Dateline: Stamford, CT. Nov 14, 3:40 pm.
Homer "D'oh!" moment as I forget to check the traffic cam before leaving the mansion. Choosing I-95 instead of the Merritt Parkway on a wet and foggy Friday afternoon is a rookie mistake, as I forget that Friday evening rush hour starts approximately 15 minutes after the morning rush hour ends. The smooth German engineered V6 power of my automobile is rendered useless as 4th and 5th gear don't come into play until I'm practically in New Haven. Changing lanes does nothing but allow an old man with a walker to get further and further ahead of me.
Immediate destination is Modern Apizza, where Troy Clardy has been patiently waiting for almost 30 minutes as he had better luck on his way down from Bristol. With the restaurant's small parking lot already full, I attempt the fool's errand of trying to park in a New Haven residential neighborhood. Every street is covered with signs that look more like term papers: "No parking 8-8 except with a zone 3 permit and not on street cleaning days and declared snow removal emergencies and if you don't live around here don't even think about it we will tow your ass in 5 minutes I'm talking to you Mr. Blue BMW" I finally decide to ask the cashier at the Mobil station if I can pay him to let me park there for 45 minutes. He restores my faith in humanity by saying "go ahead" and refusing my cash. I find out later he was actually robbing the place and had the real cashier tied up behind the counter, but still, I saved 5 bucks.
Calling from the road pays off, as two pizzas arrive at the table seconds after I shake Troy's hand. Another Bootleg virtual friend turns into a real person. Guy at the table next to ours is sporting a USC jacket; I fart in his general direction. Troy doesn't seem to mind, no doubt because he's used to Chris Berman by now.
After rapidly inhaling large quantities of sausage and pepperoni in very little time we hop into our respective vehicles on our next parking quest. The problem with charming old cities like New Haven is that they were never designed for their current populations or for motor vehicles. A maze of one way streets at odd angles with some rain thrown in for good measure makes it no picnic for the out of town visitor and there's not a parking garage to be found.
I'm finally parked, hook up with a buddy of mine, and head off to the arena. Wait, scratch "arena." Make that the John J. Lee Amphitheatre at Payne Whitney Gymnasium. At almost a letter per seat, this sorry excuse for a gym is a nominee for the "delusions of grandeur" name of the year award. More on that in a moment.
Outside the gym, a couple cute little Yalettes try to sell me a Yale t-shirt. I point to my Stanford shirt and ask, "why would I want a shirt from my safety school?" Oh, SMACK. Don't ask The Court Jester stupid questions when he has his game face on, even if you are a 19 year old coed (exception: if you are a Girl Gone Wild I might buy a shirt, particularly if you are in the middle of a contest at the time).
Walk in right as the national anthem is being played to find the smallest gym I've been in since scouting Taj Finger's high school games. The reserved section gets you a wooden seat, circa 1825, with a straight high back that forces a perfect nun-pleasing posture that is the opposite of my preferred couch slouch. The ceiling is about 5 feet above the top row, which is still only 30 feet above the court. The Yale student section of 500 sounds like 5000 as the tiny space and hard surfaces amplify everything.
Stanford looks mean with a dark red that clearly no longer qualifies as "cardinal" and plenty of black accents. Stanford also looks small, though our guys are a pretty ripped bunch. Eyeball test it looks like a fast team of athletes against a team that will try to go inside with some beef and that will certainly prove to be the case.
Oh, you want more?
1st half – FUGLY. Seriously, one of the worst 20 minutes I've seen Stanford play since I had student tickets and a backpack full of beer at Maples. Missed jumper, missed layup, missed layup, missed dunk, missed dunk, missed three. 3:18 elapses until Hill scores on a dunk. The halftime tally was 10 turnovers, 4-9 from the line, 40% shooting. The defense was solid and Yale missed as many chippies as we did so Stanford held a 30-29 lead despite stinking up the place.
Stink was really the word of the night in the "amphitheatre." Halftime included a foul shooting contest between four students, including one wearing a Stanford track t-shirt. He advanced to the final against a kid wearing a Kobe Bryant uniform top. Why short pudgy white guys choose to wear tank tops, even NBA approved versions that cost $125, is beyond me. Both of them were terrible, but the other two guys could barely hit rim. Mommas, don't let your babies grow up to be Elis. They kept tying, eventually both winning whatever the prize was as the teams were coming back out as they still weren't done hurting the backboard.
We fans stunk as well, in the literal "you could knock a buzzard off a
s$&% wagon" sense.
The gym was clearly built before the thought of air conditioning had even crossed Willis Carrier's mind; I'm surprised it wasn't lit by whale oil lanterns. I'd guess 85 degrees and humid. Even without anything exciting happening on the court which would require me to stand up I was boiling.
Stopped by press row to say hello to Platz and Clardy and pick up the halftime stats. They chuckled at my suggestion that this game could be a Final Four preview. Andy Katz was there, I think I saw him playing with a Gameboy.
Second half seemed like an improvement, mainly because the open three-pointers started going down. Stanford took the lead for good two minutes in, but it was still a two point game with 13 minutes to play before Anthony Goods caught fire and hit threes on three straight possessions. When Stanford got up 14 with 3:30 to play I actually thought a small profit might ensue. But alas, some silly, early in the clock jumpers, some more missed FTs, and a few long range prayers from Yale kept the game in high single digits.
Offense: a whole new Stanford. Though Josh Owens clearly has a world of potential and could be Stanford's best pure leaper since Julius Barnes, he clearly needs work on everything. With no jump shot for the D to worry about, the entire focus is simply on keeping him from getting great position. There are all kinds of subtleties to post play that he just doesn't have yet. Talk about a guy who could use Reveno. Actually, if he just studies Brockman or Love game films from last year he could learn plenty. When he does get the ball in decent position he's tough to stop because he just explodes over people. And as the recipient on the drive and dish he can be (and was) spectacular. 32 minutes, but just 3-7 from the field. Canned both of his FTs though.
The lack of a post threat affects everyone else, as kickouts to wide open jump shooters were hard to come by – and this was Yale, not UCLA. Kenny Brown is a Bootie favorite, but I think he'll feel the effect of no Lopi more than any other player. Lawrence Hill had 22 and 11 in just 19 minutes of foul plagued action. This is the type of team he should dominate as they just didn't have anyone with any height except for their lumbering but effective center.
Anthony was his usual frustrating self. The three-point flurry and a breakaway dunk that drew a questionable technical, but 2-11 the rest of the night with many forced shots. I'm all for the senior SG being aggressive, but he shouldn't be taking two more shots than Fields and Owens combined.
Landry had moments of greatness – a sweet three-point stroke, a great hop step drive – but looked awful at the foul line and had two turnovers to zero assists. He was also carried off the court in agony with a minute left to play. He came up limping on a drive to the hoop (this was about 20 feet from my seat) and left the game shortly after. A couple minutes later he walked over to the trainer, who had him lay on his back behind the bench, again right below my seat. An attempt at stretching his leg resulted in an audible scream (from him, not me), when he was then carried to the locker room. Usually the trainer helps matters, but I'm very interested in what the story is here. If he is out for any length of time things could be very dicey. Landry will probably be our third leading rebounder as well. The bench scored just seven points in 62 minutes.
Mitch was Mitch. His shot put jumper is ingrained at this point and it would be silly to imagine it could ever change. But a very nice job driving to the hoop and finishing or dishing and he played nice D on a quick little point guard who dribbled all over but didn't actually create much against him. As mentioned, the bench did nothing but take up space. Green will contribute, Brown will have his hot days, but overall this is a team that will be more dependent on the starting five than any Cardinal squad in memory.
Defense: oh, if we just had Robin. We kept fronting Yales "bigs," they kept throwing over the top. Fortunately they missed some bunnies and were actually worse from the foul line than we were: 7-16 vs. our 19-31. Just two blocks for Stanford, Robin would have blocked four with his hair. Clearly, intense perimeter defense and forcing turnovers has to be the plan this year. In that respect, Stanford did a nice job, as Yale had trouble all day creating off the dribble. On-the-ball defense was excellent, especially from Johnson and Goods. One oddity was Yale's use of their sub Mantilla. He scored 10 points off the bench in the first half on a variety of athletic drives and jumpers. Second half: just five minutes of PT and zero shot attempts. Very strange. I saved rebounding for last, since just typing the word is painful. If Yale out-boards you by 11, you might be a redneck. I mean, might have a problem. 15 more minutes from Hill would certainly have helped, but this is clearly the biggest issue of the season.
Night did end on a high note: 80 mph the whole way home as every car on the
road was in a hurry to get somewhere and not a Statie to be found. Power
to the People.
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