Rien que de filet!: March Madness in Regional 3 Portland – Day 4

If I had to choose one word to describe what made both March Madness games so entertaining and exciting, it would have to be resolve. 

The Jayhawks Faced the Trojans in March Madness

The Kansas Jayhawks met the USC Trojans in what proved to be an entertaining game, at least until the third quarter as Kansas held on, trying to cut the USC lead and getting as close as one point. Then the resolve of the Trojans took over, and they added another six points, widening their lead to seven by the end of the quarter. Not insurmountable by any means you’d think. But it was a slow yet systematic build-up of points by USC, and they outscored Kansas 20-9 in the fourth, winning 73-55.

Statistically, neither team shot particularly well. USC shot 25-67 for 37.3% and Kansas shot 35.7% going 20-56. However, USC shot 13-30 from three while Kansas went 3-10. Neither team had a great night at the free throw line, with USC going 10-17 and Kansas 12-17. USC did capitalize on Kansas turnovers, scoring 26 off of 18. Kansas only scored 6 off of 13 USC turnovers. So where was the resolve? I saw it in the steadiness of JuJu Watkins, whose 28 points, 11 boards, and five assists led the Trojans.

Even after picking up her third foul in the third quarter, Watkins kept playing her game, scoring an additional 9 points in the fourth, the last jumper after picking up her fourth foul. USC’s defense was smothering against Kansas, particularly causing 12 first half turnovers. It was points off of turnovers that made a significant difference in the game. The biggest drawback, and I’ve said this before, is lack of bench production. Kansas had none, and USC only five points.

Lack of bench play factored in the Kansas – USC matchup

To ask your starters to continually tow the line is, at some point, going to wear them down until legs give out and shooting becomes erratic. For both teams, the starters did their jobs for the most part, but with no bench support it adds an unnecessary pressure. Fortunately, the resolve that a team displays can carry them through as it did for USC. On another day could Kansas have taken the game? Perhaps, but when you are getting outplayed it requires a determination that must translate from the mind to the body.

This time it didn’t for Kansas, and USC took full advantage of it. Even though many people are enamored by statistics I am not. I am far more interested in character and how that becomes part of the game, part of a player’s ability to see what needs to be done and then find a way to do it. As much as players try to take it one game at a time and look no further than the upcoming 40 minutes, so too should the fans, the pundits, and those who thrive on statistics.

Metrics may be fine during practice as a method of improving, but they don’t mean a damn thing on the court where anything can happen. Metrics don’t allow for the invariables, and that is where character and resolve take over. Did Kansas lack resolve? No. USC simply turned their resolve into success, which Kansas couldn’t match. That they got so close in the third quarter showed the resolve for the Jayhawks.

Perhaps USC just took a deeper, bigger breath and summoned up that much more to take the game. That, I think, is what gives USC their edge, plus some awfully good players. USC will face Baylor in Portland on March 30.

UConn and Syracuse in a Highly Competitive Showdown

Syracuse came to Storrs on a mission. UConn met them head on with one of their own. I think this was a game that each team needed, although not necessarily wanted. This was another game about the staters having to play with no bench support. We all know how the UConn line-up has been decimated, which has never been an excuse for them. Freshman Sophie Burrows was called to replace injured starter Kyra Wood for Syracuse, and stepped up, scoring 18 points. That’s resolve.

The Huskies held Dyaisha Fair to 2 points in the first half with great defense by Nika Mühl. Syracuse relied on Burrows and Georgia Woolley to keep them in the game in the first half. With Aaliyah Edwards having something of slow game, both Ashlynn Shade and KK Arnold stepped up, combining for 29 points with 7-11 threes. At the half, UConn led 39-28.

In the third quarter, the resolve of Syracuse kicked in, and Fair started scoring, and the Orange brought the game to within four on a layup and free throw by Fair. But then with three seconds left, Shade hit another corner three, bring the Husky lead back to nine. Then, in the fourth, with UConn up by 10, Mühl committed three fouls in about 30 seconds, and fouled out. She had been the key defender on Fair.

Adversity was nothing new to the Huskies

But the Huskies had been through situations like this many times before, most recently  when Edwards had her nose broken in the Big East Tournament. Ice Brady enters the game with UConn up 63-55. No one scores for about two minutes until Shade makes a jumper, followed by a trey from Fair. Burrows hits a three and it is a four point Husky lead. Time out. Then a Brady turnover, an offensive rebound for Syracuse, and Alyssa Latham hits a jumper. 65-63 UConn.

Paige Bueckers immediately hits a jumper. 67-63. Bueckers then fouls Fair, who hits one of two free throws. 67-64. Bueckers gets the rebound but misses a jumper. Fair turns the ball over on a Shade steal. Timeout UConn. Bueckers gets the ball on the inbound, and then finds an open Arnold, who nails a three point shot. 70-64 UConn. No one scores until Edwards is fouled with two seconds left. She makes both free throws, and the Huskies take this game 72-64 in March Madness.

Fair and Bueckers led their respective teams in March Madness

Fair is really a remarkable player. Even though she was held to two first half points, what she did for Syracuse in the second half was provide a steadying and reliable influence for her teammates. Her resolve to get Syracuse back into the game was palpable, and Fair deserves an enormous amount of credit. I can’t say enough about Paige Bueckers, who really is the heart and soul of UConn.

At some point, I’m going to dig a little deeper into what I think that means, but for now, I will say that she is the driving force of her team, someone they can rely on to put the team before herself, even sometimes at Coach Auriemma’s dismay. But Paige is the epitome of a team player, with the humility and grace that so richly contributes to what I think is an extraordinary character.

She heads the resolve of the team to constantly push forward. So this too was a game of resolve, of determination, and the will to win. This time it went in UConn’s favor. All props to Syracuse though. They played a hell of a game. UConn will next face Duke in Portland on March 30 as March Madness rolls on.

 And that, my friends, as they say, is that.’ — Martin Ruben.

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About Martin Ruben

Aloha - The Dodgers were still in Brooklyn when I was a kid. I was never a Yankees fan. I'm a season ticket holder for the Minnesota Lynx, a big UConn WBB fan, and an avid Arsenal supporter. I consider myself a student of basketball. If I were to write an autobiography, it would be called SERIOUS FUN.

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