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A Loss and a Win

Princeton’s Douglas Davis with last-second shot

[Jessica Hill/Associated Press]

Basketball isn’t my sport, so I don’t want to spend much time on this, but I do want to follow up on my post a week and a half ago about Ivy League basketball. At the time, Harvard would be playing Penn and Princeton at home to close out the Ivy League season. With victories, it could win or tie for the Ivy title.

Harvard beat both teams, ensuring at least a tie for the title, pending the result of the Penn-Princeton season ender this past Tuesday. When Princeton beat Penn, it joined Harvard atop the league, necessitating a one-game playoff between Harvard and Princeton to determine the school that would receive the league’s automatic slot in the NCAA tournament.

The playoff game took place this afternoon. A neutral site was required, and Yale is just about halfway between the schools, so Yale served as host. The game wasn’t on TV — no surprise, I suppose — but ESPN did show a live stream of it on espn3.com. I tuned in during the first half. However, the feed wasn’t very good, freezing for seconds at a time, so I abandoned it. Later, still not knowing the result, I turned on another game as the network was using a break in the action to show various highlights. I was just in time to see tape of the Princeton team going wild, with a final score of Princeton 63, Harvard 62. I had missed by just a second the replay of Princeton’s Douglas Davis making a last-second shot.

Harvard is still Ivy co-champion. Just not an automatic qualifier for the NCAAs. Historically, for the Ivy League, not being an automatic qualifier means not being a qualifier. But Harvard is actually being described tonight as a bubble team, with a chance to qualify. That would be fun. Their last NCAA appearance was in 1946.

As for the win of this post’s title, the Harvard-Princeton game was winding down as the Arizona-Washington Pac-10 championship game was heating up. Washington was the pre-season favorite to be conference champion, and widely regarded to be a top 15 team, if not top 10. That was how they were ranked at times, too, but a three-game losing streak during conference play dropped them out of the rankings. A few key victories near the end of the season allowed UW to finish 3rd in the conference, behind Arizona and UCLA, but an NCAA bid wasn’t guaranteed. An early loss in the Pac-10 tournament might have doomed them.

But here they were, this afternoon, in the tournament championship game, after a narrow escape over Washington State two nights ago and a convincing win over Oregon last night. We watched the first half, then Gail, Joel, and I headed over to Northlake Tavern for an early dinner. (You’ll recall that in a post a few weeks ago, I confessed my secret love for Northlake.)

When we walked in, the place was nearly full, with every TV tuned to the game. And we were up! We had erased the 3-point half-time deficit and were up another 3. Alas, that didn’t last long. We were up 59-55 when Arizona scored 8 straight points. But three times in a row, over the last minute and a half, we made 3-point shots to draw close and finally to tie, sending the game into overtime. I don’t think I would have watched so intently if we were home. I would have been too nervous and walked out. But at Northlake, with a full restaurant hanging on every possession, I watched us open up a lead in overtime and keep it until an Arizona 3-pointer tied the game with seconds to go. Then Isiah Thomas, our star all game long, pulled up at the 3-point line and attempted the most amazing off-balance shot imaginable, with the ball falling through the net as the backboard light flashed to show that time had run out. Washington 77, Arizona 75. An NCAA bid assured, as it probably was once UW made the championship game. More important may be the impact of the win on UW’s seed. I think we might have been a 7 or 8 otherwise, but maybe now a 5 seed is imaginable?

Okay, enough of that. This may be my last college basketball post for a while. I have to say, it was fun to be at the tavern for the end of regulation and then overtime, with everyone watching as one. Maybe I’d like basketball more if I did that more often.

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