Posts Tagged ‘men’s basketball’

Hoop Cats’ fans: Let’s say goodbye again.

February 28, 2010

They rose with the united voice of 3,000, saying goodbye to the seniors of the University of Vermont men’s basketball team at Patrick Gym on Sunday afternoon, but they didn’t mean it; at least, not with all their hearts.

Oh, they appreciated all the wins and spectacular moments, the effort and the hard work this UVM threesome has given them, but, really, the 3,000 were expressing their love with just a bit something held back.

Like the hope this wasn’t the last time Marqus Blakely, Maurice Joseph and Nick Vier tormented opposing teams at Patrick Gym.

It was an emotional few minutes as Vier, Joseph and finally Blakely were called to center court, parents in tow, to receive the adulation of the 3,000 one more time. Joseph tapped his heart, waving to the fans in appreciation, and Vier acknowledged the moment with a salute to both sets of bleachers, but the most touching scene was Blakely’s mother gently reaching up to wipe the tears from her son’s face.

Still, as much as the 3,000 genuinely bid thank you, everyone present knew everyone was thinking , “One more time!”

Such as in the championship game of the America East tournament.

That’s not entirely in Vermont’s hands, but neither is it impossible. Stony Brook has the top seed and home court for the finals if it advances. That’s something UVM can’t control; as the No. 2 seed, the Catamounts will be in the opposite bracket for the quarterfinals and the semifinals, assuming they advance, and Stony Brook cannot be one of those opponents.

So some other team must take out the Seawolves on the first weekend, opening the door for one final reunion of Blakely, Joseph and Vier with the adoring Patrick denizens. Message to the 3,000: root as hard for whoever plays Stony Brook as you root for UVM.

Sunday, against Binghamton, first Vier, then Joseph departed late in UVM’s win to standing ovations. Blakely was the last to leave the floor, and he stooped to kiss the Catamount logo at mid-court.

It was a genuine gesture, but believe this: He would love to have the opportunity to do that one more time, just as the 3,000 sincerely hope Sunday wasn’t the Patrick farewell for him, Joseph or Vier.

Rediscovering basketball

February 11, 2010

For many years in my various roles with the Burlington Free Press sports department, I seldom had the opportunity to watch either of the University of Vermont’s basketball programs.

The reason was simple: If our beat writer, whether it was Andy Gardiner, Patrick Garrity, Hillary Read, Jeff Pinkham or the current beat writer, John Fantino, was at the game, I had to be in the office overseeing production and/or dealing with the myriad of calls, emails and faxes from the many high school and college teams in our circulation area.

The reverse was true whenever I was at Gutterson; the other beat writer usually had to tend to office chores.

Since I retired from full-time Free Press duty 1½ years ago, I’ve had more opportunities to see UVM’s men and women excel on the court and it’s been fun. Many of those games I’ve covered for the Free Press or other news outlets and that’s also given me the chance to see the players up close in postgame situations.

Many, many years ago, when the UVM hockey program was in its infancy and I was a student intern for the sports information department — I kept stats for several of those years — men’s basketball was really the only big thing on campus in winter; well, except for the long-departed Kake Walk.

Hockey has since generally reigned as the biggest of Vermont’s winter teams in terms of success and community interest, but the accomplishments of both basketball teams in recent years have given the university a nice trifecta for relieving the January/February blues.

For years, I’ve been fortunate to witness the on-ice exploits of so many UVM hockey players, from Dave Reece and George Minarsky to Viktor Stalberg and Peter Lenes, and way too many in between to mention.

It’s been since the days of Dave Lapointe and Frank Martiniuk since I’ve watched UVM basketball players as often as I’ve seen Marqus Blakely, Evan Fjeld, Courtnay Pilypaitis and May Kotsopoulos, and it’s been fun to rediscover the intensity, the drive, the élan with which they play their sport. From Marqus’ highlight jams to Pilypaitis’ game-altering 3-pointers, it’s fun, a fun heightened no doubt by success.

Still, I also realize that I’m watching the games with an unpracticed eye. I must be, because I’m not always seeing the same game as those folk in the striped shirts.

Hoop Cats bounce back

January 30, 2010

The three-game losing streak is history. Now the University of Vermont men’s basketball team can look forward to Tuesday’s game with Maine.

Pending the outcome of tonight’s Boston University-Stony Brook game, the Catamounts (6-3) are still in good position to make a push for the regular-season America East title, though the challenge might be beyond their ability if their guard play doesn’t improve.

Meanwhile, Saturday, the Catamounts surged past a young Albany team through the combination of experience, defense and Evan Fjeld to start the second half.

Down by five at the half, Vermont outscored the Great Danes 25-3 in the next 10 minutes. Offensively, Fjeld supplied the ignition point with his rebounding, scoring and defense, though Maurice Joseph’s 3 to open the onslaught seemed to inject confidence and energy into the Catamounts.

Even with Marqus Blakely hampered by foul trouble, Vermont simply was too much for Albany to handle, especially with a harassing Catamount defense taking command.

On this afternoon at Patrick Gym, the Catamounts displayed the grit and desire they’ll need against Maine on Wednesday.

It’s a wide-open race in America East with no team having fewer than two league losses at this point. The title’s there for the Catamounts to grab — if they can.

A week to forget for UVM hockey and basketball

January 29, 2010

It’s been a brutal week for the University of Vermont’s Big Three of intercollegiate sports: men’s hockey, men’s basketball and women’s basketball.

Going into today’s games, the Catamounts are a collective 1-4 since Sunday — 0-4 after Sunday — and the salt in those wounds are that those UVM teams have been losing just the kind of games they need to win to assert themself in the Easts, Hockey and America.

Let’s start with the hockey team. Friday night, the Catamounts had the opportunity to gain ground in the chase for home ice for the conference quarterfinals.

To be polite, they tripped over their own skate laces, stumbling to a 6-3 defeat by Maine..

Maine is a good team and the Black Bears definitely did what they needed to do to win. Credit them for that. Yet their task was made much easier by UVM’s baffling ability to make crucial mistakes, failure to produce at key times and not play with the necessary urgency until the game was out of reach.

This was an ugly loss. Four power play goals yielded; no power play goals scored when the outcome was still in doubt (and they had plenty of opportunities); tentative play, except for the likes of freshmen Tobias Nilsson-Roos, Sebastian Stalberg, David Pacan and Chris McCarthy.

It appears more and more likely that this team, once thought to have the potential to be at least a darkhorse challenger for a league title, is a mediocre, middle-of-the-pack team at best.

If something doesn’t happen soon, as much as last year was the wonderful season that was, this one will go into the record books as one of the most disappointing of what might have been. By the end of tonight’s rematch with Maine at 7, the Catamounts might be more worried about just making the playoffs than getting home ice.

As for the men’s basketball team, it, too, has a chance for some redemption with a 2 p.m. game against Albany at Patrick Gym.

After a 5-0 league start, the men have lost three straight, including road decisions to Binghamton and New Hampshire this week. Before that, they let a potential home win against Stony Brook slip through their hands.

The Catamounts have one win over Albany and they need another. Like the hockey team, it seems to be something different every night: failure to make a clutch play here, having no outside game there, defensive breakdowns everywhere.

Once a contender for the America East title, Vermont now must rebuild is confidence and its status. No time better to start than today.

And the women? They split this week, thrashing Stony Brook on Sunday after a slow start but coming up short in their biggest league game to date, 38-36 to Hartford at Patrick.

That win all but assured Hartford of the top seed for the tournament, pending a UVM win at Hartford and the Hawks unexpectedly stumbling somewhere.

Hartford’s defense, plus Diana Delva, played major roles in the Hawks’ win, but so did Vermont’s poor shooting: 1-for-12 from 3-point range, 24.5 percent from anywhere overall, and that includes way too many easy chances when the Cats beat Hartford’s defense.

Sunday, the women will try to regain their swagger against New Hampshire — the Wildcats nearly beat them in Durham — at 2 p.m.

Time has nearly run out on the hockey team for the regular season; it’s getting there for the basketball teams.

Bits and pieces, part 2 …

January 25, 2010

A few games ago, Vermont women’s basketball coach Sharon Dawley made a point of how senior Courtnay Pilypaitis was effectively distributing the ball among her teammates. As the Catamounts’ all-time assist leader, Pilypaitis has the numbers to back up Dawley’s statement.

Dawley called Pilypaitis’ play selfless, saying Pilypaitis could also score just about any time she wanted.

Fortunately for UVM, Pilypaitis recognized it was time to shoot, not pass, in Sunday’s game against Stony Brook. When the Catamounts were struggling to find their offensive rhythm, Pilypaitis went on the offensive with a drive to the hoop, two 3-pointers — one seemingly launched from Winooski — and a free throw to ignite another easy America East victory.

When Pilypaitis puts on that kind of show, it reminds opposing defenses that she’s far from a one-dimensional player and that opens up other opportunities. Pilypaitis, ready to pass or shoot and knowing when to do each, is a fearsome player, one UVM will need Tuesday against Hartford in the dispute over first place.

The outcome will no doubt be a prime factor in determining the top seed for the AE tournament and thus home court for the championship game.

* * *

The UVM men’s hockey team stayed true to form this weekend: lose the opener, rebound with a stellar game in the rematch. That’s fine; it shows character, but it won’t propel the Catamounts up the Hockey East standings. Only a couple weekend sweeps will do that; like against Maine, which pulls into town Friday.

* * *

How times have changed for UVM’s penalty killers. From allowing three goals in six chances in a home game against UMass and 13 goals in 37 chances over seven games, the Catamounts have a 12-game run in which they are 50-for-53 — 94.3 percent success rate — including Sunday’s 9-for-9 kill against UMass. Sunday’s effort was incredible given that UMass’ James Marcou and Casey Wellman are so dangerous when their team’s a man up; the Cats can attest to that, having yielded five goal to the two in two previous games this year.

Much credit is due the penalty killers, but it’s also due to the resurgence of goaltender Rob Madore, who was spectacular in Sunday’s 3-0 win. Madore missed a couple of days of practice due to a death in the family. Madore’s goals-against average is down to 2.60 and his save percentage is up to 91.0 after yielding two goals this weekend.

* * *

No details of the violation were released, but UVM hockey coach Kevin Sneddon again held a player accountable for actions off the ice. Junior Jack Downing was suspended for three games — he’s now served two — for violation of the university’s student-athlete code of conduct. His seven goals and 15 points could have been helpful against UMass and this Friday against Maine, but violations call for punishment.

* * *

A shocking weekend for the Middlebury College men’s hockey team: First, the Panthers lead New England College 4-2 after the second period Friday and give up five straight goals in the third to lose 7-4. Then St. Anselm pins a 4-0 loss on Middlebury on Saturday. The losses were the Panthers’ first of the league season.

* * *

With two straight league losses after opening the America East season 5-0, the UVM men’s basketball team needs to regain control of its destiny. The Catamounts are fourth in the standings, behind Maine (5-1), Stony Brook (6-2) and Boston University (6-2) going into Wednesday’s game at New Hampshire.

* * *

It’s the fuddy-duddy part of my nature, and colleges, high schools and pro teams feature some remarkable talent when it comes to performing the Star Spangled Banner, but I’m never thrilled with those who add their personal twists to the national anthem, whether it’s by holding high notes forever, taking twice the normal time to perform it or inserting cute little riffs.

For me, the national anthem has a steady, crisp pace and the same melody with no personal variations, no matter who is performing it; to me, anything else is “look at me” exhibitionism. And it’s not about “me” but “us.” Save that personal display for your other performances.

Even more annoying are those who can’t wait until the conclusion to applaud and cheer, or have to yell during it. Yes, that’s freedom of speech, but nothing says it’s mandatory it be exercised at that time. Show a little class and respect.