I am proud to be a Boilermaker today.
I never thought eight words would mean so much to me. When I was born, I came home from the hospital in a Purdue outfit. I can't even remember a time when I haven't watched Purdue sports. Standing in my living room last night though, with tears beginning to flow as I heard the Paint Crew members that went all the way to Arizona give us one final Bobby Buckets chant, those words gained an even more poignant meaning to me. My eyes are even getting a little misty this morning thinking about it again.
J Money gets it. There are normal people, then there are sports fans. For people like us our teams become an extension of ourselves. We live by them. We feel like we know the guys. I know that is true about this group of young men. Because of this blog I feel like I know them better than any other team. I have written almost daily about them since November. They have been what sports need to be: a pleasant distraction at times when we need them the most. They have allowed me to vent so many personal frustrations and re-direct so much pent up energy that I literally do not know what I would do without them. Dammit I am proud of these guys today.
Remember this moment, fellas. We will be back to avenge it.
Last night that Buckets chant said so much about who we are as Purdue fans. Over the course of the open thread here and the Liveblog that the UConn Blog was doing, the Husky fans continued to comment how we simply refused to go away. Even in the final minutes, with the game well decided, we did not give up. Instead of an arena filled with UConn fans cheering their team's advancement to the elite 8 what did we hear on the broadcast?
Clap clap clapclapclap
Clap clap clapclapclap
How can you not be moved by that? I admit we got our asses handed to us by a bigger, stronger, better team. UConn hit the shots they needed to hit. Thabeet thoroughly disrupted our offense. Price hit some very tough shots and Austrie hit some absolute back-breaking threes. Still, in face of everything, here are some select comments from UConn fans during the liveblog in the final minutes.
gxpanos: You guys play GREAT D, though, T-Mill. You'll be around in the Big 10 next year.
GoHuskiesGo: I think Purdue can dominate the Big Ten because they play BASKETBALL
GoHuskiesGo: Hey T-Mill- your kids wont die. its irritating.
Jesus Shuttlesworth: man, purdue just does not go away.
GoHuskiesGo: I'm very impressed by Purdue
Jesus Shuttlesworth: yeah, and considering they're all coming back, you have to think this team can do some damage.
Those statements just mean so much to me as does the Paint Crew last night. I will always remember that. Even in defeat we were still there, and we made my original prediction came true. At 9:25 last night, UConn did respect us.
Clap clap clapclapclap
Clap clap clapclapclap
Positives from the UConn game:
All of the above - Well, obviously. Last night was the first time this season where I really felt the general youth of our team. Maybe it is because the Big Ten in general was so youthful this year. Connecticut's experience made as much of a difference as Xavier's did in last season's tournament. They had that little extra push from it. They knew when to get in a passing lane, when to change tempo. They understood all the little nuances of the game that only experience can bring. A prime example was the fast break we had when down four and LewJack was looking for the open layup. Price knew exactly where to be, intercepted the freshman's pass, and it ended up being a dunk the other way. It was a four point shift and psychologically was a killing blow. The ability to get the lead under three almost became a mental barrier, and that (other than Keaton's second half layup that rimmed out, failing to cut it to one) was our best chance.
Robbie Hummel (first half edition) - Robbie kept us alive last night. Nothing was falling early on except for Robbie's shot. I don't know if it was the atmosphere of essentially shooting in a warehouse or what, but that was about the worst possible start we could have had last night. UConn basically won that game in the first six minutes by grabbing a 14-3 lead. Honestly, it could have been a whole lot more too. UConn did a great job of taking Robbie out of the second half.
Bobby, Nemanja, Marcus, and Chris - Although the circumstances were obviously not the best, all four got to play last night in the final games of their careers. Marcus had a very nice layup by collecting a tough pass on a fast break. Buckets gave us one more three to remember him. Chally had a bad night offensively, but I was very proud of the way he worked against Thabeet and got some tough offensive rebounds. Chris only got in in the final minute, but I know his contributions in practice will be missed. I know I speak for all Purdue fans when I say I love these guys, and I will miss them. Thank you.
The Paint Crew - Thank you guys for traveling last night. I am so envious of you right now it is not even funny. I remember watching the first Penn State game back in January and you guys took over their arena with a group not even 100 strong. You took over Glendale last night. I am proud to have you guys representing our University.
Negatives from the UConn game.
That one little bounce - I feel that is all we needed last night to turn the game around. The biggest moment, to me, was the open drive Keaton Grant had to the basket. We were down three at the time and we had actually pulled Thabeet away from the rim. Keaton had an easy layup, but it just barely rimmed out. We had been unable to get it under three despite several chances at that point, and if that shot drops it cuts it to one. That came with 15:35 left, and UConn went on an 8-0 run after the miss. We never got it to three again.
Hasheem Thabeet - He was the difference last night. He completely disrupted our offensive flow. We were afraid to attack him, and when we did attack he showed how smart he was by not fouling on a block. This was honestly a very poor matchup for us because of his size. He is a true 7'3". Many guys that are that tall aren't nearly as athletic as Thabeet is. I know I was impressed. I think without his disruptions we have a real shot because every time he was away from the basket or on the bench we looked good offensively. Yes Austrie hit three daggers threes. Yes Robinson was tough down low. Yes Price hit some tough drives, but it was Thabeet's physical presence that made the biggest difference. He played 36 minutes last night when he normally only averages 32. UConn needed him that badly. I have a feeling that facing a super-sized player like Thabeet will be our weakness, but fortunately not many teams have him.
36.4% - That was our shooting percentage last night. We shot 6 of 23 from the three point line, and one of those makes was from Buckets in the last 20 seconds. It was the one night we could not afford to have a poor shooting night. Thabeet played a large role with blocks or "influences", as I like to call them. Defensively we did everything we needed to do. If the game is close I think we keep them around 60 points because free throws in the last five minutes pushed it out. UConn didn't have a made field goal in the last six minutes, but they hit 15 of 18 free throws in that time.
I know the future is very bright for us. Next year can easily be a Final Four year, with 2011 being a year in which I think we will have our best chance ever at a National Championship. There are many factors in thinking that. I think the talent we have coming in is better than the talent we have leaving. I think another year of experience will greatly help us, especially if we can bulk up in the weight room. It will help LewJack running the point especially. I also think that the Big Ten, with all its young sophomore talent, will only get tougher, and that will make us even better come tournament time.
I know a lot has been made about the Big East being a mega-conference, but they have delivered in this tournament. They won all three games they were a part of last night, making an all-Big East Final Four a real possibility. There is something to be said about conference toughness, and that could be the Big Ten next year. UConn was clearly the better team last night. I was very impressed with their defense, but I think that can be us in a year or two because most of the time JaJuan is going to be as big of a matchup problem for other teams as Thabeet was for us.
We will learn from this game. Depending on the outcome of tonight's game we might be able to say that we have played five of this year's Elite 8 at some point in the past two seasons. Had Duke and Xavier won last night that number could have been seven. As it is, we have now played seven of this year's sweet 16 in the past two years, and only one of those teams was in our own conference. We have taken our lumps, going 3-7 against the likes of Louisville, Michigan State, Missouri, Duke, Oklahoma, UConn, and Xavier, but we will learn from these games. I am very proud of where we are, and very excited about the future, but it still doesn't mean I am not upset over losing a game we very easily could have won if a few things are different.
As for the blog, I'll still do some basketball stuff as long as the women are still playing. I am leaving for Miami on Wednesday, and I may be doing some stuff for SBNation's Miami blog the Seventh floor in that time since I am going to a baseball series down there, but I don't know yet. Through the spring I'll be talking about Purdue baseball, as well as Spring practice. I have another series idea as well that is similar to last year's Best Wins of the Tiller Era. Over the summer it will be team and unit previews as we gear up for football as well.
I do want to thank everyone for stopping by and making the midseason transition over here to SBNation so successful. I wouldn't be here if not for two groups of people: you the readers and the teams themselves. I thank you both.