"And the shadow of the day,
will embrace the world in gray."
It is full blown January in Arkansas. It blew in last night - maybe around 8pm. It is cold but clear and crisp. Trees are bare and lifeless, they look starved and lonely.
There is huge anticipation for basketball. The air is thick with it. Anticipation and hyperbole. It's palpable.
There is little else to sustain us until Spring unless you count friends and loved ones, and to be honest I prefer a good Hogs basketball team to a crowded living room any day.
And this team has looked good. Scrappy. I suspect my hopes have gotten a bit too high but I can no longer imagine us losing a game at home this season. I doubt the crowd will let them.
Basketball is part of the conversation at work again. I overhear talk about Michael Washington's Mao-like Great Leap Forward, about Stef's defense, about RC's shot, about Sanchez's hair.
I am on my own tonight, as my date begged off at the last moment, something to do with a 102 degree fever, a headache and vomiting. Women, what are you gonna do.
Eschewing the possibility of meningitis, I have her adequately sedated and tucked into bed. She gave me her blessings to attend the game although she may have been hallucinating because she called me by her son's name. Regardless I have official permission and I am on the road.
The moon is freakish. It is full and low and huge and yellowish-orange. It looks heavy and distorted, as if smeared by gravity and the atmosphere, almost like a blown glass ornament dangling by an invisible string from the heavens, a tired diety about to let it drop. I suppose this could be an omen of some sort.
The interstate is easy and the tunes are good. Van Morrison is "Cleaning Windows" on the "Bright Side of the Road". The opaque, jaundiced light of the giant moon is silhouetting the low hills of the Ozarks. Packs of cell phone towers reach up and blink unevenly from the horizon, steel framed aliens desperately trying to communicate with their indifferent moon god. Rows of taillights are forming tracers as SUVs zoom past. I think maybe I took too much cough medicine.
It is a rowdy and expectant crowd. We are sensing a win coming and we want to be part of it. The crowd is also quite good looking.
This is a weird phenomenon. You can't swing a dead cat without hitting a cute coed or a slightly sluttily dressed divorcee. It's like an organic supermarket in LA here.
Early in the season our crowds were kind of whacked with an ugly stick. Seems like front runners might be a good looking crew. Us diehards are a mite jealous.
Stef makes his last shot in warmups today. He gave the ball to a guy sitting in the courtside seats and had the guy feed him a pass and then he buried the shot. That was kind of cool.
Stef has on knee sleeves. Does he always wear those? And black socks. Could I have been missing that?
I am strangely confident and serene considering how young and unaccomplished this team is. I am seeing Mississippi State as a game we just won't lose. If we play good it is a blowout, play bad and we find a way to win. That's how it works right?
We have the gray haired ref from the OU game and the peg leg guy from the Texas tilt. I'm not feeling great about that pair.
My mom leans back and asks me if one of the Miss. St. assistants is a former player she should know. I don't recognize him but I ask her if she thinks all tall black guys are athletes she should know. She gives me one of those looks that tells me she is a bit sorry she ever birthed me.
Just before tipoff they get an extended shot of me up on the scoreboard. I miss it but mom turns around and tells me that I looked very handsome, so I have that going for me.
During introductions I get the feeling that the fan base is getting to know these guys, to recognize them as individuals. We wildly cheer Washington because of his yeoman work and the killer move against Texas. We cheer the fact that he carried us against North Texas. We cheer Stef's incredible defensive performance, his hustle and perseverance, the fact that he is finally hitting some jumpers. We cheer Rotnei almost as we would a novelty, a trick shot artist at the Fair, the one player that looks the most like us yet UN-like us he has this extraordinary skill. We cheer Courtney because he is our heart and our face. He is what makes us unique among college teams. We cheer Sanchez because, well because he seems a genuinely nice fella and we all feel bad about his haircut and the shots he will inevitably have blocked by Varnado.
Let's play ball.
Well we aren't going to jump on them real quick. Courtney misses a 3, Stef misses a 3. Washington battles but can't score inside. Sanchez tries to make a post move on his smaller defender but walks.
It is interesting to look at the matchups early on. State has 4 perimeter players and Varnado. All four of the outside guys have just a bit of size, or at least height. This means we have an offensive mismatch at the 4 (Sanchez) but he is our most unpolished offensive player and I doubt we can take advantage.
On the other end they are bigger than us at all 3 outside spots which means they can shoot over us. For instance RC is guarding Barry Stewart and I just don't see that going well.
Speak of the devil - Stewart buries a 3 over RC.
Uh-oh. Another 3 and a couple fast transitions and we are down 10-2. WTF! We look a bit slow but worse we lack aggression. We should be running up their backs not the other way around.
RC with a pretty little baseline J.
Washington with a smooth 3. That is one way to pull Varnado away from the hoop. Wash can do that quite well.
But Courtney gets beat for a hoop and a foul by Bost.
FIRST TIMEOUT 7-12 Miss. St.
Stat Girl is back at the scorer's table. She is wearing her cute little headset and a sleeveless black blouse and gray slacks. I wave but she isn't looking at me. But my mom said I was handsome!
State has 2 guys with knee socks. Unfortunately they don't have the sweet Darrel Walker knee pads. I'd get behind that sort of thing.
Monk scores off a nifty dish from Stef.
RC with a great runner. He is looking for his tweener shot which is good. State is covering him with a guy about 6'5" and unless we play someone (Henry) that can demand the opposing 3 cover him then I think we will see this all year.
They are doubling Washington as soon as he touches it. Its coming from a couple different places and he isn't reacting well. We should DESTROY a double team with Stef and RC hitting 3s.
RC misses 2 good looks from 3.
SECOND TIMEOUT 11-14 Miss. St.
Stewart has 7 I think. We will have to either switch Stef's and RC's assignments, sub, or come up with a new plan altogether.
Dang - another 3 from State. I hate to say it but I kind of like their style, just fling that sucker up.
Stef gets off the schneid with a nice little drive and fade.
Varnado is a gifted shot blocker but he is an odd looking fellow. Looks a bit like a young, awkward bird. When resting he puts his hands high up on his hips but he rotates his hands so his thumbs are in front and his elbows stick straight out.
Sanchez scores a layup on a beautiful dish from CF. The guy next to me is bitching that Courtney didn't pass it to RC. Besides the fact that RC had a guy shading him and CF never had a sight line to him, WE GOT A BARELY CONTESTED LAYUP.
Henry is in. That changes all the matchups to our favor.
CF ties it up with a drive and NOW we are going.
BANG I should shut up. Another 3 for State.
But Courtney scores again and feeds Wash for another and we we have a lead.
Henry pretty steal.
THIRD TIMEOUT 26-23 Hogs.
We should really push the pace now.
GEEZ. Another 3 from Stewart. That was against a zone.
Oh my we are cold - just globally frigid. Stef misses again - that is 4 or 5 good looks he has missed. Henry misses. Wash tries another 3 and misses. CF tries a jumper but he is pausing before he goes up. He doesn't have a shooting rhythm.
Stef runs a bit of point. Good penetration and dish.
LAST TIMEOUT 28-30 Miss. St.
Monk is getting better and better. I could make an argument for him getting more minutes than Sanchez.
The scoreboard doesn't seem to be keeping stats for the State players. Stat girl needs something like a Bat Phone so I can call her and update her on stuff like this. Sigh. I see a restraining order in my future.
Monk has 6 points.
The ushers are wearing snazzy red sweater vests instead of the old yellow USHER garb. It seems like they are undercover ushers. I'm not crazy about it. They look comfortable but nobody is ever really comfortable in a Christmas sweater are they?
HALFTIME 32-34 Miss. St.
Could be a lot worse. I feel good. We HAVE to shoot better in the second half. If we turn up the defensive pressure and get transition shots that problem will be solved.
I'm a bit concerned that they are backing way off of CF. He was shooting well enough for a while that people were crowding him but he is hesitating and I can't remember his last made 3. He can close the distance on the defender but then he is covered instead of in the clear when he gets to the lane. The pick and roll becomes much less effective as well when the defender can casually go under the screen.
I think the stores must have had a run on women's red wool peacoats. The look of the day is a red coat, distressed jeans and heels. Hmmmmmm. There seem to be a fair number of Cougars on the prowl in this outfit. feel like a missed a memo.
Halftime entertainment is 4 kids from Chicago, the Bucket Boys. The play drums on upside down plastic buckets. This sounds stupid but they are outrageously good. They get a standing O.
A couple of the Cougars sitting courtside are looking at these kids as if they might devour them. I'm predicting some action at the Holiday Inn bar tonight.
They did the "Fan Cam" again in the first half. At the same time they were throwing t-shirts into the crowd. One lady was apoplectic because she couldn't decide whether to push over a small child to grab a $6 t-shirt or preen for her possible moment of fame on the big scoreboard. I'm hoping to see someone actually climax or soil themselves on fan cam before the season is over.
Just a question I thought of because the Hogs didn't get to shoot free throws on the 7th team foul because it was offensive.
Aren't ALL fouls "player control" when you get right down to it? I think this nomenclature unfairly singles out some infractions as worse than others.
My date that is home sick just texted asking the score. When I answered she replied "S***! What the hell is wrong?" Have I mentioned that years ago she was a 2 time all-state point guard on one of the best Arkansas Girl's High School teams ever. Two Overall state titles and one loss in two years. Top ten nationally in USA Today. She has a bit of a competitive streak this one does.
Her follow-up text is what melts my heart. "I can't get the stupid PS3 to work. Did you do something to it?" Worried about hoops and playing videogames in a Tussionex fueled fog. Ching-ching.
I'm thinking we draw Varnado to the perimeter with Wash and post Courtney up in a 2 man game with RC. I guess I might watch too much NBA.
Sanchez draws a cheap charge. We have kind of gotten the breaks from the zebras tonight.
Ouch! Varnado just slapped a Sanchez shot into the 3rd row. That's ok. We knew it was coming sooner or later. Good to get it out of the way.
RC with a nice runner.
Stef gives us a lead!
RC buries a 3 from the top with a nice shake move. The place is warming up now.
Stewart answers. Craptastic.
FIRST TIMEOUT 41-40 Hogs
The band is running around. They wear red shirts tucked into these black plastic warm up pants with elastic waistbands. I'm going to go ahead and say that this ensemble doesn't flatter the typical band member physique.
Big 3 by Bost and Welsh misses on the other end. All of a sudden we are down 4. Stef misses wide open rhythm 3 and Bost buries one on the other end. He's a good player.
Britt is in for RC and Welsh is covering Stewart now.
Bost scores again and I think we could actually lose.
Stef scores and gets fouled but misses the toss.
RC with a nice steal and Wash scores. He is deep into another double-double.
SECOND TIMEOUT 45-52 Miss. St.
We have to make some shots. That simple and that difficult.
I'm eating Butter Rum Life Savers that I picked up on a whim at the gas station. They are DELICIOUS. Butterscotch is such an underrated flavor. There is a party in my mouth and everyone is invited.
Gracious another 3 from State.Then Bost hits another after henry made some tosses. It is a double digit deficit. (alot of alliteration)
Every Arkansas player on the floor just missed makable shots over 2 possessions. RC missed a BIG 3 off a Henry steal that could have cut it to 6. Washington eventually finished. We are in deep trouble.
CF misses a pair and Stef misses an open 3. Yikes!
LAST TIMEOUT 53-64
At this point we do nothing. More misses until RC hits a meaningless 3 late.
This is a butt whipping. At HOME.
FINAL SCORE 56-70 Miss St.
I would be inconsolable save the fact that I took a couple of muscle relaxers and I have another roll of Butter Rum Life Savers in my pocket.
It boils down to terrible shooting but you have to find other ways to score - particularly at home. Usually you do that with pressure D and transition O. But we seemed reluctant to turn up the pace. State would have run with us.
I guess that disappoints me more than anything else, the fact that we lost without pushing it.
It was to be expected though. The team Thurman's freshman year beat Memphis, Mizzou and Arizona pre-conference and then laid some eggs at home during conference. I will continue to cling blindly to the hope that this team is mirroring that one.
Until next time.