Ray Ratto

Ratto: UConn. Never. Led.


Ratto: UConn. Never. Led.

Dec. 30, 2010


Ray Ratto
Jeannette Pohlen, meet John Shumate. Tara Van Derveer, wave at Digger Phelps as you move down the road.Stanford, meet Notre Dame.
In an unusually dominant performance by a team used to dominating, theCardinal jumped on Connecticut early, and stayed on the entire evening,leading from beginning to end in ending UConns 90-game winning streakat Maples Pavilion, 71-59.Thats right, leading from beginning to end.As in, the best womens basketball program in the known universetrailed for all but 85 seconds to the team that had become the gamesnew silver medalist.In short, unlike Notre Dames win over UCLA to break the mens recordin 1974, this was a comprehensive beating, one in which there was nodoubt about who played better and who stayed better.Im just glad we defended Maples, was Pohlens most inspiring quote,a notion that implies that UConn was the interloper, the outworldertrying to upset the natural order of things.Which, strangely, is exactly how it played out. Tara Van Derveersweeks of summer tape study, which ranged from UConn to Tennessee toeven the Lakers triangle offense, paid off, double time and a half.Maya Moore, the new best womens player ever, was crowded out of thegame offensively by all nine Ogwumike sisters, plus Joslyn Tinkle andLindy LaRocque. She missed 10 of 15 shots, and got only clean looks atthe basket four times all night. Pohlen, on the other hand, swallowed the game with 31 points, ninerebounds and six assists as part of an oppressive evenings work by theentire Cardinal lineup. And while the obvious focus will be on the way Moores influence wasminimized throughout the evening, the game actually turned whenStanford had the ball early in the game. A diabolical 19-7 break early,punctuated by a series of back-cut layups against the defensively soundHuskies got the Cardinal a 22-9 lead that never got within four pointsthe rest of the evening.In short, you may be surprised if you choose, but leaving room forwonderment at the precision and control the Cardinal exhibited is alsorequired.Remember, UConn NEVER LED.Nobody can remember the last time that happened, but the safest guesswould be the early 90s, when they were still a good but nototherworldly program. They even had leads in the 23-point loss to LSUthree years ago in the NCAA Tournament.But not Thursday. For the most part, they werent close to a lead.Honestly, its December, and I just hope it will help our teamimprove, Van Derveer said, but this isnt like something . . . itsnot a national championship, but it will help us. She also told the television audience, Im glad nobody got hurt, sowe can say without hesitation that Van Derveer enthuses poorly. But away from her players and in the safety of her office, she probablyblocked out some time jumping up and down and cracking holes in theceiling sheetrock from the proximity to perfect her team played. Theywere challenged often but never truly endangered, a tribute to eithertheir own brilliance, UConns weariness defending the number 90, or acombination thereof. I thought we showed moments of fight where we came together and playedtogether at times, Moore said, and then wed do something to hurtourselves, or theyd get a layup and momentum would shift right backtheir way. In the real world, when you dont play well, and other team playswell, youre supposed to lose, a gracious and thoroughlynon-distraught Geno Auriemma said after all. It takes a really goodteam on their home court to play really well and you to struggle. Itcould happen again next week at Notre Dame. It probably wont, of course, because UConn is still UConn. But therevelation that we maybe should have seen when Baylor lost to theHuskies by one earlier this month came into full high-definition view. Weve seen these things a lot, but finally a team took advantage ofthe mistakes we made, Auriemma said. In the past, weve made ourmistakes but the other team couldnt take advantage and finally we wentout and whacked em. Today, they had their opportunities and tookadvantage of them. Everyone who knows me knows Im a little over the top, Van Derveersaid of her summer preparation, which included an exhaustiveexamination of the Lakers famed triangle offense. But we spent a lotof time on this, no question. Van Derveer noted that since UConns last loss, Stanford has lost eighttimes, including games at Baylor, Tennessee and UConn, and whistled heradmiration at the 90-win streak her players just torpedoed. But preparation only helps so much, and not nearly as much as statistics like: UConn, four second-chance points. UConn, outscored 28-14 in the paint. UConn, two fast-break points. UConn, three bench points. That covers all the rebounding, defensive and hustle components, andPohlen, Petersen and a balanced support effort finished the deal. On ascale of 1 to 10, Van Derveer, who is bad at putting single games inhistorical context, this will last awhile. Well have them at practice tomorrow, she said, but this can onlyhelp our confidence. UConn doesnt need to work on its confidence. Thisis a statement game for us, though. And the statement is, UConn never led. Make of that what you will.

Dusty Baker's postseason agonies and his Hall of Fame candidacy


Dusty Baker's postseason agonies and his Hall of Fame candidacy

Dusty Baker’s face tells a lot of different stories, but there is only one it tells in October.

Disappointment. Deflating, soul-crushing, hopeless disappointment.

With Thursday night’s National League Division Series defeat to the Chicago Cubs, the Washington Nationals have reinforced their place in the panoply of the capital’s legacy of failure.

But Baker’s agonies extend far further. His 3,500 games rank him 15th all-time, and only one manager above him, Gene Mauch, is not in the Hall of Fame. His 105 postseason games ranks seventh all-time, and his nine postseason appearances ranks sixth.

But his postseason record of 44-61 and no World Series titles curse him. He has been on the mailed backhand of eight series losses in 11 tries (plus a play-in game loss in 2013), and been marked by the media-ocracy as an old-school players’ manager who doesn’t wrap himself in the comforting embrace of statistical analysis.

He is now Marv Levy and Don Nelson – the good manager who can’t win the big one.

Only Levy and Nelson are in their respective halls of fame, and Baker probably won’t be. Having no World Series titles (his bullpen dying in 2002 being as close as he ever got) dooms him as it has doomed Mauch, although Mauch made his reputation as a brilliant tactician with bad teams.

But even if you take Baker’s worst metric – the postseason record – he still ranks in the 90th percentile of the 699 managers in the game’s history, though even then there’s the caveat of the 200 some-odd interim managers who you may choose not to count.

This is not to claim he should be in the Hall of Fame. This is to claim he should be discussed, if only to determine if reputations in the postseason are the only way managers are allowed to be evaluated. Because if that’s the case, Dusty Baker’s world-weary October face makes that conversation a very short one.


U.S. Soccer: Patriotism-fueled frontrunning born of inexcusable arrogance


U.S. Soccer: Patriotism-fueled frontrunning born of inexcusable arrogance

So Bruce Arena resigned as the U.S. National soccer team coach Friday. Big damned deal.

Oh, it is to him. He probably liked the job, and might have wanted to keep getting paid.

But whether he’s there or isn’t doesn’t matter. In fact, whether the people who hired him are there or not doesn’t matter either. U.S. Soccer is the definition of sporadic interest and patriotism-fueled frontrunning, of imbedded self-interest and general indolence, all born of inexcusable arrogance.

Bruce Arena didn’t bring that to the job, nor does he remove it by leaving. He’s just another head on a spike, like Jurgen Klinsmann was before him, and Bob Bradley before him.

But that would also be true if the head of U.S. Soccer, Sunil Gulati, quit or was fired too. Even the people bleating that the U.S. shamed itself by losing to Trinidad and Tobago display the same kind of blinkered ignorance and arrogance that dogs this sport in America.

Being in CONCACAF is a gift from the heavens, and the U.S. has decided as a national collective to replace that with actual achievement. Beating Germany in friendly is proof of long-term worth. The fact is, we don’t know how to evaluate America’s place in the soccer world except as an audience, let alone how much massive structural change is required to change that.

And change must be massive, and can’t be evaluated by the next cheap win or the next galling loss, or television ratings. America is good at watching soccer, good enough to catch on the actual chasm between its national team and development structure.

But that’s where it ends, because knowing what’s bad because you just watched it, or what is actually good (like, say, a UEFA or CONMEBOL qualifier) is light years from knowing how to fix a system built on the flawed concepts of work rate without creativity and money as a solution to crippling organizational problems.

So Bruce Arena does the decent thing given the circumstances, falling on a sword that should actually be a kebab skewer. But it makes no difference. The American soccer structure needs to get what it needs before it can get what it wants, and there are no more shortcuts to take in a short-attention-span world.