A basketball run

Traditionally, in The ‘Ville the football team grabs all the headlines -- for the last 15 years at least.

This winter, something changed. Our women’s basketball team, which customarily rests near the bottom of the conference standings, put together a season for the ages.

The team’s core group of players gelled and, with a stroke of luck in the fall, the team added a 6-foot 4-inch center, who had finished a Division I volleyball career. … They started the season 4-3 and then reeled off 11 straight wins and won 18 of their last 20 regular season games. They won the conference title and the conference tournament title, and eventually the regional title.

Along the way, I caught the fever. The women’s games turned into can’t-miss affairs, while the bleachers emptied for the men’s games … In past seasons, it had been the other way around.

So Tuesday night, the women were playing in their first-ever Elite Eight round of the women’s basketball tournament. Even better, the final games of the tournament were being played at the civic arena just 45 minutes down the road.

I watched Tuesday night’s game online, and it was a thing of beauty. Our point guard came out and nailed four three-pointers in the game’s first nine minutes. When the opponent tried to stop her, our women lobbed it inside to one of our two centers for an easy basket. Our Cats dominated, and moved on to the Final Four.

So last night, I decided I couldn’t watch the game from home. No matter the outcome, I wanted to make sure I experienced the Final Four in person. … The atmosphere was electric, and our green and white clad fans outnumbered the fans of the other three teams, combined.

The Cats grabbed the opening tip-off, scored the opening two points, and they appeared to be on their way once more. A fast start was always a good sign for them.

But the opponent, Tech, tied the game immediately, and we never led again.

It was a frustrating game to watch in so many ways. It seemed as though nothing was going our way and everything was going theirs.

Our women kept trying the things that made them so dominant Tuesday night and so successful throughout the season. But Tech repeatedly tipped away the lob passes inside, and our point guards weren’t hitting from behind the arc. Our team shot an awful 35 percent in the first half.

Tech, it seemed, was hitting ev-er-y-thing. Heck, they were flinging the ball to the basket, legs flailing, and the shots were still dropping. Our tight defense was constantly pushing them to the brink on the shot clock, and we even forced turnovers on a handful of shot clock violations.

But every time we got to turning the table -- we tied the score five times, but never took a lead -- they’d drain another errant-thrown three-pointer.

When the final buzzer sounded, our women had lost the game, 89-78.

It was a fun, magical ride.

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