Monday, May 16, 2011

comeback to the future

Good enough to bump normal weekend review programming to tomorrow.  That's how good the lax game against Bucknell was yesterday.

There've been bigger comebacks in the history of sport, sure enough, and it's not going to qualify as one of history's favorite games when a superpower in a down year scrapes out a win against a small-fry, high-school-sized school having its best year ever in lacrosse.  Admittedly I even felt a little bad about it, since you know Bucknell fans will remember that one a lot longer than we will.  But not bad, like, "I wish we hadn't done that," bad like, "I wish we had done that to Maryland."

Still, it qualifies as one of my favorite games.  Whenever you reach the point where you are convinced you're going to lose, and you don't lose, that's "epic comeback" level.  It's a fuzzier feeling about the game than it would've been had UVA blown a big lead and then rescued the win in OT.  It shouldn't be, but it is.  Being down 10-6 is a pretty bleak situation, but that's what you have superstars for, and Steele Stanwick and Chris Bocklet got busy, put the offense on their shoulders, and got to work.  When they were done working UVA had only its second lead of the game, and if you're going to lead just twice in a game, overtime is a fairly good choice for one of those.

So UVA survives a dangerous first-round matchup that many said they couldn't and looked like they wouldn't, and now gets to jump on board the "nobody believes in us" motivation train.  It's a hackneyed motivator that college kids are real suckers for, often to the point of obnoxiousness, but dammit it works.  Cornell is the next opponent as we run the gauntlet of the 'nells to try and get to the championship, and the fortunes of both our teams have been awfully divergent since last we met.  (Thank God Cornell turned out to be any good because without them rising to near the top of the heap, maybe we don't host that first-round game.)  Cornell will be righteously motivated by losing to UVA in March, and they have the best player in the country, but the combination of our talent with an underdog us-vs.-the-world attitude could be a deadly combo.  Other than Maryland we're the lowest remaining seed in the field (upset bids went nowhere all weekend), but if I were Cornell, there're several higher-seeded teams I'd rather be staring at this weekend.


- That said, there's a laundry list of things that need to get better next weekend.  Things that aren't game-killers against Bucknell but will get you destroyed against Cornell and other top-level teams.  Defensive pressure was lame most of the day, even at distances 12 yards and shorter.  Short-stick defense was especially poor.

- Speaking of short-stick defense, any questions as to whether reinstating Rhamel Bratton might have a negative effect on chemistry ought to disappear now.  They were legit after the Penn game; now it's clear that even if "chemistry" takes a hit with him out there (and I suspect it will not) it doesn't outweigh the necessity of having him on defense.  There was only one SSDM I was happy with yesterday (more on that in a bit) and having Rhamel's athleticism and defensive smarts will probably be critical against Cornell.  If Rhamel's gotten his stuff together and is ready for reinstatement then I want to see him at SSDM for most of the game, and put in on offense sometimes to mix up the looks we throw at Cornell.  And please don't announce it until 11:59 AM on Saturday.

- The aforementioned good-playin' SSDM is Blake Riley, who's been doing a great job of making his presence felt in the past few games.  It was Riley's aggressiveness that led to the Bucknell turnover in OT: taking advantage of his man slipping to the turf, checking him, and scooping the resulting ground ball.  Riley also led the team in GBs for the game.  The rest of the short-stick defense was unwatchable.

- No, seriously: Steele friggin' Stanwick.  I hope he's not actually healthy yet because eight points is ridiculous and eight points on a bad wheel is unbelievable.  Matt White scored the game-winner because Bucknell's defenders were deathly afraid of Stanwick having the ball, and his feeds to Bocklet were precise and too pretty for the naked eye.  They required replay to appreciate.

- Much is being made of the referee's decision to award UVA the ball after a Bucknell player heaved it in the direction of the empty net on their late clearing attempt when UVA deployed the 10-man ride and sent Adam Ghitelman out of the net.  Was it a pass?  A shot?  A Bucknell player was closer to the end line but was he actually closer to the ball?  Watching it live I assumed it was a shot and that the referee's angle led him to wrongly believe UVA was closer to it as it went out.  I reflected for all of half a second on the injustices of refereeing and another half-second on those times we get scrooged instead.  And then I stopped worrying about it.  Upon replay it's actually really hard to tell who's closer to the ball, but the Bucknell guy was positioned such that if he was closer, than the ball was so far away from the net that it couldn't plausibly have been a shot in the first place.  It sort of demonstrates an inherent problem with the rule about shots going out of bounds, but on final reflection I decided it was a 51-49 kind of call that the referee got right but couldn't have been greatly faulted for getting wrong.  And the larger issue, if I were a Bucknell fan, is that it shouldn't have been in the ref's hands at all because putting the ball in the air like that was a really bad idea.

- In fact, it's really hard not to acknowledge the role that Bucknell's awful, awful decision-making played in this comeback.  Much like UVA against UNC, they should've been sitting on their lead and not shooting with two and three minutes to play.  It came back to bite them.  And most of their shots were at defended nets.

- Even so, the very gambly style - 10-man ride, double teams with two and a half, three minutes to go - was a lot of fun to watch.  Largely because it worked, but hey.

- Bring on Cornell.

- That last bullet will probably bring on the jinx instead, but whatever.

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