December 08, 2007

Upset Un-Special

NEW YORK -- Obviously neither Army nor Pitt pulled off the upset today, but apparently Rutgers' slow start was for good reason, with Stringer explaining in her postgame in no delicate terms the upset stomachs and headaches her team has been suffering.

"Maybe it was something in the food down there at Duke," Stringer surmised. "It's so many of us, it had hto be something in the food."

Otherwise, the anticlimactic postgame press conferences were an exploration of Stringer's decision to bench her starters after that Duke loss and an appreciation of MSG for hosting the second annual Maggie Dixon Classic, an event that the organizers and many others in the game hope prospers in the future.

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The Great Scheduling Debate

NEW YORK -- Now that Rutgers has a 20-point advantage, I've had a moment to get together some post-game thoughts from Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie and Pitt's Agnus Berenato. In its second year, the Maggie Dixon Classic now presents a scheduling opportunity -- or pitfall -- for teams across the country, to which McCallie and Berenato both had something to add.

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Purdy McCurdy

NEW YORK -- As Rutgers victimizes Army (the lead is 17 and growing), Stringer put promising sophomore Myia McCurdy back in the game. McCurdy's movements on the court are so natural that she makes even her teammates look clunky by comparison. She's also constantly referenced by her teammates as one of the hardest working players on the team, and though she wasn't a critical link last year, she seems to be a behind-the-scenes star of the Scarlet Knights' success.

Looks like McCurdy was the first of the subs. Katie Adams has just "replaced" Junaid, and though there's 12 minutes left Army's hopes are growing dim.

Tell Us How You Really Feel

NEW YORK -- Maybe Geno Auriemma's videotaped Maggie Dixon memory would have been better played during the first game today, because his touching story about Dixon a few days before her death was drowned out by the boos of Rutgers fans -- obviously sharing their animosity for their archrival's coach rather than meaning any disrespect to Maggie's memory, but still, an uncomfortable moment.

Twin Towers

NEW YORK -- Especially in sports, there are certain glaring genetic gifts that seem painfully unfair to those of us less fortunate in the athletic gene area. Putting Kia Vaughn and Rashidat Junaid, both a very solid 6-4, seems a little like bullying the undersized cadets. Still, perhaps I"m selling Army truly short, because 6-2 Erin Anthony just blocked Vaughn under the basket, something that doesn't happen very often.

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Blood in the Water

NEW YORK -- Rutgers smells it, they're waking up right before halftime. Will a seven-point lead be enought to protect them from the wrath of Stringer? Probably not, because it's a safe bet that with emotions on their side, Army will be an even tougher team to deal with second half. McGuire is leading the Black Knights with 10 points, while Rutgers center Junaid is doing a great job filling in spots for Vaughn with a team-leading 10 as well. Rutgers has the 28-21 halftime lead. Can they hold on to it?

Familiar Faces

NEW YORK -- After multiple lineup changes, looks like Stringer's settled on a classic, four out of five from the lineup that got the Scarlet Knights' through most of the postseason: Vaughn, Ajavon, Carson, and Prince. It's a comforting sight and Rutgers seem comfortable, especially as Prince flexed her offensive speed, taking a steal downtown. Rutgers 23, Army 19.

Do Not Judge Me By My Size

NEW YORK -- Five-foot-two junior guard Megan Ennenga just sank an NBA-range three to put Army up 19-15 with 5 minutes left in this first half. Rutgers' legendary defense is looking a little spotty -- Ennenga had an unchallenged shot, and she took it to the bank. In fact, the pint-sized point guard is giving Army an unforseen speed. Very different from McGuire's strength, but giving the Scarlet Knights' a little trouble nonetheless.

Essence Carson just entered the game. In Stringer's world, that's bringing the defensive cavalry. Guess she doesn't like where this four-point deficit is headed.

We Got Game

NEW YORK -- So Enright's absence isn't a disaster yet, by any means. In fact, we've got ourselves a little slugfest here, with Rutgers leading 15-12. Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer is swapping 'em in and out trying to find a group that will give her a little offensive production, but it looks like neither of our games today is going to break any scoring records.

Stone's trying her hardest. She just brough Army within one with two made free throws. 15-14, and Vaughn has the ball inside.

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Stone Cold

NEW YORK -- Army's Stefanie Stone just pulled her team within two, making good on a Myia McCurdy foul. I'm particularly impressed with junior guard Alex McGuire, who seems to have her hard hat on in Enright's absence. She just capitalized on her own steal to bring Stone within firing range. If Army can find an alternate scorer and no one picks up the Scarlet Knights' offensive end, we could have quite a game here.

Not Enright

Army senior guard Cara Enright just got carried off the court and into the locker room after taking a hard fall off the back of Rutgers' Brittany Ray. Enright is Army's second-leading scorer of all time, and an anchor of this team. Without her, the Black Knights' first nationally ranked opponent of the season looks even more intimidating. Still, Army only trails by four, and Rutgers has yet to look too far superior. If there was one thing Maggie Dixon brought to Army in her year there, it was a complete lack of intimidation for any opponent, any time.

RU Ready

NEW YORK -- It's no surprise that the Rutgers fans are here in full force, but to see the crowd of cadets down from West Point, you know Army will have plenty of support. Still, with Rutgers on the board first courtesy of sophomore Rashidat Junaid, you know Army has its work cut out for it to keep this one competitive.

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Maggie Dixon Day

In an openly emotional center court presentation, Maggie Dixon's family just helped present the C.A.R.E. Foundation with a $25,000 check for cardiac research, as a representative of Mayor Bloomberg declared today Maggie Dixon Day in the city of New York. It's tough to look at the four teams and cardiac patients lined up on the court right now and not think that Dixon's untimely death weighs heavily on the sport. As they said in the final memory video message: So Good. So Young.

Cheek's Black and Blue

NEW YORK -- Guess who's the hero...None other than Joy Cheek, who put back a Chante Black miss with 1.2 seconds on the clock to give Duke the 51-49 win. By the skin of their teeth, the No. 15 team in the nation keeps their claim to that title, though I can't help but feel like the Blue Devils sleepwalked their way through the game. McCallie's got to give her squad more of a killer instinct or the next upset-hungry upstart could put an embarrasing mark on the Blue Devils' record.

Call her (Almost) Clutch

NEW YORK -- Sims not only sank a fadeaway jumper to tie the game at 49, but she also got the steal that gave Pitt the chance to win the game. Too bad Zellous missed the jumper, and Pitt couldn't create on two rebounds. Now we have 12 seconds, game tied at 49, and Duke with a controversial inbounds under Pitt's basket. Are we headed for overtime!?

Building Blocks

NEW YORK -- We're careening towards a photo finish here with the Blue Devils up by only three inside two mintues, and Abby WAner just missed a free throw to keep things interesting. The only statistical category Duke has dominated tonight has been the blocks -- they've got at least 10 officially counted, and several more that didn't make the books. Pitt has, generously, two. The Panthers just don't look like they're used to playing a team this much bigger than they are, though both teams will have to face some serious size provided they both make the tournament.

No Wan-ing Energy

NEW YORK -- Duke's Emily Waner just stole her sister's show and sank a nice long three to give Duke its biggest lead of teh game. They're seven points ahead and suddenly they seem to realize that they were supposed to win this game. Pitt is relying more on individual heroics than the solid tag teams that were keeping them a step faster than the bigger, badder Blue Devils, and unless Walker goes ape, it's a losing strategy.

Speak of the devil, there's Walker cutting the deficit to five by knocking people around inside.

Feelin' Cheeky

NEW YORK -- Oh ye of little faith, says Joy Cheek. She's leading the Blue Devils with 12 points, five of them in quick succession that put Duke back ahead 35-33. Cheek busted out one of only two three-pointers scored so far (the other by Abby Waner, of course) and then followed with a nice little move. The momentum is definitely building in Duke's favor after a couple of Pitt misses.

J.T.'s Got Moves

NEW YORK -- I have a soft spot for Duke freshman Jasmine Thomas, being as she is like I from Northern Virginia, but the coast-to-coast speed she just showed for the Blue Devils was downright frightening. So she didn't capitalize, but she got right back in the mix on the ensuing offensive rebound. Too bad the Duke offense is wading around at the moment, and Pitt is capitalizing. Miss Zellous just sunk the extra point to put the Panthers up by three.

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Comfort From Joy

NEW YORK -- Duke sophomore Joy Cheek must have heard me picking on her at half time, because she came out and gave Duke their first lead since the less than two minutes into the game -- looks like Joanne P. McCallie had a few things to say to the Blue Devils over the break, because they already look more alive.

My next favorite target, Chante Black, has made it 28-24. The power of the blog, people.

24

NEW YORK -- Black's chance to take the lead for the Blue Devils may have just bricked off the back of the rim, but Black got it back by taking a pretty solid elbow from Walker on the other end of the floor. Still, Duke's Joy Cheek missed the ensuing shot (she's 1-for-5) and despite Abby Waner's Laettner-like attempt, we're 24-all at halftime.

Power in Numbers

NEW YORK -- Duke put together a series of good defensive stands and turned into an 18-18 tie, but Pitt has climbed right back to a 22-18 lead. The assembled crowd is chanting "Let's Go Pitt!" and since the Panthers travelled with a band AND cheerleaders, they definitely have the Garden on their side. Of course, where I'm sitting next to the Duke friends and family, there's plenty of grumbling.

Sims is a beast, by the way, she just hit a pull up J. She's playing it cool, but the shot fairly screamed, "In your face!"

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Over-Zellous

NEW YORK -- I may be using this headline too soon, but Pitt guard Shavonte Zellous just nicked the shot clock and leads the Panthers with 6 points as the Panthers still lead Duke 16-11. Pitt's got some quick, young players on the court, and so far Duke hasn't shown any stuff that should intimidate them. In fact, the significant Pitt turnovers have been their own fault -- a pass just out of

I stand corrected, Duke's Chante Black just smacked the ball out of Chelsea Cole's hands. Let see if the Blue Devils can figure out how make this one work...

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Pitt Pops

NEW YORK -- Pitt may be the underdog today, but someone forgot to tell them. Though Duke's Chante Black has made a couple of undersized Panthers look silly, It's Pitt that has the 10-4 lead. Between a couple of buckets from sophomore guard Jania Sims and icing from player of the year candidate Mercedes Walker (who's been struggling to get comfortable in her shoulder brace), No. 15 Duke might need another cup of coffee.

The Maggie Dixon Classic at The World's Most Famous Arena

NEW YORK -- That's a wh.ole lot of name for a four-team tournament, but the moniker fits -- with Pitt and Duke warming up and the Garden slowly filling the first few sections, it's almost go time. Of course, with women's basketball media legend Mel Greenberg as my left-hand man through this first game, it seems appropriate this year to focus on what these teams have to win -- and not that which, with the passing of Maggie Dixon, all of women's basketball has lost.