Wednesday, March 21, 2012

No Redos, No Regrets


CU Frontcourt: Me, Tera, and Linda.
  I think I've always played basketball without regret. You play hard, you leave it all on the court, and there's nothing to regret.

  But ever since my eligibility expired as a senior at Colorado, I've wanted to have one play, and one play only, back. A redo so to speak.

  If that play had resulted differently, maybe the rest of the game would have gone differently too. Then maybe my career in black and gold wouldn't have ended that afternoon in Knoxville. Maybe we would have moved on to our second straight NCAA Elite Eight appearance. And after that, who knows?

  It's been almost nine years, so some of the details are a little foggier than others. But here's the set up:

  It's 2003. The Colorado Buffaloes are playing the Villanova Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 in Knoxville, Tennessee. The winner moves on to the Elite Eight. With, in all likelihood, a match up with host, the Tennessee Lady Vols. You couldn't ask for anything better.

Timeout vs. Villanova.
  We had played Villanova earlier in the season, in a tournament we hosted over Thanksgiving called the Coors Classic. Villanova beat us that night in a close game. It was the first time we lost in the Coors Classic in forever (I don't know the actual stats on that, but you were never supposed to lose in the Coors Classic).

  Villanova was a good team. A lot like us actually. Fundamentally sound. A balanced team, in that they had three or four players you had to focus on, not just one or two 'superstars'. They were patient, and they were smart.

  I think it shocked us a little to lose that game in November. But early season losses aren't as devastating as losses in March.

  Now fast forward several months to tournament time. The brackets for the NCAA Tournament were released, and we saw Villanova in our bracket. I know every single one of my teammates immediately thought about a possible re-match with them in the Sweet 16. We saw that as a chance for redemption. And another shot at reaching the Elite Eight, like we had done the year before.

  It was my senior year. Lose, and you're done. So you play with a little extra energy, a little extra emotion. I was playing on a fractured left ankle (explains the 'robo-ankle' I have now) -- you better believe I wasn't going to miss my senior year NCAA Tournament. So if I could handle the pain, I was going to be on the court. Unfortunate, but I managed.

Headed to the Sweet 16.
  Like the game in Boulder in November, the Sweet 16 match up went back and fourth. We didn't really change anything strategy-wise from the first time we played them (which also might be a 'coulda-shoulda-woulda' moment for me).

  We believed in the way we played, our system. And we believed that we would make the plays down the stretch, and pull out a win the second time around.

  Villanova played us the same as well. They chose to take away all our perimeter scoring chances by sticking tight to their man when the ball went inside. As a result, our All-American center, Tera Bjorklund was racking up the points in the post with no double team, or help in sight. 

  The exact time and score scenario escapes me. We were either up by a few, or down by a few. Either way, it was a tight game, with less then seven or eight minutes to go. We ran the Triangle offense, of course made famous by Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan. And we ran it pretty well.

  Here's the play I want back:

Tough loss.
  The ball was on the right wing, with fellow senior forward Linda Lappe.

  One of the bread-and-butter cuts out of the Triangle calls for the opposite forward (me, on this particular play) to cut towards the ball, and receive the pass at the high post (or elbow). Villanova knew that cut, and over-played it.

  I did what I had done countless other times in past games and practices, and cut back-door to the rim. I knew Linda would respond, just like she had done time and time again, with a pass right on the money.

  I spun towards the hoop, and the ball was right there. I jumped to catch it on the left side of the rim -- and here's where I made a quick (unfortunate??) decision -- I chose to catch the ball and lay it in in one motion (an alley-oop per se). But there was a problem. I felt a push in my back, sending me off balance, and off the court. I put the ball up, only to have it trickle off the rim. I ended up out of bounds under the basket, and play continued.

  In hindsight, I should have caught the ball, come down with it, and gone back up strong. That way, you have better chance of putting the ball in the bucket, and any foul would have been more-obvious. I make that shot, and maybe things in turn our favor for the rest of the game.

  Regardless of that play, or any other of the dozens that didn't go our way that afternoon, we lost to Villanova by two points. And with that, our season ended, and my career at Colorado came to a close. Tough way to go out, but those are the breaks.

CU-Boulder: not a bad place to spend your college years.
  There is no regret. You live and you learn. It's just the same on the basketball court.

  I'm still not sure what I learned from that moment in Knoxville. Maybe I learned that you don't get redos. Not on the basketball court, not in life. You have to make each opportunity, every chance, count the first time.

  For me, I knew I wasn't done with basketball after that game. But I was done in a Colorado uniform.

  There's something special about putting on that black and gold, working in the shadows of the beautiful Flatirons, playing with the girls you've lived, sweat, laughed and cried with, day in and day out, for years. Nothing replaces that.

  That game had been on my mind quite a bit in past weeks. Probably because it's March, and it's tournament time. Call it irony, but as it turns out, the Colorado women (now coached by Linda) are playing Villanova this Thursday (the 22nd), in Boulder, in the Sweet 16 of the Women's NIT. Let's hope this time the game ends with the Buffs on top!

  Go Buffs!



8 comments:

  1. Great post, Sabrina! Let's hope 2012 Buffs help to heal the wounds this year!

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    1. Thanks for reading & for commenting ... cheering for the Buffs, as always!! :)

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  2. Excellent write-up of the game from a player's perspective. Always wonder what it feels like for the players.

    Hopefully this year's Buffs will get the W against Nova.

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    1. Amazing how many details I couldn't remember, and the things that still stand out to me clear as day.

      Thanks!

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  3. I know what Uncle Mike would say! "Where's the call for the push?" Oh well, you're not blaming the ref so neither will I. There are plenty of pitches I would love to get back so if you're just grinding on one play you are doing well kiddo!

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  4. Yay, Uncle Rob!! Lots of moments you want back...that one stands out the most though. :)

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  5. Great blog and this was a particularly good entry.

    Go Buffs!

    Hopefully Coach Lappe gets a little payback in the NIT tonight.

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    1. Thanks so much for reading! Glad you enjoyed it! Go Buffs!

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