I:m just another pretty face up here. And Geno's got it all."
* (On Stanford having a complete team): "The only thing we've got better than them, I like my Yell Leaders a lot better than that tree that walks around."
For the record, the Aggies' practice followed Stanford's and Blair posed for a picture with the Cardinal's "tree" mascot.
* Great story and a must read on Texas A&M coach Gary Blair by Mechelle Voepel of ESPN.com.
* This is the 30th anniversary of the women's Final Four. The last time the Final Four was held in Indianapolis, Baylor won the title.
* With its No. 2 seed in this year's bracket, Texas A&M became the first program in NCAA Tournament history to receive a No. 2 seed in four consecutive years. Only two other programs have been seeded No. 2 or higher in each of the last four seasons: Connecticut and Stanford. Both are in this Final Four field.
* Stanford's Tara VanDerveer, who has won 826 games, is more than just a coach. Really. Her position has been funded much like a tenured faculty member. VanDerveer's official title at the school is "The Setsuko Ishiyama Director of Women's Basketball."
* Through March 29, Stanford ranks in the national Top 20 of the following statistical categories: field-goal percentage (49.1, third), scoring margin (+24.6, third), scoring (79.8 ppg, sixth), assist-to-turnover ratio (1.27, fifth), field-goal percentage defense (33.5, fifth), rebound margin (+11.7, sixth), assists (17.77 per game, seventh) and turnovers per game (14.0, 12th).
* Sunday's meeting with Texas A&M will mark the second straight year that Stanford faces a Big 12 team in a national semifinal. Last year, the Cardinal defeated Oklahoma,73-66, in San Antonio to advance to the national title game. Overall, Stanford owns an 8-4 record against Big 12 teams in NCAA Tournament play.
* Stanford's two losses came in consecutive road games in mid-December. The Cardinal lost at DePaul 91-71 and at Tennsssee 82-72 in overtime. Stanford has the nation's longest winning streak at 27 games. The third game of that streak was a 71-59 triumph over Connecticut that ended the Huskies' record 90-game winning streak.