Is There Such Thing as a Good Loss?

Probably not. However after last Saturday night's Drake shellacking, the Milwaukee Panthers were in bad need of a turnaround. They got one, but it was (as was the case in the loss to Northern Iowa) too little, too late. Strange as it may sound, I came away from this game feeling pretty confident. A LOT more confident than I was leaving the US Cellular Arena after the Drake game. Your Milwaukee Panthers actually started out pretty solid scoring the first two buckets of the game, with Torre Johnson getting the crowd pumped catching an alley-oop pass for a reverse two handed jam (one of two alley-reverse-slams he had on the night).

However, things quickly went downhill as has been the case so often for UWM in the first half of games this year. If it weren't for a slew of turnovers and missed shots by Sam Houston State, this could have gotten ugly in a hurry. But the Panthers' mistakes (11 turnovers in the first half) were nearly matched by the Bearkats' mistakes. Sam Houston State (5-0) did manage to build a solid 9-11 point lead for most of the first half, but Milwaukee played better down the stretch, cut the lead to 6, and, actually had a chance to score last before half. They didn't even get a good look at the basket unfortunately, and Ricky Franklin threw up a well-defended shot that had little hope of falling anywhere but away from the hoop.

In any case, if you told many Panther fans that we would have been down by only 6 points to a very talented Sam Houston State team (they have beaten Texas Tech and Fresno and sport the fourth highest RPI in the country), they would have thought you were losing it. If that weren't promising enough, the second half went surprisingly smooth for UWM. In control of a lead that vacillated between 1 and 5 points for a good 3-4 minutes, many fans thought this was the game that would finally get us "off the shnide", so to speak.

And it was close, very close to happening.

A couple of made free throws, a couple calls gone our way, and this could have been a big victory. The referees were uncannily whistle-happy, calling a total of 21 fouls before the 11:00 mark in the second half! It didn't directly affect the outcome of the game, but one has to question the strangest call I have ever seen in a D-1 college basketball game where, late in the second half, with the Bearkats nervously clinging to a two possession lead, the refs whistled a ball out of bounds- Milwaukee ball.

Several seconds later after a Panther player motioned to inbound the ball, the ref reversed his original call (you CANNOT do that, can you?), giving Sam Houston the ball, and eventually the lead which couldn't be topped. I contend that if this game were played for another 2-3 minutes, UWM would have won. Sam Houston State looked worn out down the stretch, and shots that were creating a brick wall earlier (via Rickey Franklin), began to fall- Ricky looked reminiscent of himself in the closing milliseconds of the Ball State game when, he drained a trifecta with a mere 3.8 seconds on the clock cutting the Bearkat lead from 5 to 2. The subsequent quick-foul and pair of converted free throws downed any hopes of a comeback- time simply ran out. But alas, it was not meant to be this night, but the improvements in defense, rebounding, hustle, spirit, passing, and free throw shooting were strikingly impressive. Especially defense!

The team actually played with some real fire in their hearts throughout most of the game, and forced SHS to turn the ball over several times and look almost exclusively to the outside for three point shots. Or maybe they just don't have a post game- but I doubt that. Now if only Milwaukee can begin to defend the perimeter better, they will really be on to something... really. Deonte Roberts continues to be the freshman most apt at adapting to the college game, getting better and better every night. Tonight was no different- he can flat out play D- it's a shame he rode the pine throughout nearly all of the Drake game, or that one may have been closer.

Tim Flowers also, despite coming off some pretty lackluster showings (and being noticeably absent the entire first half (allegedly for disciplinary reasons)), gave the Panthers some much needed momentum and looked like the Tim Flowers many scouts touted as the next Barkley (his offers included USC, where a kid named O.J. Mayo is playing ball). He played with a swagger that hasn't been seen since the first two contests (including the exhibition) of the season. Once he solidifies his two-step post-up groove he will be a monster, and compensate what he lacks in height with his redwood tree trunk of a body.

Kevin Johnson got into the game only for a brief 2 minutes, which is in stark contrast to his minutes in previous games this season- whether also for violating team rules, or just to give him time to reflect, remains a mystery. He did not have much time to do anything, and so he was the only freshman who did not play a factor in this "good loss". He'll be back in the coming games though, and, once he figures out how to move around more fluidly in his super-sized frame (he jumped from about 190 to 220 from his high school (Chicago Simeon) to the season opener).

Ricky Franklin missed some pretty bad shots, but he also sunk some pretty ones near the end. Roman gentry had a bit of an off-day, as did Alan Hanson (Al- you gotta start lighting it up from three! We need a legitimate threat from the outside besides Paige Paulsen).

As the most recent Journal-Sentinel article on UWM Basketball points out- consistency is lacking.

As a consistent bunch, I'd bet good money on these guys upsetting Marquette and going on the road to beat UIC and Loyola handily. I'm not joking one bit- they literally do have that kind of talent. As the inconsistent unit they have been so far, I would hope Paige and Torre save the Panthers from embarrassment (not just at the Bradley Center).

Give 'em time- these guys will be real good, and soon. Here's to anticipating they will bring their A-game, both halves, this Thursday in the rekindled crosstown rivalry versus a formidable Golden Eagles team currently ranked #13 in the nation (their only loss came to Duke in the Maui invitational championship). They haven't all year, but tonight they came close- maybe Thursday, win or lose, will be another step in the right direction. A win could boost this team's confidence into the stratosphere.

Who said dreams don't come true?