So. If you have a pulse, I’m positive you saw what happened on Easter Sunday with Baylor dropping to Louisville in possibly one of the most stunning upsets in women’s college basketball history, or even college basketball history in totality. (yet nobody talked about it on Grantland. I see you, Bill Simmons.)
I didn’t get to see all of the game, but I caught fragments of it. I saw Shoni Schimmel drill threes from the parking lot (and that INSANE behind the back thing she did) and I also saw Brittney Griner basically get caught in a ‘box and EVERYONE RUN AFTER HER’ defense. I saw a brilliant game plan by Jeff Walz to throw Griner off her game. I saw Kim Mulkey lose her shirt. That was weird.
I did not get to see the final play of the game; at that point, the party I was at to celebrate the season premiere of Game of Thrones had put the show on HBO. Then my phone died. My boyfriend proceeded to turn on his Gamecast so I could enjoy the show and keep up with the end of the game. That’s lurve right there.
Something that really stuck out in my mind that night after the end of the game was the complaining about officiating. It’s something I’ve done in the past as well as many others; the women’s game is stuck with crappy officials at this time. They don’t call body-checks, but they do call hand checks. They fall for the simple flop and call it a charge. They don’t call holding in the paint nearly enough, and they often try to even up the score by over-calling the favored team. It’s a fact of life.
My issue stems with the fact that a lot of people blame losses on crappy officiating. Particularly the Baylor loss. They say it all has to do with the fact that officiating in that game in the final minutes wasn’t up to par. While that may be accurate in some cases, I’d like to mediate on some things that have been a-stewin’ in my brain space for the past two days, and I’d like to share them with you.
Here, in succinct terms, is how you counteract crappy officiating.
1. If you’re losing but you have the opportunity for a late game comeback, you put your team on your back and you win. End of discussion.
One of the things that Brittney Griner needs to work on is her body control and overall dominance in the paint. “What?!” you may cry. “She’s the record holder for shots blocked, man or woman!” Yes, that’s true. But if you’ve watched her as many times as I have, you’ll see a lot of those shot blocks are sometimes simply a matter of size difference. Brittney has an enormous wingspan and she’s 6’8″. That alone will block or alter the trajectory of attempted shots. But if you look at the game tape of Louisville/Baylor, you’ll notice that in a lot of key plays BG is nowhere to be seen or she’s tipped the ball slightly but not entirely. She’s either out of the paint away from the ball or she’s on the perimeter, already running up the court. If you’re down by 8 with a few minutes to go and you have a legit chance of winning the game, you get your ass in the paint and you push your internal volume to 11. In our game yesterday Breanna Stewart only had 3 blocks, but she flew at the shooter like her life depended on it. That’s the attitude you have to take. If you’re getting tangled up in the lane and they aren’t calling anything, you MAKE them call it. Griner has that tenacity in stints, but it fell apart in the Louisville game because – and she’s done this a number of times – she allowed the pressure of the game to build up in her head and froze. She’s a lot better at this than she used to be, but she still needs to work on her in-game reaction.
I kept thinking of the 2003 Final Four, when we were down by 9 with 4 minutes to play and Diana scored 9 points in an 11-2 run to beat Texas in the National Semifinals. She posted up, she made threes, she hit her free throws. She was, as Mike Patrick said of her once, “The All-American, All-Everything.” She is also, as Dave Chappelle once said, “COLD BLOODED.”
That’s why the legacy of Diana Taurasi, even though it isn’t as overtly dominant in the stat line as Brittney Griner’s is, is more important to the game as a whole. She embodied mental toughness. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player get the crap beaten out of her like Diana did. Dad said one time in an interview that his kids on the 1995 championship team would “kill you to win the game.” That’s the kind of tenacity and power Louisville displayed in that game. Same with Delaware against their 1st and 2nd round opponents, and even in the Sweet Sixteen Elena Delle Donne scored 33 points and played every position on the floor to get her team back in the game. As many issues as I have with Skylar Diggins, she gets the job done as well.
2. You don’t let your team get down by 20 points in the second half, and then rely on a frantic last-minute rally that can go either way, especially if the officials have been calling the game in a way that isn’t in your favor.
My dad likes to compare basketball games of great importance to boxing matches. “You have to go out there and throw the first punch, and then just keep on punching until the end of the game.” Which is why if we come out with guns blazing early on in the game, the game’s outcome is never in doubt afterward which is hard to say about a lot of teams. Once we build a substantial lead, we usually don’t let up.
You render the officials obsolete by not allowing them to take control of the game’s tempo. You do that by playing hard, smart, efficient basketball for the entirety of the game, from the minute the ball gets tipped. That’s why when we came out in the second half and clobbered Maryland in the Sweet 16 it rendered the complaints about the shitty officiating in the first half rather moot. We were up by so far, a crappy call here and there couldn’t put us out of the game. Also, looking at the final foul tallies by Louisville and Baylor, they seemed to be pretty even. Yes, BG was swarmed by defenders all game and yes, they were probably a bit too aggressive. But you have to do what you need to do in order to win. Physicality only gets you so far. If BG wants to be even better at the next level, she needs to work on that aspect of her game.
3. Shit happens. Deal with it, fix it if you can, and move on.
Things happen that you can’t control or explain all the time. It’s called life. Diana carried us to two more national championships when nobody in the universe thought we could because she had the burning desire to win and she also knew it wasn’t something that was promised, and she did it with a stress fracture and back spasms. She was also aware that nothing is promised and the best thing we can do is make the most of what we have.
You only need to look at Kevin Ware’s horrific compound fracture during the other Louisville game last weekend to know that no game or season is promised. I have never seen a team reaction like that in my life, and it immediately made my heart break for those guys. These guys could’ve done what I probably would’ve done in that scenario – fold like a collapsible deck chair and let Plumlee stomp all over them. But they didn’t. They took a potentially game-killing experience and turned it into a turnaround rout of Duke. It was stunning to watch and kind of inspiring. The Louisville girls took that and made it into energy. They reacted to it with action. Baylor’s response to the pressure inflicted upon them by Louisville is apparent in the outcome of that game.
Yes, the officials made some bad judgment with non-calls. I had the same issue with the Maryland game when Kelly Faris got clobbered and Dad freaked out and got a technical (although, thank God, did not remove any part of his clothing). Refs suck in women’s basketball. This is a fact. And apparently the NCAA is too busy protecting unconscionable coaching practices at Rutgers to really investigate shitty refs.
Life is 10% the things that happen to you, and 90% how you react.
As for our own chances in the tournament re: the Notre Dame rematch…I’m not going to lie, I’m scared. I refused to watch the Big East championship because I was so terrified, and then when we lost on that heartbreaker shot at the end I honest to God cried. I knew that this is what it must have felt like for Ruth Riley, Niele Ivey, and the other members of the 2001 Notre Dame team we beat on a buzzer beater Sue Bird jump shot in that Big East title game. But remember, they beat us in the Final Four that year and subsequently beat Purdue to win the National Championship. I would just not like a repeat of what happened last year when I got super drunk at a Game of Thrones watch party out of severe Final Four defeat depression. Ok?
In closing, let me just say this: This is in no way a condemnation of Brittney Griner. I have massive respect for the things she has done in her four years at Baylor to expand the face of women’s basketball as well as increase parity in the women’s game. I’m just noting some things that are a common occurrence across basketball as a whole.
Also, if you are one of those people who condemn Brittney Griner by reducing her to the ‘she’s clearly a man’ description…do you have a medical degree? Have you personally examined Brittney Griner? Or are you contributing to the massive genderphobic hyper-heteronormative fuckery surrounding that gifted athlete since the day she put on a Baylor uniform? You clearly have problems with your own masculinity if you do that to a 21 year old kid. Or you suck at basketball and you’re jealous. I think Brittney Griner is not only beautiful, but incredibly talented and has dominated the face of women’s basketball in the past four years. She also seems like a decent kid.
Unfortunately, you need more than decency this time of year.