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In Praise of Wisconsin Badger Basketball + No-Baseball Blues, Part II

Saturday April 4th would have been the start of the Final Four.  It is also the 27th birthday of the great Wisconsin Badger center Frank Kaminsky who five years ago on that night led my team to a stirring semi-final victory over previously undefeated Kentucky.  

 
It was sweet revenge for a loss to the Wildcats in the 2014 Final Four semi-final. 

It is too bad that Wisconsin couldn't hold a lead in the final against Duke - cunning Coach Mike Kryzewski successfully worked the refs in the second half and the Badgers didn't respond well enough. 

 

Yet the 2014-15 Badgers remain close to most of us alums' hearts. Frank Kaminsky was the poster boy for the Badger way of patient player development.

 

After needing the first two seasons to get used to the relentless toughness of Big Ten competition, Kaminsky exploded on the scene as a junior and in his senior year was named National Player of the Year, a first-of-its-kind honor for a Badger.

 

Kaminsky is currently recovering from knee surgery and hopes to resume his journeyman's pro career with the Phoenix Suns next season (whenever next season starts).  He's been the most successful pro from a team that included forwards Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes and point guard Bronson Koenig - all have played more in Europe than in either the NBA or its developmental league.

 

The line from Kaminsky went first to Ethan Happ who gave Kaminsky fits in practice when red-shirting. If only Happ, whose first cousin BTW is Yankees southpaw J. Happ, could shoot fouls and anything outside the paint.  (Last I heard Happ was playing in Europe before the pandemic ended his season.) 

 

It's a shame that this year's Badgers never got a chance to play in the post-season tournament.  The surprise #1 seed in the never-played Big Ten Tournament roared down the stretch with a eight-game winning streak.  

 

Big men Nate Reuvers and Micah Potter showed they were worthy successors to Kaminsky, Dekker, and Happ; gritty guards Brad Davison and D'Mitrik Trice brought back memories of the Ben Brust-Josh Gasser-Traevon Jackson trio; and swing men Aleem Ford and Brevin Pritzl, the only senior on the team, had great moments as well.   

 
The pain of losing basketball at a crucial time was bad enough even if an ESPN simulation predicted the Badgers would have gone all the way. Since coach Greg Gard, a worthy successor to his former boss Bo Ryan, gave crucial minutes to only six men makes me wonder if these Badgers would have gone all the way. Alas, they never had a chance so we'll never know.

 
No March Madness, and now we are dealing with the ongoing no-baseball blues. There are so many movies one can watch on TCM before one lusts for outdoor activity and seeing live sports again.  

 

I did catch a lot of TCM's late March baseball films.  Never had seen "Pride of the Yankees" straight through and Gary Cooper and Teresa Wright as Lou and Eleanor Gehrig made for a very endearing couple.  

 

I hadn't realized that Yankee catcher Bill Dickey plays a role in the 1942 film as a defender of Gehrig, slugging a teammate who criticizes the Iron Horse as his career tragically declines.  Babe Ruth also plays himself in the film and brings a lot of Ruthian energy to the role. 

 

Alex Mankiewicz, the daughter of co-screenwriter Joe Mankiewicz, made the pertinent observation in pre-film commentary that her father did love baseball and had been a pretty decent player.

 

MLBTV, of course, is another baseball outlet for me these days. I caught on April Fool's Day the replay of Game 7 of the 1991 World Series with the Twins beating the Braves in a 1-0 10 inning thriller.   

 
I remembered it as the Jack Morris Show with the Series-winning pinch hit delivered by Columbia's Gene Larkin.  I had forgotten that it was Dan Gladden's hustle leading off the bottom of the 10th inning that set up the winning run. 

 

Gladden never stopped running on a bloop single to left center and just got into second in the nick of time. Then Chuck Knoblauch did when the analytic geniuses of today pooh-pooh, gave himself up with a 4-3 grounder that sent Gladden to third base with the winning run. 

 

After intentional walks to Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek, pinch-hitter Gene Larkin ended the drama with a first pitch single over the head of left fielder Lonnie Smith

for the World Series-winning RBI. I felt bad for reliever Alejandro Pena who had pitched two innings in Game 6 and had worked this game since the 8th. 

 

I had forgotten that the Twins had great chances to score in the 6th, 8th, and 9th innings before Gladden and Larkin delivered in the 10th.  Of course, Game 7 is most remembered for Lonnie Smith's inexplicable stopping at second base on Terry Pendleton's drive over Gladden's head in left field.

 

On a play in front of him, Smith somehow got deked by the Twins' adroit DP combo of future Yankee Knoblauch and former Yankee farmhand Greg Gagne.

Of course, Jack Morris deserves full credit for pitching out of the second and third and no out situation on his way to a stirring complete game victory.

 

I had forgotten that Sid Bream, whose slide into home on Francisco Cabrera's single beat the Pirates in the NLCS to get Braves into the Series, hit into a 3-2-3 DP that got Morris out of the 8th inning jam.  How like capricious baseball to turn a hero into a goat in a matter of days.  

 
Announcer Jack Buck annoyingly wouldn't let Smith forget the booboo for the rest of the broadcast. But to Buck's credit, he did realize that the scoreless battle was a classic in the making.  After one half-inning, he invited viewers to return after a commercial break for more "torture and pleasure". 

 
I'm sure MLB will fill the void with more great games from the past.   It is a pale substitute for the real thing, but I do believe that patience is a virtue.  It looks like we'll have a chance to be very virtuous in the weeks ahead because I cannot see a baseball season starting before summer if then. 

 
Nonetheless, as always take it easy but take it!

 

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Wisconsin Finally Shows Some Life While Columbia Hoops Gets Eliminated

I have my rooting passions as readers of this blog well know. It's the Orioles big time in baseball and we'll see if they will confound the nouveau stat-crazed pundits (hereafter cited as NSCP) who always confine them to the nether regions of the AL East yet again in 2017.

Too early to tell with the season opening nearly a month away. Just hope the O's World Baseball Classic participants stay healthy as they depart to their national teams: Jonathan Schoop to Netherlands-Curacao team; Wellington Castillo and Manny Machado to Dominican Republic team; Adam Jones and Mychal Givens to Team USA.

My rooting chops have stayed fresh pulling for the Wisconsin Badgers and Columbia Lions in basketball. Wisconsin like the Orioles has always been a "less is more" kind of team - no superstars or "one and done" recruits heading to the pros, but a team of good players who are less than 5-star recruits who know the importance of defense and ball movement.

So it was maddening to see Wisconsin lose five out of six at a time when they should be getting fine-tuned for post-season play. So it was nice on Sunday March 5's Senior
Night sendoff that the Badgers played a solid second half to rout Minnesota, 66-49.

The Golden Gophers had been winners of eight in a row and led by two at intermission. But after being limited with foul trouble to five minutes in the first half, sharpshooting senior guard Bronson Koenig played a big role in the Badgers' second half surge. As did his three senior teammates Vitto Brown, Nigel Hayes, and Zak Showalter.

Coach Greg Gard gave credit to freshman backup D'Mitrik Trice for keeping the game close while Koenig was saddled with two early fouls . Gard praised Trice, a heralded high school quarterback, for having rare leadership skills in someone so young.

"I've always told him that if you can lead 10 men in a huddle, you can lead four men on a basketball court," Gard quipped.

But Gard still has no solution for the horrid foul shooting that has permeated the whole team, especially Hayes and key sophomore forward-center Ethan Happ. He has suggested that the woes might only be settled by incense burning and the incantations that were used in the baseball satire "Major League."

Sadly, on Saturday night March 4, Columbia lost its chance to squeeze into the fourth and last spot in the Ivy League's first-ever post-season tournament. They played Yale hard in New Haven, but the Bulldogs rallied from a 13-point first half deficit to win by four points.

Penn won the final spot by coming from behind to beat Harvard, 75-72, on their storied home court of the Palestra in Philadelphia. The Quakers will meet top seed Princeton, undefeated in league play, on Saturday and Harvard and Yale will play the other game with the winners meeting on Sunday. All games will be at the Palestra as will the women's tourney featuring favored Penn plus Princeton, Harvard, and Cornell.

I have problems with a 6-8 team like Penn making the men's playoff. It would be purer competition if Princeton were awarded with a bye for their sterling record. And let Yale and Harvard meet for the right to battle the Tigers with no fourth seed for a small eight-team league.

League officials will meet in May to see how the first tourney worked out.
My guess is that they'll keep it this way for both men's and women's tournament for another year or two. It would be nice though if people thought of rewarding the regular season winner with something special.

Well, that's all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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