Monday, March 26, 2007

Scarlet Women (Temporarily) Rule

(Photo Credit: Mary Ann Chastain, Associated Press)

The moms and I are still watching the NCAA basketball tournament, despite the early exits of our beloved Lady and non-Lady Terps. We've decided to root for Rutgers in the women's tournament and Georgetown in the non-women's tournament because Rutgers is where my moms went to grad school and because Georgetown is in our neighborhood and there's no other team in the men's final four we could even pretend to care about. Ohio State? Moose roots against Big Ten teams to prove that she is really not a Midwesterner anymore. UCLA? Hmmm. Think they'll top the 57 points they scored in last year's final? Florida? Repeat, schmeepeat.

Anyway, of course another deeply compelling reason to root for the Scarlet Knights (or the Scarlet Women, as they are known in our house) is that they played the role of the Taliban in upsetting the Evil Imperial Forces of Duke in the Sweet Sixteen on Saturday. (For those of you who are new to Roxie's World, here is House Rule #1: We hate Duke so much that if Duke were playing the Taliban, we'd root for the Taliban. Therefore, any team playing Duke is called "the Taliban," and we all sit on the couch shouting, "Go, Taliban, go!") We hate the women's team of Duke slightly less than we hate the non-women's team, because we think Coach Gail Goestenkors is a smart and supportive coach who has a lot less of that annoying Dukie arrogance certain other of their coaches have. Still, we stick to the house rule and root against them, particularly after the way they beat up on Coach B. and our poor Terp women this season.

Why do we heart college basketball so much in our household? The moms are English profs, after all. You might expect us to love opera or to curl up on the couch every night and read Proust aloud. (Pardon me while I pause to wipe up the beer Moose spat across the room after she typed that last line. "Proust!" she snorted. "Oh, Rox, you are killing me!") We heart basketball because it requires intelligence and finesse, brilliant individual heroics and selfless teamwork, the discipline of daily practice and the spontaneity of split-second decision-making. Plus, game after game, season after season, it offers stories of what ABC's Wide World of Sports used to call "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat." Every time we see that film clip of Kristi Toliver calmly squaring her shoulders before launching the shot that put last year's women's final into overtime we get tears in our eyes, and not just because we are Terp fans. Her grace and serenity in that moment are thrilling. We are moved to witness it because the athlete, like the artist, reveals the glorious possibilities that inhere in every human. Moose says it's at least as good as Proust and way better than opera, which she's never really gotten. (Apologies to Jason, the Official Gay Stalker of Roxie's World and a major opera fan. It's the Indiana in her veins.)

And also: Duke-haters though we are, we are equally moved by the stunning failure of a great athlete under pressure, as in Duke's Lindsey Harding, a 76 percent free-throw shooter, missing two free throws with one-tenth of a second left on the clock when she had a chance to win the Rutgers game or at least tie it. She missed both shots, and her college career was over. Her team's chance for the national championship everyone expected them to win was blown. (She's the one curled up on the court in a fetal position in the photo on this post. The photo was taken moments after she missed the second shot.) If you're a coach or a Duke fan, you want the ball and the game in Lindsey Harding's hands at a moment like that. You trust her judgment, her skill, her training, her hands. You trust her poise, her eye, her appreciation for what's at stake. She calmly launches the shot, twice, and it looks good every inch of the way--until it clanks off the back of the rim, twice. And suddenly, even if you hate Duke more than you hate anything on earth, all the hatred melts away, and your heart goes out to Lindsey Harding. You see in her aggrieved young face the shadow of every dream you ever fought desperately for yet failed to realize, every great goal that just barely, achingly exceeded your grasp. She falls to the floor, and part of you falls with her--even as another part of you cheers the victorious opponent who towers exultingly over her.

That's why we heart college basketball. It's like life, only sweatier.

For some good coverage of the Duke-Rutgers game, see Mechelle Voepel's piece on The video re-cap is also worth a look. It shows Harding missing the free throws. Wa Po also had a timely piece on how poor foul shooting is messing up many teams' tournament hopes.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Shoulder to Cry On

(Photo Credit: Bob Child, Associated Press)

We’re big on nick-naming in our house. It’s one of the few things the moms and I have in common with George W. Bush. Fans of Roxie's World know, for example, that I call my moms “Moose” and “Goose” as a tribute to their different styles of parenting, while I respond to everything from “Roxie-roo” and “Rox-machine” to “Pet-izon” and “Pook-a-loe.”

So it should come as no surprise that in our basketball-obsessed household, Maryland forward Marissa Coleman is known fondly as “Shoulders.” Moose gave her that name because Marissa strategically arranges the top of her basketball uniform to assure maximum exposure of two of her most prized assets. They are prized, Moose says, because shoulders are an essential component of Marissa’s success as a shooter, rebounder, and shot-blocker. They are also, according to Moose (who has a fine aesthetic appreciation for the female form), easy on the eyes. Marissa in motion is a thing of fierce beauty, and her powerful shoulders are key to both the fierceness and the beauty. She is one of the scrappiest players in women’s college basketball, but no matter how hard she battles for the ball, nothing ever messes up the careful arrangement of the over-the-shoulder part of “Shoulders’” uniform.

Unfortunately for Marissa and the other Lady Terps, that was the only part of their game last night that wasn’t messed up, as they sought to defend their title as national champions in the second round of the NCAA tournament against the relentless Rebels of Ole Miss. The Terps went down hard, trailing by as much as 23 points to a team they had beaten by 31 points in a November tournament in the Bahamas. Brilliant defense wreaked havoc on the Terps’ normally efficient passing, making it hard to get the ball underneath the basket to Crystal Langhorne and resulting in an astonishing 29 turnovers (which led to an equally astonishing 42 points for the kleptomaniacal Rebels). The Terps rallied late in the second half, as Shoulders and Kristi Toliver combined to score 16 of the team’s last 20 points and close the deficit to 6 with 2:24 left in the game, but it was too little too late. The Rebels hit 20 of 22 free throws in the second half to keep the Terps at bay. Senior Shay Doron and Shoulders both fouled out in the last couple of minutes, and a season that began with visions of a repeat of last year’s glorious triumph came to a crashing, ignominious halt. (Maryland joins Purdue’s 2000 team and Notre Dame’s 2002 team in being defending national champions ousted in the second round of the tournament. Only Old Dominion did worse, by not making the tournament in 1986 after winning the championship in 1985.)

The final score was 89-78. For gory details on the game, see Milton Kent’s wonderful story in The Baltimore Sun. For a glimpse of Coach Brenda Frese’s ferocious attempt to rally her troops during a first half timeout, click on ESPN’s video re-cap.

The moms and I just hate it when March Madness turns too quickly to March Sadness, as it did this season for both the Lady and the non-Lady Terps. (The men also lost in the second round to an incredibly disciplined Butler team.) Our hearts went out to Coach B. and all the tearful Terps on the sidelines last night who seemed stunned by the scale of their defeat and by their inability to adjust to Ole Miss’s stifling defense. Our sense off and on throughout this nonetheless impressive season was that the still young and already accomplished team was having a difficult time managing the expectations generated by that beautiful crystal trophy they brought back to the Comcast Center after last year’s amazing run through the tournament. The hardware in their heads wasn’t ready for the hardware in the hallway and all the pressure that went with it. In clutch moments, as Roxie’s World has observed before, you could see the self-doubt in their eyes, the anxiety in their passes. Can I really do this, they seemed to be wondering? Do I really deserve this? Shouldn’t that glittering jewel of a trophy be in Durham or Chapel Hill rather than College Park?

To which Roxie’s World replies: HELL NO! Our hearts are heavy for you today, but we stand behind the sentiments lovingly painted on the signs my moms held aloft all season in the Comcast Center, even when the grouches behind us threatened to turn us in to the big meanies in the yellow jackets:


And, oh, yeah, one more thing: WE CAN’T WAIT TIL NEXT YEAR. We’ll miss you, Shay, but it’s time to FEAR THE JUNIORS, BABY.

Update: The post-mortems on the Terps' disappointing loss are rolling in. They're painful to read, but we hope the folks in the Comcast Center will accept them as a necessary bit of tough love that might be useful to contemplate during the longer-than-expected offseason. David Steele has a particularly hard-hitting piece on Coach B's surprising decision to bench Kristi Toliver and start newcomer Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood at point guard in the NCAA tournament. Milton Kent has a good day-two piece that has thoughtful comments from Shoulders and Coach B, but which also suggests Kristi Toliver was blind-sided by the decision not to start her in the tournament. Please, basketball goddesses, spare us the spectacle of recriminations and in-fighting among our beautiful turtles! The Sun also has a nice sidebar that evaluates all the Lady Terps this season. Highest marks, we're pleased to report, go to Shoulders, who is judged to be "on the verge of superstardom." We give that judgment Five Paws Up and an enthusiastic Roxie's World Seal of Approval. Hold your shoulders high, Marissa. You are a Mighty Woman of Maryland!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Absences, Anniversaries

You've missed me, haven't you, devoted denizens of Roxie's World? I know. I've missed you, too. I sensed your restless fingers out there, pointing and clicking and pressing "reload" again and again, hoping for news on my fish, my moms, ACC basketball. I felt the waves of your affection and concern wafting through the blogosphere, as you wondered: Is Roxie's leaky heart okay? Did Moose stop typing for Roxie because she broke all ten fingers in frustration after the non-Lady Terps managed to lose another game to Miami in the ACC tournament? Did Goose awaken from her dream of fish and get the pond cleaned out, or what?

It's a long story, fans, and there's a lot I can't tell you because it involves work-related stress that the moms have said I can't discuss. Nonetheless, everything is fine in Roxie's World. All three fish are present and accounted for, though John is in a deep sleep on the bottom of the pond. Paul and George-Ringo are being a little more active, but the big guy hugs the floor and barely moves. Goose says it's because he's a poet. He's resting and gathering inspiration from the cold, dark depths of his unconscious. Whatever. I'm just surprised he's not snoring. I snore when I sleep that deeply.

March is a big month here in Roxie's World. The 8th, in addition to being International Women's Day, is the moms' anniversary, so Moose and Goose officially commemorated Twenty-Three Years of Queer Delight on Thursday. Moose celebrates her birthday later in the month, but the new anniversary on the calendar this year belongs to yours truly.

Yes, fans, this coming Monday, March 12, the best darn dog blog devoted to politics, pop culture, and basketball will celebrate its first birthday! Can you believe it? Let's celebrate!

Perhaps tomorrow we'll post a Best of Roxie's First Year in the Blogosphere list as part of the birthday party. Or maybe my loyal fans will comb their way through the archives and nominate some of their favorite posts through comments. What's your favorite? My withering critique of Notes on a Scandal? My stunningly accurate predictions about the mid-term elections? The eloquent meditation on time, age, and the body that I offered last year to celebrate the arrival of spring as my moms and I grappled with how to manage my heart condition? You decide, gentle readers, and let us know. In the meantime, we thank you for your devotion. Without you, I'd just be an old dog with two crazy moms and a laptop. With you, I've got a whole world in my paws.

Peace out.