The Drought

The Milwaukee Panthers were unable to add to the three game winning streak they had built up since the OT loss to Green Bay as they lost an ugly game to Valparaiso, 63-51.

14 for 51 (.294). That was the Panthers' FG shooting numbers for the game. While that alone tells most of the story, I can elaborate on specifics of some of the major lapses. UWM opened up the game on fire. Tone Boyle hit from three followed by Tony Meier then Tone then Big James then Tone, it was nuts. The Panthers were up by 12 points just 8 minutes or so into the game.

Then came more than just a dry shooting spell- the lights went out (and nobody shot them out- the ARC just went dark for Milwaukee- the team looked like confused blind mice). Not one single player on Milwaukee could hit the broad side of barn as shot after shot either clanked miserably off the side of the rim, or (in more than three instances) missed the rim entirely. I know different gyms can have slightly varying court feels and hoop setups, but come on now!

I kid you not, for over 10 minutes (between the first and second halves), UWM's score stood completely static at 28 points. What was a 12 point lead and then a 3 point deficit at halftime, became a 14 point deficit by the 11:00 mark.

Jake Diebler, Howard Little, and Erik Buggs lead the attack for Valpo. At times in the first half, it seemed as if Diebler wasn't countering with threes every other possession, the Panthers' early 12 point winning margin would have been closer to 28 (and maybe insurmountable (too late now)). Igbavoa, who was rumored to be out with a knee injury, seemed to raise the level of play for all the Crusaders around him.

Slowly but surely, as Valpo started to gain on and then eclipse the Panthers, the crowd of a few thousand went from library-quiet to a rollicking, seated riot. Milwaukee was visibly rattled throughout virtually all of the second half, and could never regain their composure.

To compound all of the shooting woes, (we have been able to overcome poor shooting in a few of our wins), UWM coughed up the ball, lost dribbles, missed passes, and generally utterly failed to protect the rock as they handed Valpo an astounding 20 turnovers. You have to hand it to Valpo- they were the better team last night and it showed. We have no regular season rematch left (their win tied the season series at 1-1), but we could meet them again in the Horizon League Tournament.

This one's over though- it's time to move on and (hopefully) begin another, longer winning streak. Road games are never easy no matter the conference (see- Northwestern beating Minnesota last week); but to be a competitor in the Horizon, and to vie for a chance at a national tournament, UWM must fix it's road problem (Panthers are 2-5 on the road thus far). The game at #16 Butler (17-1, 8-0) airs tomorrow at 1pm on Time Warner Sports Channel 32 (Bill Johnson has the radio call on WISN 1130).

We will have very little chance of winning to begin with; but if we play like we did when the ship nosedived against Valpo, it will be a loooong afternoon. Here's to hoping we surprise a lot of folks. Butler has to go down at some point. Maybe they are ripe for a meltdown (kinda like us the other night after winning 8 of 9...).

There are no moral victories. If the Panthers were guilty of looking ahead to tomorrow's big game at Butler or Igbavoa's mysterious healthy appearance threw them off guard- so be it. But good teams don't look ahead and they sure as hell don't get caught off guard.

Good teams rebound from even the worst of performances. Good teams know that you've gotta chop down each individual tree to clear the forest- and come back to the ones you miss, if need be. There is a big one to get out of the way tomorrow. But after last night, tomorrow seems like one giant question mark- is this team ready for it?

POTG: Jake Deibler of Valparaiso (19 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals)