The Portland Pilots had another possible win slip away Saturday as they fell at home to San Francisco 73-72. Instead of feeling frustrated or depressed about another loss I actually came home upbeat and positive about the day as a whole. The Pilots couldn't handle USF's defensive adjustments that led to a series of turnovers and missed shots in the second half that allowed the Dons to come back from seven down at the half and win. Portland just seemed like a team that doesn't yet have the experience to close out games, and I think that will come with time. This was also a much better game than the 34-point blowout at USF nine days before.
Like I said though, I had a good day in spite of the game. It started when I met up with some alumni and students I play in the band with at the Twilight Room, a bar near campus. We talked about the season, our favorite songs, told some old Portland band stories, the usual things we do. I also got to watch the end of Dayton-Xavier and the beginning of Creighton-Indiana State. After finding out my two favorite conferences after the WCC were on ESPN, I wished the Pilots had been playing at night.
After a good pregame meal I made my way down to the Chiles Center. I had been told by one of the leaders of the soccer team's student supporters group that, after the poor showing Thursday night, they would be attending Saturday's game. I should pause here to tell you that Portland's women's soccer team is a national power. It has a tradition of winning the WCC, going deep into the NCAA tournament (we won the 2002 and 2005 College Cups) and producing US and Canadian National Team players. Year after year it competes with schools well above the Red Line and is among the nation's attendance leaders. The crowd includes an excellent student section that plays drums, waves flags, and chants like actual soccer supporters. Saturday they brought their enthusiasm to the basketball student section and the atmosphere was completely different from Thursday's debacle. They were particularly skilled at funny one-liners directed at USF. These guys can work clean and still bring the laughs. The guys in the group had occasionally come to basketball games but they had such a good time they plan on coming as a group the rest of the season.
Eric Waterford earned the start at point guard with his play off the bench in the previous game but he injured his leg after just two minutes and was done for the day. I felt badly for him as he had been slowed by a leg injury all season and was just getting back into form. However, Derrick Rogers came off the bench and filled in for him nicely. He drove to the basket and looked to score instead of passing as he had been doing and he was rewarded with 10 points and three assists. He's also strong enough to keep up with more physical lineups like USF's. His play was a bright spot for me and I was glad to see him respond with a good game when the Pilots needed him.
After the game the real fun started. There was an alumni game afterward that featured lots of the players I remember watching through the years. I started going to Pilot games with my uncle in about 1994 or 1995. I've seen lots of Pilot basketball and lots of players come through and it was nice to see them out on the court again. There were superhoops from the sharpshooters of the past like Casey Frandsen and Kasey Flicker, who beat USF at the buzzer in 1996 on the last night of the regular season. Flicker and Greg Klosterman were on the team that won the 1996 WCC Tournament--Portland's last NCAA appearance (they lost to a Villanova team that featured Kerry Kittles and Tim Thomas). There was Rick Raivio, perhaps the best ever Pilot, still running the floor in his 50s. There was also Sherrard Watson throwing down omgdunx like he did in the mid-2000s. And to end the game, Darren Cooper, who went to high school at Portland's Benson Tech and transferred back home to the University of Portland to be near his mother, who was ill at the time, hitting nothing but net on a 25-footer. That was just the last of many big plays I'd seen him make. Most all of my basketball memories come from the guys in that alumni game and the Pilot teams they played for. Seeing them all again in the same gym, my home court, was a nice way to end my afternoon. It hasn't been easy to follow the Pilots these last 15 years but the alumni put everything they had into the program and they've made my emotional investment pay off enough over the years.
SAN FRANCISCO 72, at PORTLAND 71 01/21/2012
SAN FRANCISCO 13-9 (3-5) -- R. Green 3-7 5-7 11; A. Caloiaro 4-10 2-4 12; M. Williams 1-11 1-2 3; C. Doolin 4-6 5-6 15; C. Dickerson 5-6 2-3 13; D. O'Connor 2-4 4-4 8; P. Blackwell 4-8 0-1 8; J. Raffington 1-1 0-0 2; G. Hoffmann 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-53 19-27 72. PORTLAND 5-15 (2-5) -- T. van der Mars 5-9 2-3 12; K. Bailey 5-10 3-5 13; D. Rodgers 2-5 6-7 10; D. Cason 3-4 3-4 10; R. Nicholas 1-3 4-4 6; T. Riley 4-9 0-0 10; N. Mitrovic 0-7 2-2 2; D. Carr 1-3 0-0 3; T. Douglas 0-3 4-4 4; E. Waterford 0-0 1-2 1; J. Bailey 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-53 25-31 71.
Three-point goals: SF 5-20 (R. Green 0-2; A. Caloiaro 2-8; M. Williams 0-6; C. Dickerson 1-1; C. Doolin 2-3), PORT 4-15 (N. Mitrovic 0-3; T. Riley 2-6; T. Douglas 0-1; K. Bailey 0-1; D. Carr 1-2; D. Cason 1-2); Rebounds: SF 27 (C. Dickerson 7), PORT 38 (T. van der Mars 9); Assists: SF 13 (P. Blackwell 3), PORT 11 (K. Bailey 4); Total Fouls -- SF 22, PORT 23; Fouled Out: SF-P. Blackwell; PORT-R. Nicholas.