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Friday, March 7, 2008

A phenomenal week of basketball

I've seen plenty of good games during my six years, none better than the finals in 2003 when we had two buzzer-beaters, an amazing Trinity Catholic team tested in the fourth quarter by Kolbe Cathedral and Hye winning its first state championship.

But this was a pretty good opening week to the state tournament, although those residing in the Elm City probably won't agree. The games, or their magnitude, got better as the week went along:

Monday: No. 29 seed Hand-Madison dusts Notre Dame-Fairfield. First-year head coach Frank Rossi gets some serious kudos here. The Tigers broke Notre Dame's full-court pressure with ease and got easy baskets. Notre Dame also had its worst shooting effort of the year, a trend you will see in the other games I saw this week.

Tuesday: Hillhouse is eliminated in the opening round at home by Fairfield Prep. Granted, this was not anything like the Hillhouse teams that won consecutive state championships, but losing in the first round? Unacceptable.
The Academics had a difficult time scoring (three points in the second quarter) and a difficult time handling Prep point guard Tavonne Reid. Now the Jesuits are in the Class LL quarterfinals Monday - and Hillhouse needs to regroup.

Wednesday: Wilbur Cross survives against Wilby to remain undefeated. Wilby brought a great crowd down from Waterbury and the Wildcats were fearless. Cross had just three points in the second quarter (notice a trend here) and had to come from behind. Markus Wright had 16 of his 20 points in a dominat fourth quarter for the senior.

Thursday: I'll never forget Notre Dame's student section emptying out as the buzzer sounded to engulf their superstar Greg Mangano. And well they should: Mangano had 43 points, 16 rebounds and four blocked shots as Notre Dame beat Holy Cross in the Class LL second round to go undefeated at home for the season. Yes, that bandbox of a gymnasium ND has is a serious home-court advantage. Too bad they can't have that advantage against Trinity Catholic on Monday.

Friday: Lyman Hall pulls the stunner of the entire state tournament, beating the last of the state's unbeatens, Wilbur Cross, in the Class L quarterfinals at Southington High. Amazingly, Lyman Hall, 1-19 a year ago, is in the semifinals.
Credit has to go to head coach Mike Conner and those kids. They outworked and outplayed Cross, period. Granted, the shots didn't fall (three points in the second quarter YET AGAIN), but the team played like one that assumed it would win after dusting Lyman Hall by 25 in the SCC tournament semifinals two weeks ago.
It looks even worse for Cross that they lost to a team which had its top player, point guard Zach Russo, play only sparingly because of a fractured right wrist. I wasn't around for the 2000 loss to Bridgeport Central but was there for that 2003 buzzer beater I referred to earlier in the Class L finals to Northwest Catholic.
This has to be the worst of the three and the hurt will last for quite awhile. This Cross team was not as good as either 2000 or 2003, but this was still not a good loss. Which leads me to believe if head coach Jim Reynolds, one of the sports' great gentlemen, will ever get a better shot to win a state championship.

I can only hope next week's games are anearly as exciting as these five. See you Monday at Fairfield Ludlowe for Trinity vs. Notre Dame.

Notre Dame moves on

One of the incredible atmospheres of the entire boys' basketball season is gone until next year, but the student section at Notre Dame-West Haven literally lifted the Green Knights into the Class LL state tournament quarterfinals. Notre Dame prevailed 81-71 over Holy Cross-Waterbury.
Of course, Notre Dame center Greg Mangano had plenty to do with the win: a career-high 43 points in his final home game, along with 14 rebounds and four blocked shots. He made all kind of shots against the Crusaders' over-matched defense.
I'm getting goose pimples as I write this next part becuse it is the true beauty of what a home-court advantage should be all about: the student section bum-rushing an exhausted Mangano, with hands high over head, mere moments after the game ended. It was a sight I cannot do justice writing here, but if you were there, you would understand.
And this is coming from someone who picked Holy Cross to win before the tournament started.
Now Notre Dame gets to take on another group of Crusaders - Trinity Catholic - Monday night at Fairfield Ludlowe. Trinity is the better team, but Notre Dame has made a believer out of me. This will be a ball game in the fourth quarter. The matchup between Mangano and Trinity's Tevin Baskin is really intriguing.
Oh, and by the way: veteran Notre Dame head coach Gary Palladino is going for career victory No. 500.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

end of a great run

The Hillhouse boys' basketball team ended a nine-game winning streak in the state tournament with a 56-53 loss at home to Fairfield Prep. The Academics won the last two state championships and finished as the No. 1 team in the state both times.

Head coach Kermit Carolina was right: Hillhouse did put New Haven back on the map or, as he put it, made the city "the mecca of high school basketball." Both runs were impressive in their own right.

The 2006 team was a demolition unit, blowing out every team by double digits. The 2007 team had to win a lot of close games, especially in the state tournament against NVL schools Crosby and Torrington. Those teams combined to win 40 games in a row and 54 of 55.

But the losses of Mike Moore and Kwamaine McCarter were too much to overcome this season. Hillhouse's offensive liabilities were exposed late in the season. Jeremy Moore was the team's only proven offensive threat. He and Freddie Wilson will be tougher to handle next season.

But Hillhouse has set a higher standard with its two state championships and the following, no matter what you hear or what anyone else says, is the truth:
1) a 17-6 season, losing 4 of your last 5, is subpar at Hillhouse. Most teams would take that and run, but Hillhouse is not most teams. And deep down, the coaches and players understand that.
2) the pressure is squarely on Wilbur Cross to deliver a state championship. The Governors probably have overachieved a little this season, but now, the Governors must bring home a title. If they ever were to lose to Wilby in tonight's second round, the season would be somewhat of a disappointment - and the "mecca" would change to another part of the state, at least for this year.

See some of you at Cross this evening.