Every now and then, basketball fans get lucky and come across a transcendent star. Sometimes you know when it's going to happen, and you get to circle it on your calendar. Other times, you just luck into it. This star was Casper Ware, and I got lucky to see him at the NCAA Tournament, even though I had committed to be up here before Long Beach State had even clinched its auto-bid.
Ware's star was so bright that it managed to shine through despite his conference constellation being one of the smallest and faintest in the night sky. Talking heads on four-letter sports networks knew who he was and even March-only basketball fans had figured out how good he was and how much he transcended his team's humble habitat.
Even though Ware didn't have his A-game, it was still obvious to me how special it was to watch him in person. His ability is just beyond that of anyone else on the floor, and it's not a stretch to say he's the best player in Portland this weekend.
There's just something wonderful about watching a player who knows he can create his own shot any time he wants, but instead creates open shots for his teammates and operates within the framework of the offense. Despite all of his scoring talent, Ware left my jaw on the ground more than once with sweet feeds to his teammates, a lost art for most scoring guards.
As Long Beach State started falling behind New Mexico in the second half and Ware's shots kept rimming out more often than not, it started to click for me. Ware was playing in his last game as a collegian. I had about five minutes left in which to enjoy him. (I do wonder if or when the same realization hit him.)
Poor little guy knew what was about to befall his 49ers.
Personally, I spent a moment reflecting on the game I'd seen so far and compared that to the games I've watched him put up on television, and knew that he didn't quite have it today. It was so close to working, but it just didn't quite happen. Sadly, given his greatness and his importance to his team, Ware's poor performance matched that of his 49ers, as they fell in a close game to New Mexico and just missed a Red Line Upset and date for Saturday's second round. It was always going to end in a loss for Long Beach State and Casper Ware, but it didn't need to end with Ware missing a pair of layups and a three-pointer in the last two minutes. That wasn't right.
NEW MEXICO 75, LONG BEACH STATE 68 03/15/2012
LONG BEACH STATE 25-9 (15-1) -- J. Ennis 6-10 1-1 13; T. Robinson 6-15 0-1 12; C. Ware 5-19 5-7 17; E. Phelps 3-8 0-2 6; M. Caffey 5-6 0-0 11; E. Dervisevic 1-1 2-3 4; L. Anderson 2-5 0-0 5; P. Pappageorge 0-1 0-0 0; N. Shepherd 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-65 8-14 68. NEW MEXICO 28-6 (10-4) -- D. Gordon 7-10 4-6 18; K. Williams 6-11 2-2 16; H. Greenwood 3-6 4-4 12; C. Bairstow 3-4 1-2 7; D. Walker 2-7 6-8 11; T. Snell 0-4 0-0 0; A. Hardeman 1-2 1-2 3; J. Fenton 2-4 0-0 5; P. McDonald 1-2 0-0 3. Totals 25-50 18-24 75.
Three-point goals: LBSU 4-16 (L. Anderson 1-3; C. Ware 2-9; P. Pappageorge 0-1; M. Caffey 1-2; J. Ennis 0-1), NM 7-21 (P. McDonald 1-2; J. Fenton 1-3; D. Walker 1-3; K. Williams 2-5; T. Snell 0-3; H. Greenwood 2-5); Rebounds: LBSU 34 (T. Robinson 14), NM 30 (D. Gordon 13); Assists: LBSU 13 (C. Ware 6), NM 19 (K. Williams 5); Total Fouls -- LBSU 19, NM 16; Fouled Out: LBSU-None; NM-None.