Monday, December 14, 2009

Quick Hits For December 14, 2009 - "Tis The Season"

(1). Die Hard and Lethal Weapon....yeah, I know what time of the year the action takes place for both films. But they still aren't Christmas movies.

(2). I met the bravest woman this side of Mother Theresa last night. I was on the 6:14 leaving PENN STATION on New Jersey Transit from New York, which was loaded to the the gills with Giants fans getting off at Secaucus. Sitting to the left of me was a woman heading back to Trenton or across the river into Philly Country- and obviously an Eagles fan- who started telling anybody and everybody on the train that "the Giants are goin' down tonight". The only thing I said to her was it could be worse for her having to go back to Cheesesteakland...she could be from Boston," which got a laugh from the Giants fans on the train. I'll give her credit took some gumption to be so in yer face to a bunch of Big Blue fans headed to Giants Stadium.

The result wasn't so good though....the Giants got smacked by the Eagles 45-31. Too many missed opportunities on offense, but it really was the defense (ie, shoddy tackling) that ultimately did them in).

(3) By the way, I didn't attend the Giants-Eagles game, but was coming back from a women's basketball doubleheader at Madison Square Garden yesterday. It was the annual MAGGIE DIXON CLASSIC, named for the late coach of Army women's basketball. To those who don't know her story, Maggie Dixon, sister of Pitt basketball coach Jamie Dixon, played at the University of San Diego and became an assistant coach under Doug Bruno at DePaul University from 2001-2005. Eleven days before the 2005-06 season began Dixon was hired to be the head coach of the Army Black Knights. As the video in yesterday's between games tribute showed, Army women's basketball was often played in an arena filled with thousands of empty seats. Coach Dixon would break into mess halls and try to get the cadets to come over to watch the games, because she had a good and motivated (albeit undersized and not so talented) team that was starting to win some games. And they kept on winning, and the crowds at Army women's basketball games started to grow as well. They shocked the basketball world by winning the Patriot League Championship and got the automatic berth in the 2006 NCAA Tournament. It was the first time Army women's basketball made the tournament in history.

The reward for winning the league and making the tournament was a 16 seed and a date with Pat Summitt's mighty Tennessee Lady Vols, who crushed Army 102-54.

On April 5, 2006 Maggie collapsed and subsequently died of cardiac arrhythmia. An autopsy revealed that she had an enlarged heart. She was about a month shy of her 29th birthday. Maggie was buried in the cemetery at West Point, a place where many of the nation's military heroes are laid to rest.

The first MAGGIE DIXON CLASSIC was held at West Point on November 12, 2006, featuring a women's game Army - Ohio State, and a men's game, Western Michigan- Pitt (coached by Maggie's brother Jamie). The following year the classic was moved to Madison Square Garden. This year's classic featured Boston College-Baylor and Tennessee-Rutgers.

The between games tribute was very well done, with a short speech by Jamie Dixon and presentation of awards, and of a check for fighting cardiac arrhythmia to the Cardiac Arrhythmias Research and Education Foundation (CARE) . Jamie Dixon told the crowd that Maggie always wanted to play in a game at MSG, and this was the way she could do so in spirit. Additionally, former Army women's basketball player and and Afghanistan War veteran Lt. Col Kim Kawamoto and Rutgers women's basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer were awarded the inaugural MAGGIE DIXON COURAGE AWARDS in the between games ceremony.

(4) As for the games of yesterday's borrow a line from Jon Landau..."I have seen the future of women's basketball and her name is Brittney Griner". To call Griner a phenom is like calling Joe Louis a pretty good boxer. I've seen hundreds of women's basketball games in my life, both on TV and in person. I don't believe I've seen any player at this stage of her career (a true freshman) have such a presence on the court. She's 6'8" tall, can dunk, and has a wingspan unlike any I have ever seen on a female player. She is averaging 17 points a game with 8.2 rebounds. But the stat that tells the story- Griner has 50 blocked shots in nine games. That's a career for most players.

With that height she'll score big on anyone, but on the defensive side of the ball she changes the way you play the game against Baylor- she'll make you alter your shots by taking away the inside and daring you to win by shooting from the perimeter.

Yesterday in Baylor's 68-55 win over BC Griner had 25 points, and didn't seem to even break a sweat. I don't think I've ever been more impressed after seeing a player for the first time. We've been told in the past that Diana Taurasi or Candace Parker or "insert another name" would change women's basketball. They advanced it, but didn't alter it. Brittney Griner may do for women's basketball what George Mikan did for the men's game back in the day.

In the second game, Rutgers' Brittany Ray had 29 points to lead all scorers, but it wasn't enough as the Scarlet Knights fell to the Tennessee Lady Vols 68-54 . RU fell back early on to trail 21-7 but stormed back to make it 40-39 at the 13:17 mark of the second half. The crowd was into it, the Rutgers faithful were loud and screaming...and then the Vols held Rutgers scoreless for the next five minutes while they built a 45-39 lead they never relinquished.

Truth be told, this game was lost at the fouls line. Tennessee was 26 of 33 for 79%; Rutgers was 7-13 for only 54%. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that if you go to the line 20 more times than your opponent you should be able to win. Rutgers kept sending them to the line, the Vols made their shots...and in the few trips the Scarlet Knights made to the line they didn't capitalize.

Truth be told, Part 2....other than Brittany Ray's steady play and the emergence of sophomore Chelsey Lee as an inside presence, and the contributions freshman Monique Oliver coming off the bench, the other seven members of the 2009-10 Scarlet Knights have been consistent in their inconsistency. They have to get the ship righted, and ASAP....Coach Stringer has ways of motivating players which could be seen relatively soon, just in time for Christmas.

(5) I have to hand it to the fans of the Tennessee Lady Vols. There were several thousand of them in Madison Square Garden yesterday. Few teams have a fan base that travels as well as they do. And they really are easy to spot- a hoard of people dressed in orange walking around New York City at Christmas time.

And the bright orange regalia does make it easy for the cops to readily identify jaywalkers.

(6) AMEN!!! No jury duty! I checked out the website and I don't have to report. I didn't need that stress anyway. I'll create my own when I set up the Christmas tree tomorrow.

(7) No mas! I have nothing else to contribute.

And that's the truth....see you again on Wednesday.

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