I hope everyone at least watched a little of the UT/Florida basketball game last night on ESPN. Did you see me? I was up in the nosebleeds, I'm sure you spotted me - I was the one wearing orange.
Sorry, that's quite possibly the oldest and stalest UT joke that exists today.
Anyway, my dad and I arrived at Thompson-Boling at about 7:30 and soaked in the pregame festivities. It was the first time I'd been to a men's basketball game in quite some time and I'd almost forgotten what a pageant it can be. The student section and "end zone" cheering mob were already there and looked to have been there for some time. We sat in the opposite end in the balcony, looking straight down on the basket toward the student section - it's a unique perspective, to say the least, after watching so many games on TV from that prime half-court perspective. The plays on the basket on our end were much more dramatic because they were so much closer.
Florida was booed soundly - and rightfully - when they took to the floor for pregame warmups. Never has a program existed that deserved to be booed more than the Florida Gators. Ok, well maybe the Oakland Raiders. But that's it.
No, on second thought Gators win that contest.
Dane Bradshaw got a video retrospective and deafening introduction welcome that was very emotional. He's been one of my favorite players for a long time, but I had no idea until recently really how much he's meant to this program. From interviews I've seen he really seems like a good guy and I hope he does well in the future.
The $100,000 scholarship in his name that Bruce Pearl established is a testament to his character.
When the Florida players were introduced, each one was booed more loudly than the last. Ok, yeah, it was funny in the moment but eventually the boos get a little old. The names of Tennessee players couldn't even be heard over the cheers. The arena was amazingly raucous in a way I hadn't seen there before. Almost every seat was filled (except, happily, for the one beside me which meant I wasn't too cramped).
Then the tipoff---
Some early back and forth, but the Vols hold tough. It was easy to tell very soon that the officiating was going to be uneven (big shock) and by that I don't necessarily mean bad, but just inconsistent. What counts as a foul here doesn't count there, etc.
Wait! First time out. Something's happening...the crowd is murmuring. A flurry of action in a corner of the gym - it's...it's...
MY EYES!!! PAT SUMMIT IN A CHEERLEADER OUTFIT!!
MY EARS!!! PAT SUMMIT SINGING ROCKY TOP!!!!
MY GOD!!! IT'S FULL OF STARS!!!!
(Hey Pat, nice legs...and I think I saw Masi Oka run out and try to save her...)
The tempo was extremely upbeat during the first half. I'm not sure what Tennessee's shooting percentage was but it had to be high - they couldn't miss. And their backcourt press was very strong, especially in the first half.
What was amusing was the chant of "Double Ugly" for Joachim Noah whenever his name was called for a foul. The big guy has been a thorn in UT's side for a couple of years now, and it was fun to watch him get frustrated with himself. No points in the first half for Scrunchie, although his size gave him several rebounds. He really is a good player and it's actually fun to watch him play - as long as he's not scoring on us. Which he didn't. Much. Till later. Anyway.
Tennessee did what they haven't done much all year - open up a lead and maintain it, or build on it. It was fairly evenly matched for a while, until the Vols began to open up an 8-10-15 point lead. The crowd sensed at about 8 minutes to go in the half that something special was happening. UT would go up by 15, lose it down to about 13 then go up by 17. Then down to a 14-point advantage, and finally back up to a 19-point lead at the half. There was no letdown, no sense of complacency in the final minutes and the tempo never wavered. They also played the clock well, limiting the number of possessions Florida could take advantage of and chose their shots well.
Even Super Senior Dane Bradshaw hit some nice shots and Ryan Childress had a sweet free-throw miss/rebound/jam that was probably one of the highlight plays of the year.
(Mmmmmm.....arena popcorn. Drooooool....)
Hey look - there's Peyton Manning! Did I mention Super Bowl MVP Peyton Manning? Sorry, Dane, you were favorite son for about an hour - hope you enjoyed it :)
Anyway. You hear that what a team does with a lead in the first five minutes of the
second half can be crucial to the rest of the game. Would they have a letdown? Would Rex Grossman and Danny Wuerfful show up in the locker room and serve tainted pizza? Would they rather tune into American Idol?
Thankfully, no. The Vols built a 19-point halftime lead into a 25-pt lead after the first five minutes. Hopefully the five-minute theory holds true. In fact, we outscored them 10-5 in the first couple minutes to further pad---
Against the inevitable fall.
True to form, like every Tennessee team that ever existed (1997 in The Swamp ring a bell, Peyton?) we began to wilt at about the 10-minute mark.
Truthfully and fairly, we didn't really fade as much as Florida began to wake up. Time and time again they shot themselves in the foot - bad passes, steals, walks - nothing they did was working. But Scrunchy got the hair out of his eyes and dunked a couple, which got the Florida faithful in the crowd--
(chirp....chirp...chirp...um, Florida faithful? Hm. They must have left early. Probably a sale on 2nd seeds down at Mayo's)
Let me start again. --which got the Florida bench back in the game.
The Gators scored used several 3 and 5 point runs to our sole baskets or free throws to get back in the game. They never seriously threatened although they made things antsy. Fouls were called left and right, with Duke Crews finally succumbing. Even Scrunchy had four near the end. The most they whittled down our lead was about to 7 points, but again we did enough down the stretch to keep it an average of a 10-point lead till the end.
At :20 left in the game, Billy "Dicky V's my best pal" Donovan took out the starters, and so did we.
The rout was confirmed, the white flag was waved and Dick Vitale could take the orange feather hat Pat Summitt gave him and hang it on his wall. This one is HISTORY, BABY!
Final Score: Tennessee 86, Florida 76.
In the immortal words of John Ward, "Pandemonium Reigns!"
Thanks, Dad, for a great night. :)