Friday, March 24, 2006

Real March Madness

Kudos to UCLA. The Bruins reached the Elite Eight for the first time since 1997 after the most thrilling game in the tournament so far -- coming back from as much as 17 points down (at 37-20, 39-22 and 42-25) and from nine points down with just over three minutes left to nick Gonzaga 73-71. Even more impressive, the Bruins overcame a horrid ref decision with just 90 seconds left that wiped out a UCLA basket -- usually those plays are momentum killers.

The difference between this UCLA team and the immediate pre-Howland years: defensive ability and team intensity. The Bruins do not play "West Coast Basketball" and that's a good thing.

Gonzaga does, but its failure was on offense more than on defense last night, which reverses its two underperformances in the past two NCAA tourneys. So the 'Zags did fine, and will wonder what might have been.

The Monk is on record as being a Gonzaga disdainer. The reasons are simple: excess hype, overrating the team, the faux mystical little guy factor and a bit of inverted racism -- rooting for a team from the whitebread area of the Pacific Northwest that tends to have more white kids, and fewer black kids (with plenty of international players to substitute for the usual inner-city blacks who comprise most of the major teams), than most major college schools. Right now the 'Zags are the only team in the WCC and have a national profile. Much of that came from Dan Monson's work with a team with sub-standard talent. Mark Few has enhanced recruiting and upgraded the athlete quality to reach major college status -- a tribute to him but The Monk doubts his ability as a game coach (see 2004, 2005 NCAA Tourney losses). The 'Zags are not a small school anymore.

So the 'Zags go down again, this time by getting outscored 11-0 to finish the game. Adam Morrison's theatrical sobbing at halfcourt gets no sympathy here -- UCLA won as a team and did a fine job of alerting the nation that the premier program of 30-40 years ago is close to full resurrection.

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