Stopping the Bleeding in the Face of Adversity

Your Milwaukee Panthers finally did it. After dropping their last 6 games bak-to-back-to-back-to... (you get the point), they defeated the Chippewas of Central Michigan University 74-71, in what was easily the finest performance of the season so far. The Panthers came out strong and never looked back. They held the lead throughout (essentially) the entire game- building the advantage to double digits throughout much of the second half.

This, happening in the wake of the dismissal of Torre Johnson (see the last two ugly posts) and the voluntary departure of Roman Gentry (Gentry wanted to be closer to his young child whom he has the responsibility to raise), was about the closest thing to catharsis for the many listless, angry, confused, dejected, and downright pissed off Panther fans who had so much optimism coming into this season. All 1,100 or so fans in attendance had a lot to be happy about last night- and they let the team know it.

This was honestly the first game all season that I can say I felt the aura of the Panther Basketball games of old- loud, cheering fans, exitment at both ends of the court, playing much of the game with a lead (for once!), and above all every single Panther playing with pride and an intensity that was nowhere to be found (esp. in the humiliating losses against MU, UIC, and UW). Paieg Paulsen (22pts, 4-7 from 3pt, and 6-6 FT) did what he needed to do. As he continues to shoot more (as he'll need to in wake of the dismissals and departures), UWM stands a chance to win a lot more games (or at least prevent any more blowouts!).

Alan Hanson, for all the criticism he has gotten, was out key to victort. While Al did not sink a field goal (0-2) all game, he went 7-8 on free throws down the stretch, essentially sealing the victory as CMU tried to sneak back into the game a la "Loyola". I think it's agreed that whatever your opinion of Hanson, he can do one thing very well, and that is step up to the line and knock down the crucial FT's that are so important to winning close games (almost like a "closer" in baseball). In direct response to one of my last posts questioning where his outside shot was (j/k) Deonte Roberts (5pts, 4ast) drained his first three pointer of the season! 'Sure hope we see more and more of that as the season trudges on.

Marcus Skinner posted a double-double (10pts, 10rbs), and Deion James (12 pts, and ridiculously commanding ball control) continues to impress. Charlie Swigget is making myself and other completely forget(!) that he is only a year removed from a devastating ACL injury- Swigget (7pts) played tenaciously, and looks like his heart is back to being a competitor (and not ambivalent about giving his all for fear of re-injuring himself).

Anthony Hill went baseline and just destroyed the hoop with a monster slam that let the crowd know these Panthers haven't thrown in the towel just yet. And without Torre (who while amazing as a player, never seemed to be much of a leader), it seems that Ricky Franklin has become the de-facto leader of this team.

Ricky was everywhere, setting perfect screens, taking excellent shots, defending the hell out of CMU, all whilst commanding the Panther troops like a seasoned general. I came away quite impressed with his ability to potentially get the team of of the hole that the last 6 games dug for us. The effort all around was something to be proud of.

The defense, which has not allowed more than 71pts in (regulation) the last 3 games, finally seems to be coming together- consistently! Two very notable players (Kevin Johnson and Tim Flowers) were 'noticeably' absent and in their warm-ups the entire game...

One would think the game would be unwinnable without their help. Luckily we persevered in spite of their being on the bench (and Torre and Roman being gone for good). As it turns out they were being disciplined for missing a team practice in the last few days. Rumors have been running rampant that KJ and Flowers are no longer interested in playing for UWM (or college basketball at all for that matter), but these are as-of-now unsubstantiated, and probably just a case of telephone... We hope.

I trust these kids will be on board for the long haul- the success of UWM Basketball and these two players is not intertwined, but they have a chance to be part of something special (Flowers played like a beast against the Badgers front court), and I don't think they will easily forget that. I am confident we will see them step up and start being major contributors (as well as leaders), starting with the Wyoming game.