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The Lady Zips lost to Bowling Green today, 81-49. Despite the blowout loss, this year was the most significant step that Jodi Kest's team has made since she joined the program. The Zips were 18-13.
I'm leaving for Cleveland now. Check back soon.
I'm here a full hour before gametime, watching the teams stretch. It's thrilling. So thrilling that I'm pulling out a Law Review article to edit.
I'm quite disappointed that they already put the food away at The Q. As you know, that is a big reason why I drive out here. The alternative is a "Puppet Party" that my girlfriend is throwing back in Akron. She has a Kermit the Frog outfit to put me in. I'm also thrilled about that. No, it should be fun.
Important stats from the women's game: Akron shot 34 percent, compared to Bowling Green at 50 percent. Rachel Tecca led the Zips with 12 points. Four Falcons were in double figures. BG killed Akron on rebounds, 40 to 25.
If you're trying to find this game on TV, here is the listing. The Cavs are on Fox Sports New, so you'll have to use the alternate channel.
The crowd is not very large, but it is decidedly in favor of Akron, judging by the ovations so far.
WMU starting lineup: Mike Douglas, David Kool, Donald Lawson, Matelle McLemore and Nate Hutcheson. Akron starters: Steve McNees, Humpty Hitchens, Zeke Marshall, Jimmy Conyers and Chris McKnight.
The PA announcer, who also does the games at Rhodes Arena, does not call Hitchens by his nickname "Humpty" during the tournament games -- just Anthony Hitchens. I wonder if that's to increase neutrality.
Western Michigan brought a lot of fans, considering the trip from Kalamazoo is four hours. The AK-Rowdy turnout is a little better than yesterday.
Conyers is guarding Kool. On WMU's first possession, Kool chucked up a shot that hit only backboard as the shot clock expired.
Hitchens contested a pass that went out of bounds in front of Steve French, who pointed Akron's way to make sure the refs knew whose ball it should be. I really enjoyed listening to Frenchie on the way back to Stow yesterday. I think he might concede that neutrality, as opposed to objectivity, isn't high on his list.
Flenard Whitfield checked into the game at the 17:30 mark. He could be an x-factor for WMU. Man, I hate the cliche.
Lamont Simpson, one of the referees got into Hitchens' face after Hitchens got shoved to the ground. I really didn't see Hitchens do anything, but his reputation precedes him.
Akron is up five, but the Zips have taken some bad shots. That catches up with you.
Brett McKnight converted a layup and somehow got his foot stuck in Whitfield's shorts. Whitfield was one sudden movement from lookin' like a fool with his pants on the ground (see below).
Darryl Roberts must have dozed off or something while staying in front of Kool in the backcourt. Kool blew past him, drew help and dished it for an easy hoop. Kool certainly knows how to make you look stupid.
Here's hoping for Kool to play professionally somewhere. Has there ever been a more apt cigarette pitchman? Nevermind, here's one.
Coach Steve Hawkins made a wise substitution to take Kool out at the 12:03 mark. That gave him extra rest becaue of the media timeout. He subbed back in at 11:56. Seven seconds of rest was more like seven minutes.
Hitchens swiped a Kool pass and took it the other way. David Brown lassoed him and was called for the intentional foul. That's two foul shots and the ball. Hawkins didn't like the call, but that foul is the exact sort of occurrence for the intentional foul rule.
Hitchens made another steal and awkwardly tried to leave it off for Conyers, who awkwardly tried to save it to Marshall. The refs had mercy and called Kool for a foul.
On another fast break, Conyers made the extra pass to Roberts, who made a 3. The Zips' lead is 14, but that's exactly how many Central Michigan led WMU by yesterday. Don't count out Kool from taking over and putting together a 10-point spurt. In fact, I feel one coming on now.
The AK-Rowdies started a neat chant. They are yelling "Z-I" and fans across the arena are responding "P-S."
The Broncos just ran a 24-second possession without Kool touching the ball. If I was Hawkins, I'd pull everyone's scholarship and offer to return some of my pay.
WMU's seniors are McLemore, Kool and Lawson -- an average MAC guard, an average MAC center and the MAC's best player. Like CMU and EMU, they won't be as good next year. On the other hand, Hawkins' offense has generally relied upon a go-to player every year.
There was the 9-0 WMU run. It happened very quickly.
Chris McKnight has been playing like a man today. He's getting dirty in the paint, and his play has rewarded him with three easy put-backs.
Conyers is yelling to Simpson, the ref, that "you seen it, you seen it." I think he's referring to Kool pushing off to get open. He just swished a 3 with Brett McClanahan's hand in his molars, so maybe he doesn't need to be open.
McNees swished a transition 3 in about the same place he nailed one yesterday with 0.8 remaining. The AK-Rowdies are holding up one of those giant Kinkos posters of his head. I'm wondering how weird it would be to walk into Kinkos and tell them you want a 2 foot-by-3 foot poster of a dude's head. I'm sure the clerk would give you a look.
A member of the media -- one of the more sarcastic ones -- just had a good laugh about Marshall's promise that he "plays big in big games." I won't name the writer, but his name rhymes with Belton Malexander. It's a fair criticism. If you're going to say these things as a true freshman, you better not lay two eggs against your rival. Of course, Marshall was huge yesterday.
Kool has 16 points already. If Kool doesn't go pro, I really hope he joins a church league and takes his team to new heights.
Whitfield and Hitchens went to the hardwood after a loose ball. Whitfield flailed his leg and nearly caught Hitchens in the jaw with the boot. I'll avoid the Humpty Dumpty reference.
With the clock about to expire, Hitchens chucked a deep 3 that was woefully short. In one motion -- and before the clock expired -- Conyers caught the airball and executed a reverse layup. That should be on ESPN's Top Ten. Does anyone know if McNees' shot was?
Halftime stats of note: Both teams are shooting around 45 or 46 percent. Kool has 16 points. Hitchens leads Akron with nine. Chris McKnight, Roberts and Douglas each have three rebounds. Akron is 4-of-13 on 3s; WMU is 4-of-9. WMU has six assists and 11 turnovers. Akron is 6:7. That is the difference in the game because Akron has 14 points off turnovers, compared to WMU's seven.
The biggest stat is Akron's lead in rebounding, 18 to 12.
In case you were wondering, No. 8 seed Ohio is favored by 1.5 points over No. 4 Miami.
Let's consider the financial ramifications of McNees' shot if Akron goes on to win the MAC. He will have earned the university thousands of dollars in apparel sales. He will have altered the next two weekends for thousands of Akron fans. Those six seconds will have made a giant impact. Akron still has to play 60 minutes of basketball before we can go that far, though.
The MAC divides NCAA Tournament revenue evenly, so the champion will get the same share as Toledo. Sports information director Gregg Bach told me that some conferences, like the Missouri Valley, divide money with RPI incentives. For example, if your RPI meets a certain threshold, you get a bigger chunk. Isn't that how it should be?
WMU's band is playing "Any Way You Want It" by Journey. Expect a 20-point surge by the Broncos. Wait! That's Akron's band! I'm calling the game now.
Conyers is back guarding Kool. The Zips senior has done the best job on the MAC Player of the Year among the players Keith Dambrot has assigned to the task. Victims include Chris McKnight (on switches), McNees, McClanahan and Roberts.
Now it's McNees on Kool, who responded by draining a 3.
The Zips are doing a great job on the offensive glass, particularly Chris McKnight. If Akron loses tonight, his career is likely over.
You have to be impressed by the jumbotron at The Q. It's amazing to see a high-def screen that big. With that said, I'm going to Dallas next weekend for a Law Review convention. We are going to tour Cowboys Stadium. I am so pumped up for that.
Because I'll be in Dallas, I won't be able to cover the NCAA Tournament if Akron is involved. There are no first-round sites in Texas. The weekend after, I'll be in Wisconsin, which is hosting a first-weekend schedule. I suppose Akron needs to win tonight and tomorrow before any of this becomes even semi-relevant.
WMU moved to a 2-3 zone. Cvetinovic has traveled twice in the past few minutes. He calls it the Serbian Shuffle. Actually, he doesn't.
With back-to-back 3s, WMU is within two.
Akron now has seven fouls with 11:45 left. That is bad news, because WMU is the best free-throw shooting team in the conference.
Chris McKnight airballed a 12-footer. The more embarrassing thing is only five WMU fans chanted "air-ball" and they were in the band. The last I checked, this is America.
Kool is getting hot. He tied the game with a fade-away from 18 with McClanahan's hand in his face. He is 10-for-16 tonight, 5-of-8 on 3s -- for a total of 31 points.
The refs made a bad call on a loose ball, whistling Conyers for a foul on Kool, who is automatic from the line. He made both to re-tie the game.
McLemore chucked a deep 3 that hit only air. Once again, Hawkins should pull him aside and explain to him that they have David Kool on the floor.
Kool is really playing to the WMU crowd. Looking up there and smiling. I've seen this happen a million times in pro wrestling. The bad guy starts show-boating while the good guy hulks up.
Lawson bit on a Conyers pump fake. He landed almost on Conyers shoulders. I speculate that around 100 smart alecks at The Q turned to their neighbor and dead-panned: "He tea-bagged him." Their words, not mine. Lawson stayed down for about a minute, then got up.
Despite foul trouble, Akron is still playing aggressively on defense.
Brett McKnight grabbed a huge offensive rebound with 3:38 left. WMU fouled him as he tried to put it back up. Both teams have eight fouls now. That was Lawson's fourth foul.
Has anyone else noticed that Akron has a male cheerleader who was separated at birth from Kool? They are even about the same height.
Whitfield is playing rough with Marshall when the 7-footer gets the ball. Certainly, it is a result of the Zips being in the one-and-one.
WMU opened up a three-point lead after two Kool free throws. 2:33 left.
Conyers came up with a big steal and forwarded the ball to Brett McKnight for a breakaway dunk. WMU is up one with the ball. 1:48 left.
The ball went to McLemore, who spun into the lane and laid it in. WMU is up three with 1:24 left.
Chris McKnight swished a 3 from the corner to tie the game. Timeout WMU. Tied game with 56 seconds left. Maybe Akron has been relying on the wrong McKnight at crunch time.
If WMU is smart, they will get their shot off with at least 40 seconds left so they can get the two-for-one. Kool dribbled into the lane and lost it. Akron can use all but seven seconds of the clock. They darn well better.
I've said this before, but McNees should get the ball here. Give him instructions to dribble drive with about four seconds left on the clock. He can dish, lay it up or pull up and shoot.
McNees got to the rim and it spun out. Chris McKnight gathered the rebound and put it back with seven seconds left. Kool drove down the court and missed a deep jumper with his foot on the line. The ball caromed away from the rim as the clock expired. Akron is going to the finals.
Final score -- Akron 66, Western Michigan 64
Final stats of note: Kool finished with 39 points but two critical turnovers at the end of the game. Chris McKnight had 18 points and eight rebounds. WMU shot 47 percent. Akron shot 41 percent. WMU had 17 turnovers, compared to 12 from Akron. Those five extra possessions were the difference.
What McNees did yesterday, Chris McKnight did tonight. Akron would not be advancing without his play. His 3-pointer and his last-ditch putback are the reason Akron is playing in the finals.
This is Dambrot's fourth-straight trip to the MAC Finals. This shows he knows how to manage his team, in regards to psychology and X's and O's. I'm still waiting for him to get his deserved MAC Coach of the Year award. His mantle should have at least two by now.
I won't be staying for the Miami-Ohio game. Puppet party. I would feel much more comfortable playing Miami, who is a solid team, but not one I feel can beat the Zips. Actually, the teams are comparable to the 2007 matchup in the finals, when Miami won with Penno's Prayer.
I'm hard on Chris McKnight, but I have to give him his due. This will be HIS fourth-straight championship game, too.
If I'm a WMU fan, I'm blaming the big men, who shouldn't have bothered dressing for the game.
"It was a terrific game. I told our guys we did a little better on their best player. He had 42 last night, only 39 tonight. He was terrific. We had our hands full with him. Western Michigan is a tough team. Physically and mentally, they are one of the best teams in the league. We could just not put them away. They have the best player on the floor, which makes it difficult. He makes play after play after play and we had no answer for him."
"Zeke has good enough feet to guard him (Kool). He's so darn long. He's done a terrific job of not playing nervous in big games. You have to give him a lot of credit."
"Realistically, we were picked first, but we weren't that great of a team. We played three really good games last year after Toledo. We lose our best player Nate Linhart and everybody picks us first. We have winning tradition. We have been a bunch of close games this year, and we have won most of them. This isn't like the teams with Travis and Joyce. Every game is a struggle for us. I don't think we have one guy on this team that would start on that team."
"We are the only team in America that has only one guy in double figures -- and a measly 10.2 points per game at that -- and has 24 wins. You can say, our team is a team. No matter what happens tomorrow, they've given us a tremendous season. To play in four straight championship games is more than I could have expected when I took the job."
"We've had a lot of guys who care about winning. These guys are playing for the guys of the past, Rob Preston, Matt Futch and guys like that."
"We try really hard. For us to come into the tournament and elevate our performance is very hard. Because they try really hard, I could have lived with any result. If lost today, I could have lived with it because we tried really hard."
"Maybe we're just getting some reciprocity (from Penno's Prayer). Maybe we got a little bit of luck now. But you have to put yourself in place to be lucky, which we have."
"After Kent destroyed us in our building, we could have quit, but we didn't. It's hard to lose a game like that and come out and win a close game."
"Those are the shots that coach draws up for us. In games like this, you gotta make them."
"When we played them at their place, we went into the paint and went outside. That's how we run our offense."
"Every time I've been here, we've been there (the finals). All we have to do is play our game and we're going back to the NCAA Tournament."
"I was shocked that the ball came out (on McNees' shot). I was in the right place at the right time. Got the box out and put it back in. It was good to get that because I missed one earlier in the year at Ball State. We went into overtime."
"There is not a shot in the world that he (Kool) can't make."
"We have an unbelievable belief structure. We knew we were going to win, somehow."
"Zeke is definitely growing game by game. Every game I can see he progresses a lot. It's a big thing to have a 7-footer. In case we get beat by a guard, it's good to have a 7-footer."
When Kool was shooting the last shot: "I was thinking two years ago, Miami Ohio, last second shot."
"It's going to tire us. I'm definitely tired. The most it can do is give us confidence. It shows we have heart. It shows we have tremendous fight."
"Really a hard-fought game. Both teams did everything they could. It is just a really, really difficult pill to swallow right now."
Cutting off Kool answering a question that said the turnover was the difference in the game: "The turnover wasn't the difference in the game."
"What you saw tonight epitomizes the heart of the seniors. It wasn't always pretty. We have an interesting team dynamic. We have three seniors, one junior, who is actually a walk-on, and the rest are freshmen and sophomores. They learned what it takes to be a Bronco. We have freshmen in the locker room who saw how much it hurt David."
"When you're dealing with it in the moment, you don't know what kind of game he's having in terms of numbers. We had to keep calling things to get him the ball in open space. In the first half, we struggled with that. Our ball screen offense, we turned the ball over too much."
On the last possession: "We wanted to get the ball in David's hands and not call a timeout. The thought ran through my head was, 'Will he do what McNees did last night to Eastern.'"
"From a numbers standpoint, you could say it's offensive rebounding, but we had turnovers. We knew Akron is an emotional team. When things are going well, they play well. When things are going bad, they can go in different directions."
"They are a very physical team. I don't mean this in a negative way, but we told our guys at halftime that we have to make things a little more obvious. They only had three fouls. For as aggressive of a team as they are to only have three fouls in one half, we had to make it more obvious. We had to block out, making their over-the-backs more obvious."
"I had the chance to work with Coach Wooden for 10 years in his camps. There are very few people who when you walk away from them, you want to be a better person. Coach Wooden is one of those people. ... (long pause) ... I had four years of that with David. That's the best way I could put it."
"Coming down to the end, trying to make a play. They did a good job knocking it away."
On last-second shot: "I really didn't know how much time was left on the clock. I tried to push it down the best I could. I got a good look at it."
(Fighting back tears) ... "It was a tremendous honor to play on this court with my teammates and with my coaches and with the fans. It is something I will cherish in my heart forever."
"In my career, playing with David, it has been exciting, tremendous. To play with a player like David is crazy. I've learned a lot from David. Not even on the court. As a people person. Never give up. Fight through a lot of stuff."