March 21st, 2009 | by AARON MESH News | Posted In: Sports, CLEAN UP

Live Madness! The NCAA Tournament Comes to the Rose Garden (Part 3)

621POY_08_update

Well, hello there! I didn't see you there. I was distracted by the girl wearing a purple dog on her head. My, there certainly are a lot of Washington Huskies fans here, aren't there? They sure are loud. Fortunately, Purdue has a very large flag. Big Ten schools tend to rely heavily on flags for moral support, I've found.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. It's the NCAA Tournament, on its second day in Portland, and for the next four hours or so, I'll be bringing you another installment of the March Madness liveblog. Since last we chatted, I spent a lovely evening watching my favorite team, the Florida State Seminoles, get agonizingly vanquished by Wisconsin. After that unfortunate outcome I had no choice but to get extremely drunk. So you'll forgive me if this diary seems a little crapulescent here and there. And now let's join...

Washington vs. Purdue

As I believe I previously mentioned, there are a lot of Huskies fans here. The Rose Garden is about three-quarters filled (at least as full as it was Thursday, though if you're looking to score a seat, c'mon down!) and everyone is wearing purple and cheering defensive rebounds inordinately loudly. That might be the hangover talking, but really these U-Dub fans are enjoying these defensive rebounds far more lustily than seems proportional, especially since they are losing, 5-2.

And while my computer was attempting to kill itself, Purdue has streaked to a 22-14 lead. Actually, just a minute ago it was 20-8. Then the Huskies hit a three and the crowd erupted like it was V-J Day or something. Purdue immediately stole an offensive rebound for an easy layup. Crowd shut up. I've come to take an active interest in shutting up Huskies fans.

But that's going to be hard to do when Isaiah Thomas is playing like... well, Isaiah Thomas. What a pretty little reverse layup he just spun on the end of a fast break. Purdue responds with a three. 25-18, Boilermakers.

Huge three by Robbie Hummel, a Purdue forward that I would describe as looking very corn-fed. 32-21, Boilermakers. Mmm, boilermakers.

350px-Boilermaker

Keaton Grant with ANOTHER three for Purdue. The Boilermakers are actually grinning on the court, as if they can't believe this is happening either. It's a very quiet building, except for section 113, which is West Lafayette West.

So the unsung winners of the NCAA Tournament coming to Portland? Cabbies. They were lined up ten deep on NE Multnomah Street at 10 pm Thursday. The patrons, mostly clad in purple, were either confused about how to get to their fancy downtown hotels on the MAX, or knew full well how to get to their fancy downtown hotels but had no intention of squeezing into a MAX car. (It would be a squeeze, too: The MAX looked like a Tokyo subway on Thursday night, except with more protruding purple bellies. Even the fans here who aren't Husky fans are husky fans, if you catch my drift.) Anyway, this was a windfall for the cabbies: Nearly as large a crowd as a Blazer game, and almost nobody's from here.

While I was writing that, the Boilermakers performed a microcosm what they've been doing all half: Worked the shot clock down to 3 seconds, missed a long jumper, scraped out a rebound, then worked their methodical offense to free up Jajuan Johnson for a jam. Huskies don't even bother trying to get a play off before halftime. 39-28, Boilermakers. Also, their band is better. Although I'm pretty glued to the Husky band's cover of "I Drove All Night" -- the Roy Orbison original setting, not the Celine Dion slowdown. Have you ever listened to the lyrics, by the way. It mostly involves a dude (or Celine) driving all night to creep into a girl's room and make love to her. Then the dude (or Celine) asks if that's all right. No, it isn't! Get out of my room, rapey Celine Dion!

Back in the Cheerleader Warm Up Area (right next to the Media Hospitality Room, where the NCAA distributes fajitas and Vitaminwater) Harry the Husky spent halftime hugging disconsolate cheerleaders and adjusting his paws. You'll never believe this, but underneath all that fur, Harry the Husky is a white dude! Or Celine Dion.

Another unsung winner of the NCAA Tournament coming to Portland? Panhandlers! Amid the crowds streaming out of the Rose Garden Thursday night, a slightly ratty-looking young man with a guitar had planted himself at the edge of a crosswalk, and was serenading the visitors with an original composition, which began:



Dirty dirty street kid, where are you going?
Dirty dirty street kid, where are you from?


I would have loved to learn where it went from there, but the light changed.

Also, this afternoon on North Vancouver Avenue, a man in a windbreaker had arrived with a double-sided cardboard sign. One side read, "Will accept verbal abuse for $1." The other said, "Bet you cant [sic] hit me with a quarter." No one was immediately taking him up on the offer, but it's a long day.

So this is going to be one of those second halves where the Huskies sweat and grind to get back in the game, get the crowd all worked up, and the Boilermakers asphyxiate them again. Yes, I'm aware exactly how that sounded.

Purdue Pete has a road uniform, it turns out, but what he could really use is a paint job. His face is chipping.

The Boilermakers' domination on the boards is even more impressive when you realize that they do not, technically speaking, have a center. JaJuan Johnson is their paint guy, but he's a 6'10" forward.

Heavily tatted U-Dub point guard Venoy Overton is whistled for a foul after E'Twaun Moore elbows him in the face. The crowd is outraged, the coach is outraged, the team is outraged -- and now they're on a run, hitting a tough driving basket, forcing a turnover, causing the fans to get very, very loud. Eight point game, and Purdue really needs a basket.

How's that for a basket? Nemanja Calasan swishes a three. He's from Bosnia & Herzegovinia. The Purdue media guide informs us that he played his high school ball at Ekononomsko-Ugostiteljska Skola. Whose basketball team, coincidentally, was not named the Boilermakers.

Venoy Overton is whistled for another foul. Nobody has ever been the victim of so many injustices as Venoy Overton, to judge from his reactions. The world is against him. He can only clutch his head and run in circles as a silent protest. He is the Jerryd Bayless of college sports. 56-47, Boilermakers.

The Huskies' Elston Turner makes a 360 turn, jukes his defender to the ground, and bangs home a three-pointer. Four-point game. The reporter next to me, an unfriendly guy from hilltoppersports.com, chooses this moment to inform me, with the barely concealed pleasure of a hall monitor, that I am not supposed to be liveblogging this game. Against NCAA rules or something.

This is not exactly true. In point of fact, blogging is sanctioned by the NCAA; it's just strictly (and ridiculously) regulated. Apparently I'm only supposed to update five times per half. I have broken this rule. You hear that, NCAA? I eat your free fajitas and then I reveal your secret game information! I am out of control.

Oh, right: the game. U-Dub pulls the deficit to two (very loud now) and then goes back to being jobbed by the refs. Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar is finding new ways to be flabbergasted and appalled by calls. He just invented a very effective maneuver in which he tugs on his suit jacket while jumping up and down.

Another whistle (you'll never believe this, but it's on Venoy Overton) and now Romar's assistant coaches have stood up to join him in wordless indignation. During the TV timeout, they take turns explaining to the refs how disappointed they are in the quality of officiating. 69-64, Boilermakers.

Three simultaneous dramas playing out here, only one of which you can see at home. There's a four-point contest between a hard-charging Huskies team and a clinging-to-the-cliffside Boilermakers squad (this one you can see); there's the ongoing question of whether one of Lorenzo Romar's assistants will actually light himself on fire to protest the cruel dictatorship of the officials; and there's the personal crisis playing out for thousands of purple-clad people, half of them on their feet, trying to salvage their weekend in Oregon. 1:15 to play.

Isaiah Thomas had two chances to tie the game: First one is swatted by corn-fed Robbie Hummel, second one, with less than 20 seconds to play, just won't roll in. 13.5 to play, and the Boilermakers are going to the foul stripe with a 73-71 lead. Also, Big Red has arrived, and is seated on the baseline in front of several Huskies fans whose memories of heartbreak will now include a massive red plush creature.

Purdue's going to the Sweet Sixteen, 76-74. Husky fans are standing in silence, shaking their heads. They're filing for the exits, and I've got a feeling we're going to have a lot of empty seats for the Gonzaga-Western Kentucky game.

Out in the courtyards, Washington fans are wandering about with shell-shocked expressions. "Fuckin' great," a fratty Husky declares. The battle now is between Rose Garden security and the upper-deck fans looking to move into lower bowl seats. The arena is now significantly less purple -- though, to their credit, about half the U-Dub supporters are sticking around to watch...

Gonzaga-Western Kentucky

The battle of Cinderellas past begins with an exchange of threes, and then a Zag throws the ball directly into press row, about a yard from my head. An ink-stained wretch from the Seattle Times makes the catch.

The cheerleaders from Western Kentucky wear a great deal of makeup, of a shade that makes several of them bear a funny resemblance to martini-swilling sexagenarians. One of the dude cherrleaders rubs noses with Big Red, which would seem sort of homoerotic except that I don't think Big Red has a gender. Game tied at 9.

Orlando Mendez-Valdez came to play: He has 14 of Western Kentucky's 17 points, and the Hilltoppers lead by three. Meanwhile, I'm seated in front of the WKU fan base, which has brought laminated photos of guard A.J. Slaughter and is wearing airbrushed T-shirts. Which reminds me: Would you like an airbrushed T-shirt of alleged spousal abuser Chris Brown? Here you go.

The Orlando Mendez-Valdez and A.J. Slaughter combination (Dave Barry would like to remind you that this would be an excellent name for a jazz band) have teamed up for 30 of the Hilltoppers' 31 points. How do you fit "Mendez-Valdez" on the back of a jersey, you ask? Answer: with extremely tight spacing.

Gonzaga's Matt Bouldin draws a foul. The fans behind me do not think it was a foul. "He walked!" opines one woman who has not shut up for more than 30 seconds since this game began. "He walked! He walked! He walked! He walked! He walked!" Two possessions later, a traveling violation is called on the Zags. "Finally," says the woman. "Finally." The epidemic of unchecked walking has mercifully ended.

It is worth adding here, as we reach halftime, that the woman behind doesn't actually think up any of the things she yells. The man sitting beside her will make an observation about the officiating -- "That's horrible," say -- and she will repeat it several times: "That's horrible! Horrible." What she lacks in originality, she makes up in volume. 37-35, Hilltoppers.

Big Red spends halftime posing with fans -- not his own fans, who obviously see enough of him at home -- but fans from other schools, especially Purdue, who want to have their photos taken with their heads inside his enormous, froglike mouth.

Gonzaga opens the second half on an 11-3 run which includes three three-pointers. Somebody has to salvage this weekend for the state of Washington, right?

Serio Kerusch (those are great names!) hits a three of his own while being fouled -- or, in the opinion of most of the arena, not being fouled -- then gets the rebound on his own missed foul shot and ties the game with a jumper. This may be the best game ever played in this building by somebody named Sergio.

The Zags respond with lockdown defense (including a backcourt trap that confuses WKU) and more deadeye shooting from behind the arc. They lead by 7.

Matt Bouldin, who reminds of Adam Morrison without the trash-'stasche or the unchecked weeping, drains a three. So here's the thing about this year's iteration of Zag Nation: They're boring. They're balnced, they're fast, they're America's best hope of knocking out North Carolina before the Final Four, but they're about as diverse as a room full of white people, and they play the kind of unselfish basketball that makes me want to see what's on Comedy Central right now. They're up two, 57-55.

Speaking of comedy: Big Red's commercial-break booty dancing coaxed the hint of a smile out of poker-faced John Canzano, who has a front-row view of his antics. Put your bald face in his enormous, froglike mouth, John! It's cross-promotion!

The indignation of fans in both school sections has ballooned alarmingly in the last five minutes, as a series of foul calls cut both ways. Gonzaga fans are standing up and holding out their arms to the heavens, expressing their powerless confusion at the capricious decisions of the zebras.

OK, I'm going to go ahead and talk about the elephant in the room now. Western Kentucky's fan base includes a lot of black people. Gonzaga's fan base does not include a lot of black people. Hell, Gonzaga's starting lineup does not include a lot of black people. I don't want to make too much of this, but I don't think I'm imagining the racial tensions currently at play in the building. When one of Gonzaga's large white forwards goes to the foul line, a WKU fan yells at him, "Miss it, boy!" Anyway, seems worth noting.

And now the Zags fans are on their feet, roaring so loud you might think they were Husky fans: The Bulldogs are threatening to run the Hilltoppers out of the building. But Sgt. Slaughter (they call him that, right?) gets a call, and knocks down three straight foul shots. 75-69, Zags.

This is the part where the plucky Hilltoppers punch back, creating a thrilling finish. Except that's not happening. Instead, Gonzaga is systematically building its lead: The Zags have remembered that the best way to slow a hot-shooting team is to fluster their guards, and that's what they're doing. Also they're just KILLING Western Kentucky (slaughtering them, even?) in the paint. 81-72, Zaglicious.

No sooner than I post that, we get the part where the plucky Hilltoppers punch back. Naturally, it's led by Slaughter and Mendez-Valdez, who each hit long shots -- Orlando's involves an impresive degree of difficulty, with a full pirouette. Four-point game.

Oh, damn! Steal by Orlando Mendez-Valdez, pass from the hardwood to Slaughter, one-hand jam. Zags run clock, Bouldin misses jumper. WKU ball, down two, 24.8 seconds to play.

Holy sweet damn. Steffphon Pettigrew tips in a Slaughter miss to tie it, but nobody sticks a man on Zags point guard Demetri Goodson, who runs the length of the court to kiss a running jumper off the glass with nine-tenths of second left. The building erupts; it's euphoria. The Hilltoppers have no time for a real shot. The Zags fans are losing their collective minds, the players are mobbing Goodson, the entire weekend of occasionally dull basketball is fully justified. Even the remaining U-Dub fans are screaming. 83-81, Gonzaga.

Demetri Goodson stays on the court for TV interviews. "You're a legend, Tri," yells a Gonzaga fan who has joined a pack at the rails. They give the kid a standing ovation as he leaves the court; he waves. He's not a starter. It was only his second basket of the night. He will never have to buy a drink in Spokane.

The Gonzaga fans, like me, don't want to leave. The feeling is just too good. It's quite the turnaround from U-Dub fans fleeing the room three hours ago. Finally, everybody decides the Portland party is over. "Our work here is done," declares a Zags fan. So is mine.
 
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