13.Dec.2011 Basketball: UIC @ Oregon State
I remember the death of Hank Gathers like it was yesterday. He threw down a tomahawk dunk during a WCC Tourney game against Portland, and as he was trotting back down the court he stumbled then fell to the ground in a heap. He was conscious for a couple seconds and saying something to the trainers at his side before succumbing to a major cardiac arrhythmia caused by hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
It was truly a sad day in college hoops. Gathers had been diagnosed with the condition previously, and he was on medication to correct it. There were later stories that he was allowed to regulate his own medication to the point where he wasn’t taking it on game days. But that’s another story. I can remember the faces of players like Bo Kimble and Eric Spoelstra as they flashed first confusion, then shock, then sadness. The reality of the event might have taken more time to really sink in, but it was still a reality. And everyone involved knew what it was.
The immediate result was a cancellation of the remainder of the WCC Tourney. And Loyola Marymount was granted the league’s automatic NCAA berth due to their regular season championship. And their subsequent run to the Elite Eight before being knocked out by eventual champs UNLV would become another legend in NCAA Tourney lore.
We OSU fans had the luxury of being able to watch that run since Ball State decided to make that the one year in their history to make a Sweet Sixteen appearance. I remember being happy when they pumped defending champs Michigan to make the Sweet Sixteen then eked by Wimp Sanderson’s Alabama club to make the regional finals. I don’t think anyone held out much hope that they win against an absolutely stacked UNLV team. But I’m pretty sure just about everyone who watched that game were cheering for LMU.
The point of all this is that Loyola Marymount was allowed almost a week and a half to mourn the loss of their friend and teammate. They took part in a highly publicized and well attended service in Philadelphia to lay their friend to rest. And they took that time to come together as a team with a purpose.
It was unrealistic to expect the Beavs to do the same two days after the sudden loss of their friend Fred Thompson. Watching their game against Idaho was a painful exercise in just going through the motions. And I don’t know if it’s fair to expect anything of our boys in tonight’s match-up versus UIC.
But in the interest of sport, the show must go on. We can only hope that those who knew Fred well and felt his loss most deeply can incorporate the goodness of a heart that was truly too large for this world and move forward with their lives.
It just takes time.
So I hesitate to lay any real expectations on the Beavs for this game. What would be a speed bump under normal circumstances can turn into another Idaho. Though Idaho’s strengths played directly into the Beavs’ malaise, UIC doesn’t have quite the same skill. They can shoot from the outside when not challenged, but they are small and play with an even smaller rotation.
Junior guards Gary Talton (6’1″) and Daniel Barnes (6’2″) and frosh Marc Brown (6’4″) will play the most minutes of anyone on the team barring foul trouble or injury. While all three like to throw it up from deep, Barnes and Brown are the two to check for that phase of the game. Talton is more of a slasher and facilitator, though Brown will do enough to get to the line as well. As those three play, so does UIC. They will be spelled briefly by frosh Greg Travis (6’0″) and senior Matt Bush (6’4″), but they will be relied upon heavily for any team success. Their weakness will be ball security. Talton will drop the ball under pressure, and Brown does not make good decisions if his shot is taken away. Barnes is the most patient of the three, and he poses a decent defensive threat as well. Stopping all three will be difficult, but shutting two of them down should make them wilt.
UIC’s front line is very small. Soph Hayden Humes (6’8″) will play the big wing, and senior Darrin Williams (6’9″) will play the post. Humes is the better all around big, rebounding on both ends, shooting fairly well and even stepping beyond the arc from time to time. He has played well enough early on to replace Paris Carter (6’7″) in the starting line-up. Williams is a space eater who tilts the floor to the offensive end. Williams shoots the higher percentage shots, and he will collect boards if he’s not moved off the blocks. But he slows down as the game wears on, and Carter seems to be the only relief off the bench. If these three run into foul trouble, there’s not much help coming off the bench.
UIC will attempt to slow this game to a snail’s pace. When the score rises into the 60+ point range, they just do not do well. I don’t know if the Beavs will show up for this game. My thought is they will. But even if they don’t, a more than non-existent effort will likely put more than 60 on this UIC team. Likely the Beavs come out a little rough then shut UIC down for a long spell before coming up for some air. Some rough patches will keep the score closer than the actual game will appear. But I don’t think the Beavs allow a second game to pass without effort.
Beavs 74 – UIC 56
Note: UIC is led by second year coach Howard Moore. You should recognize Moore’s name as one of the Wisconsin players in the mid-90′s who took that program to their first NCAA appearance since the NCAA became the premiere college hoops tourney in 1950.
Good points by Jack. Versus Idaho, the Beavers were not themselves. Jared Cunningham appeared the most affected. I was wrong to believe they'd "win one for Fred". In retrospect, that was naive reasoning (easy to do when you're far removed from the situation).
The question now: is four days enough time to cope? I have never lost a close friend, so I can't pretend to know. All I know is that two days clearly wasn't enough time. When, how, where, or why the team eventually heals, copes, and wins a game is impossible to speculate. I'll understand if they lose tonight. And I'll be glad (as a fan, and for them) if they win. It's weird how at this point it's not about X's or O's. There will be a time to criticize this team if they can't cope, but tonight isn't the time. It doesn't feel right; I think they deserve another few weeks. That being said, overcoming adversity is a hallmark of every great squad, so if they can somehow gut out a win tonight, then not only should fans reignite belief in these guys, but maybe even raise the bar.