NCAA BK

Baylor upset lost in Ware injury

Image (from left to right): Louisville's Rick Pitino, Kevin Ware & Richard Pitino (© Kenny Klein/AP)
Kevin Ware, resting with the Regional trophy, is visited by Rick Pitino and son Richard.
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Jason Whitlock

Jason Whitlock writes about the sports world from every angle, including those other writers can't imagine or muster courage to address. His columns are humorous, thought-provoking, agenda-free, honest and unpredictable. E-mail him, follow his Twitter or become a fan of Jason Whitlock on Facebook.

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We have a new biggest name in college basketball. He’s the star of this NCAA tournament. Everyone in the country is talking about him.

Thirty years after North Carolina State’s Lorenzo Charles forever etched his name in college basketball lore with the dunk heard ‘round the world, Louisville’s Kevin Ware did the same with the (leg) break heard ‘round the world.

Not to make light of the kid’s gruesome injury, but the fact that Louisville’s now-sidelined eighth man is the most recognizable name of the men’s college basketball season because of a freak injury speaks to the many unaddressed, swept-under-the-rug problems in shamateur hoops.

Had Ware not broken his leg, much of the discussion this week would likely focus on how boring and noncompetitive this tournament has been, particularly this past weekend.

Over a four-day, 12-game weekend, we had one memorable contest — the Michigan-Kansas overtime thriller. That was a spectacular comeback by the Wolverines and an unforgettable meltdown by the Jayhawks. It was equal parts heroism and equal parts classic choke job. Trey Burke and Elijah Johnson added to their legacies.

Thursday’s Ohio State-Arizona game was good — the Buckeyes won 73-70 — but it was not memorable. Everything else was a dud, including Wichita State's four-point shocking of Ohio State on Saturday. The Shockers led by double-digits most of the second half and OSU never took a shot with a chance to lead or tie the final 29 minutes.

Sweet Sixteen weekend was mostly Blowout City, baby. Which surprisingly isn’t all that surprising. We watched 12 games decided on average by 11 points.

I looked at the previous 23 Sweet Sixteen weekends, and the 276 tournament games played from 1990 to 2012 were decided by an average margin of 10 points. The 2008 tournament was the high at an average margin of 14.5. The low was the 2006 tourney with average margin of 6.5. The best Sweet Sixteen weekend, however, was 1990, which featured seven of 12 games decided by three points or less. Take away UNLV’s 30-point blowout of Loyola Marymount in the Regional Finals and the other 11 games were decided by an average of 5.8 points.

My point is last weekend was nothing unusual. The NCAA tournament lives off the media-fueled propaganda that the tournament is absolutely awesome. It’s not. In fact, it was much better when we didn’t see all the early-round games and the main network just flipped viewers around to the great finishes and competitive contests.

bracket

FINEST HOUR

Louisville's breathtaking Easter Sunday was one that won't soon be forgotten. Relive the amazing ups and downs.

What made the tournament great was seeing big-name superstars clash in the Final Four and/or big-name superstars upset in the Final Four.

Four moments — let’s call them the Final Four Moments — turned the NCAA tournament into a multi-billion-dollar cash cow.

1. Magic vs. Larry in ’79.

2. Michael Jordan’s game-winner that beat Patrick Ewing in ’82.

3. Lo Charles’s dunk on Phi Slamma Jamma in ’83.

4. Villanova’s “Perfect Game” against Ewing in ’85.

In a tight, seven-year span, Magic, Larry, Jordan, Hakeem, Clyde and Ewing made it rain on the greedy, immoral thieves running the NCAA. No disrespect to Chris Webber and Jalen Rose, but it’s comical hearing the noise about the Fab Five’s impact on college hoops. The meal was cooked, the table set and everyone was eating dessert by the time the Fab Five rang the doorbell.

I’m sorry. I’m moving away from the point I really want to make/reiterate.

Kevin Ware’s broken leg overshadowed the biggest basketball story of the weekend, and it’s a damn shame.

The women’s tournament needs to be moved to February or April. The women, with their four-year stars, give us the best chance to see what really makes us love the NCAA tournament. It’s not really about the quality of play. Hell, the quality of play in the men’s game has diminished tremendously. What we really want to see is a piece of history, a name we’ll never forget do something we likely won’t see for a long time.

Brittney Griner getting slain by a bunch of itty-bitty, 3-point-popping Louisville ladies is what sports fans live for. Louisville-Baylor was a re-enactment of Villanova’s Perfect Game — except no one was really watching. It was played on Sunday night, after the two men’s games and, depending on where you live, before we all switched to the season finale of “The Walking Dead” or the season premiere of “Game of Thrones.”

I only saw the last 9 seconds live. I flipped to ESPN2 just in time to see Monique Reid blow past Griner — who inexplicably surrendered her size advantage by coming all the way to midcourt to challenge the much quicker forward — and draw a foul at the goal. Reid sank both free throws and sent my favorite coach, Kim Mulkey, into postgame hysteria.

“I’ll be glad to answer any referee question you want to ask me, because I don’t mind getting fined,” Mulkey began.

“I thought the game started out way too physical, way too physical,” Mulkey added. “I thought that all three of them (referees), if they go past this round of officiating, it will be sad for the game.”

What’s sad is this game didn’t have the proper stage. What’s sad is that Griner, the biggest star in men’s or women’s college hoops, won’t get the Final Four stage in her senior season. What’s sad is that Griner and Notre Dame’s Skylar Diggins won’t collide the way Jordan and Ewing did.

I have a bias. I’m a huge Mulkey and Griner fan. I spent some time with the Baylor women’s team Griner’s freshman year. I like what Mulkey and Griner represent. Mulkey has real swagger. Griner is an important role model for big athletic girls. I thought Mulkey and Griner would elevate women’s hoop to a new level.

They were so close. Diggins vs. Griner would’ve been huge. Had Sunday’s upset transpired when sports fans weren’t distracted by Ware’s injury, the further destruction of their brackets and devouring more one-sided, boring games, The Perfect Game II would’ve been potentially as transformative as its predecessor.

I watched the entire Louisville-Baylor game on my iPad Monday afternoon. The game was absolutely phenomenal. I knew the outcome. I was still captivated.

I love Kim Mulkey. She owes the officiating crew an apology. The refs didn’t come close to blowing that game. The fifth-seeded Cardinals took the game to and from Baylor. It was amazing.

They buried 16-of-25 3-point attempts. They outhustled Baylor. In the final minute, trying to erase a four-point deficit, Baylor’s Odyssey Sims lackadaisically sauntered back over the halfcourt line to retrieve a loose ball. Louisville’s Jude Schimmel sprinted and ripped the ball from Sims’ grip. The sequence cost Baylor about 16 precious seconds.

 

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The game was physical. The Cardinals double- and triple-teamed Griner the entire night. In the first half, Louisville played pretty rough with Griner. The refs responded by whistling Louisville for five fouls while defending Griner in the first 12 minutes. The refs took control of the game. Griner did not. Mulkey’s strategy did not. Griner languished, surrounded in the low post all game. Baylor never moved Griner to the high post and set screens for her to cut off of into the low post.

Griner was a sitting duck. That was not the fault of the refs. They did all they could to free her. In the second half, Baylor was in the bonus after seven minutes of play. For the game, the Bears had a sizable free-throw advantage (26 to 16 attempts) and fouls (14 to 24). Three Louisville starters fouled out — its two best ballhandlers and best frontcourt player. Louisville’s starters used 22 of their 25 available fouls.

With Louisville’s once 19-point lead cut to six with two minutes to play, the refs made a critical and appropriate charge call on Bria Smith. Louisville coach Jeff Walz objected, sat down on the scorer’s table and received a technical foul. The refs Mulkey ripped handed Baylor a four-point possession at crunch time. When Mulkey erupted and nearly ripped her jacket off 105 seconds later because a Louisville player got away with an obvious flop on a charge call, the refs swallowed their whistles and did not give Mulkey a T.

The foul calls that sent Sims to the line at one end and Reid to the line at the other in the final 10 seconds were both ticky-tack. Louisville earned the victory.

I’m the last person to preach to anyone about sexism. I am a flawed man. But I know when I’ve witnessed high-end, entertaining athletic drama. The Louisville women gave it to us. They toppled the Patrick Ewing of women’s basketball. They gave us a far superior story than Kevin Ware’s broken leg.

The next time it happens I hope I get to watch it live . . . in February or April.

Tagged: Louisville, Baylor

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