Saturday, May 18, 2024

Final game is choice between two hated teams

April 2, 2001

Without MSU competing this evening for the NCAA title, Spartan fans and I need to decide which team to cheer for.

Tonight’s championship game will feature two teams most Spartan fans are not so fond of.

First, there is the Arizona Wildcats, who ran over the Spartans 80-61 Saturday. Second are the Duke Blue Devils, who are the biggest bullies on the NCAA Tournament playground and the team that sent the Spartans home in the 1999 Final Four.

I find it difficult to watch a game, especially one with the importance of the tourney finals, and not cheer for anyone. I need to find the lesser of two evils.

The arguments to pull for the Dukies in the big game hinge on the talent of their superstars.

Blue Devil point guard Jason Williams may be the best college player in the country. His ability to break down a defender off the dribble is matched only by his lighting-quick pull-up jump shot, which Williams is capable of making from any spot on the court.

Duke also has Michigan native Shane Battier, everyone’s player of the year, doing whatever is necessary to win. His improvement has been unquestioned, and his game is close to complete.

So I guess Duke has got to be my choice.

But wait, it is still Duke and I cannot cheer for such consistent success.

It would seem Arizona will get my cheers by default, because I refuse to allow myself to root for the Dukies.

But, there are a few strong reasons for me and my MSU brethren to cheer for the ’Cats.

The story of the Wildcats’ season has been scarred with violations, underachievement and tragedy.

Expectations were very high for the ’Cats this season, with a spectacular core of players returning from last year’s squad.

A championship in the Maui Invitational Tournament, where it beat Illinois, inflated the high hopes for this season.

The celebration for the ’Cats lasted until their next game against Purdue. The stunning upset by the Boilermakers was the first of the season’s disappointments.

A controversial goaltending call cost Arizona a victory against Connecticut and losses to Stanford and Oregon signaled trouble for the Wildcat faithful.

And the greatest loss the team suffered wasn’t on the basketball court, but off the court.

Bobbi Olson, wife of Arizona head coach Lute Olson, lost a two-and-a-half-year battle with cancer on the first day of 2001.

The team would use the tragedy as motivation for success and climbed back up the polls, ending the regular season in the fifth slot.

The tragic situation the Wildcats are in makes it much harder for me to root against Arizona in the finals.

Another reason I am going to be cheering for the ’Cats is their head coach.

Lute Olson is a very hard coach to wish defeat upon. He just seems like a very likable coach. His laid-back approach, coupled with pure emotion at times, is contradictory in the best way.

If the above is not a convincing enough case for Arizona, consider what the Spartans gain with an Arizona win.

It is much more respectable to say, “we lost to the best team in the country,” than “we lost.”

I am not trying to imply that my allegiance was to Arizona from the start. On Saturday evening I was hoping for some Charlie Bell jump shots to fall with every other Spartan fan.

But after the final buzzer sounded, I thought I would be more disappointed.

Arizona clearly played better than the Spartans and deserved to advance more than our team did.

But it would have been a thrill to celebrate with my fellow students in Cedar Village after another Spartan championship - a thrill that will have to wait.

Regardless of the lack of green and white represented Monday night, I will still cheer for a team to claim the national crown.

I might not paint my chest red and blue or scream in joy after Loren Woods blocks a shot, but I know a smile would creep across my face when Lute Olson cuts down the nets in his “One Shining Moment.”

Dan Woike, a State News intern, will be fighting back tears after tonight’s game during his “One Shining Moment” and can be reached at woikedan@msu.edu.

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