Looking back on the basketball season
With spring supposedly here (it doesn't always seem like that with the weather), it's time to look back on the winter season, particularly on the local basketball scene.
In spite of the unusual amount of snow and frequency of the storms that hit the state, which affected logistics and at times, threw everyone for a loop, there were many highlights on the hardcourt and in other sports as well this winter.
One thing is certain -- basketball is alive and well and very much appreciated by the local fandom at the high school and college level.
The Staples boys basketball team epitomized what teamwork and heart were all about and the team was fun to watch and root for. Unfortunately for Staples, it was much smaller than its opponents, which was highlighted by having a 5-11 center in senior tri-captain Jake Felman.
Nevertheless, the Wreckers were still fun to watch and Felman epitomized their plucky nature and team-oriented style of play. Staples could have gone farther in the state tournament if it didn't play against a well-coached and much taller Ridgefield Tigers team in the second round of Class LL. Felman said after the Ridgefield loss that the Wreckers are always smaller than their opponent but the Tigers coach knows how to use his height well.
Speaking of a team of wouldas, couldas and shouldas, the Weston girls basketball team deserved a better fate than it experienced. Thing is, Weston was plagued with injuries for most of the year and sometimes had six girls on the bench in street clothes.
The Lady Trojans were two different teams for the first 12 games of the season and the last 11, which included its three playoff games. They were 11-1 after 12 games and looked like contenders for the SWC and Class M title with senior tri-captain point guard Christina Welsh leading the way.
Welsh played like a combination of WNBA basketball players Lindsay Whalen and Becky Hammon in the way she distributed the ball but that wasn't her only strength. She was poetry in motion in the way she pressed and forced turnovers, averaging an astronomical 7.7 steals per game. Point guards typically don't rebound much but nevertheless, she averaged 8.7 boards per game.
Late in the 12th game, Welsh injured her ACL and MCL when she battled a New Fairfield player for a rebound, which ended her season. Although Welsh, her family and Weston Coach Dan Rosen felt it was a clean play, still, New Fairfield played too aggressively throughout the game and many feel if the referees called the contest differently, this play that led to the injury wouldn't have occurred.
In my time as a sports journalist, I've been to many games and sometimes, I feel the referees let more things go than they should. Being physical is one thing but basketball games shouldn't have more contact than soccer and girls lacrosse and when the referees let too many things go, the type of play that cost Welsh her season and the Lady Trojans a Class M title, has a good chance of happening.
Referees are human and make mistakes but I've seen many bad calls and worse, the arbiters of the game not calling the contest consistently. Certain players and coaches get the benefit of the call more frequently than they should and this needs to be corrected.
Ironically, some referees pay more attention to what fans in the stand say to what goes on in the court. A father of an assistant coach didn't agree with the referee adding time to the second quarter when it appeared as if the half expired and said, "This isn't the Russian Olympics," in reference to time being added, which gave Russia another opportunity (which it capitalized on) to beat the USA for the gold medal in 1972. The father was tossed from the game for his comments.
The referee overstepped his bounds with his actions because we have the First Amendment to the constitution, which gave the fan the right to speak, provided that he didn't impact anyone's safety, which he didn't. Referees can't have rabbit ears and need to control what goes on in the court and not pay attention to any fans.
Another noticeable trend this year is the need for a 30-second shot clock and it can't come soon enough. The CIAC schools do not have a shot clock and teams have held onto the ball for three minutes or so to stall the opponent. One team actually held the ball for eight minutes. This is downright boring and basketball shouldn't be played like this.
College basketball is alive and well in the area with the MAAC men's and women's tournament coming to Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport. Although none of the games sold out, they were well-attended and the crowd was lively. In fact, some of the people there said more people came out to Harbor Yard than to other previous MAAC venues. If UConn played there, the games would have been sold out. Here's hoping that the MAAC games return there in the future.
One thing that could have been done differently since the championship games were on Monday was to have the women's final in the evening at 6 p.m. with the men's game following it. Instead, the women played at 1 p.m. and played to a much smaller crowd.
"I think it was a good thing for Fairfield University and the MAAC, it was a good, all-around atmosphere," Fairfield University Sports Information Director Jack Jones said. "There were good crowds throughout the event and in our games in particular. The tournament went well and it was the first time the women were showcased on a national broadcast. We were happy to bring it to Bridgeport and hopefully in the future."
And nothing would be better for the region for Jones' wish to come to fruition because basketball thrives in the area.