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Life in the Shadows

Sat, 12/20/2014 - 12:53am
Cliff Pfenning
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Christmas came early for the David Douglas and Sprague girls basketball teams Friday in the form of an collective adrenaline rush.

For programs rebuilding, retooling, just flat out surviving to an extent, a 35-33 game with all the trimmings of a last-second shot to win was a blessing. David Douglas led the entire game, but had just a one-point lead late before pulling out their second win of the season.

"It was a lot of fun to win a game like that," David Douglas junior Takayla Hadley said after her team improve to 2-4. "That kind of excitement is what the game is all about, and I love to be a part of that."

Sprague trailed by 12 in the first half, but scrapped together a consistent comeback that got within 33-32 before Scots senior Taliah Graham got a long pass and made an uncontested lay-up with 56 seconds left. Sprague got a free throw with 12 seconds remaining, and had the ball with four seconds left, but couldn't get off another shot.

The Olympians dropped to 1-5, but Friday's game was the first that hadn't been decided by 21 points or more. The team lost its first four games by an average of 50 points, then beat McKay on Tuesday by 21.

"It would have been nice to get a win, but I'm happy the girls got to play a game like that," Sprague's first-year coach Casey Williams said. "We haven't had that kind of experience this season.

"It was especially good for our team because of how we battled back. That's got to give the girls some confidence in themselves."

The excitement, in front of a receptive crowd of parents and the David Douglas cheerleaders, was great for both teams, who face differing challenges that both involve losing by significant margins. The Scots suited up just eight players, a fact that sparks the senses because the school has more than 2,500 students - the largest high school in the state. Sprague had a full bench, but played a consistent line-up of four freshmen and either a junior or senior.

David Douglas had actually played two other games decided by four points or less, but they were both against Jefferson, which won one of the games and has one other win - McKay. David Douglas coach Kristinya Birch was nothing but smiles after the game, not only for the outcome, but the outcome of last week's camp for younger players.

"We had 35 girls, which was a great showing," she said. "That's part of our working to build the program, which is what we need."

Both programs are hardcore into a building mode, something highlighted by Friday's game featuring, unofficially, at least 60 turnovers. Sprague went winless two seasons ago, and went winless in conference play last year. It's four starting freshmen, though, produced plenty of fight and showed off a level of skill that might make the other 11 freshmen in the program put in some of the extra work needed to be part of a winning program.

The Scots have 14 freshmen and another 11 sophomores in their program, which Birch is leading on an interim basis after coach Joanne Maki suffered a medical illness that required she step aside for the season. Birch, a teacher in the district for eight years, is committed to helping build the program with Maki, neither of whom is rushing players to the varsity level before they're ready. Birch said basically anyone who tried out found a spot.

Hadley, who has played since third grade, said she's optimistic about the team this season, but gets frustrated at times passing by classmates who were once teammates but simply bailed on the game.

"It's tough when I see girls I know can play, who could be helping us," she said. "But, you have to be committed at this level, and that's not something everyone can do."

Monday, the Scots play at Class 5A Woodburn, which is 3-4 and has scored no less than 33 points in all of its games. Regardless of the score, Birch will be happy to get another nightly-contested outcome.

"I know it's fun for the girls to play in games like this," she said. "It's not so good for my heart, but it's great to get the kinks out of your game before league play starts."

 

 

 

 

 

On sports, films and hackers

Wed, 12/17/2014 - 1:40pm
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What a day for news Tuesday was. It was all about death across the world: Sydney, Pakistan, a lone gunman in Pennsylvania. Death and terrorism - the biggest threat focused on such a simple thing as a movie.

How can a movie be dangerous? Well, movies involve creativity and expression, and those things are viewed as more dangerous than bullets in parts of the world. And, they involve theaters, where people congregate to watch those movies. That got me to thinking about what dangers there are in simply going to a game: Timbers, Blazers, Winterhawks … heck a high school girls basketball game.

We all live with the threat that a terrorist(s) could target an event to create havoc and death for their social cause. Or someone might just be having a really bad day because of the person you're sitting next to that you don't even know. We live with it, and it should be a source of national pride that it doesn't affect our daily life.

As a sports fan, it's hard to take the recent hacking of Sony Films and it's potential affect on American life without a spirited response, especially these days in which athletes use their place within society to comment on social issues.

The film industry is a vital part of America, and should be recognized that way. Movies provides social commentary - in a thought-provoking way when they're done right. "Dr. Strangelove," for instance, showed the world what a nuclear attack might do to the world in 1964, and it was a comedy. The U.S. had hundreds of nuclear missiles to counter the Soviet Union's hundreds of missiles, but if they ever got used it would be the worst event the world had ever seen. Took a couple decades, but both sides realized that, and have worked to avoid that possibility by dismantling hundreds of nuclear weapons.

"To Live and Die in LA," showed off how Islamic terrorists might try and kill the President in 1985, and the key motivation for that was the U.S. support for Israel, which can easily be looked at as the most heated issue to any lasting peace with the Islamic world. It's almost 30 years after the movie premiered, and that issue still hasn't changed.

"Wag the Dog" includes a scene with Robert DeNiro talking about the future of war - that it wouldn't involve large armies, but small groups of terrorists. That was 1997. Following the 9-11 attack in 2001, the U.S. got its large armies into action in Afghanistan and Iraq, but all that did was de-stabilize those nations, and kill thousands of people. It's two decades after the movie, and the biggest threat to world peace is small groups of terrorists - and they can be created by national governments. North Korea is far more dangerous today without ever moving its army outside its borders.

"No Country for Old Men" has a marvelous soliloquy by Tommy Lee Jones at the start of the film about how sheriffs in past decades didn't wear guns to patrol their citizens. That was 2007. Society today has a significant focus on how sheriffs and police officers seem to react to so many situations with a gun drawn first or with a show of force regardless of whether a suspect is doing anything. It's the source of national protests these days.

In the sports world, "Rocky" showed off how an underdog can succeed purely on raw ambition and hard work. That was in 1976. Every high school freshman should be made to watch the movie.

When 9-11 happened one of my first thoughts on how the U.S. should react was to do basically nothing, other than perhaps create an elite force of commandos to infiltrate the area where the Taliban was located and remove the people most responsible for the attack. No one needed to know about it, either.

The government response would be to simply go about life as usual, and put a lot more money into supporting hybrid automotive technology. No armies, just a resolution that terror wouldn't affect the nation, and that further terror wouldn't affect the nation. People would still go to work in office buildings as usual, go to sporting events in stadiums as usual, go to movies in theaters as usual. That's exactly what's happened, too, other than the government getting the military involved for a rationale that can be looked at as another Vietnam. Billions spent, thousands killed, nothing truly accomplished. That's 40 years later, too.

Sony Pictures hasn't made a public comment yet, but one I'd like to read involves something of an apology to its workers, and commitment not to alter its movie-production methods. As for all the leaked e-mails and movie information? The new James Bond flick is way over budget - the first film to ever be over budget? Kevin Hart apparently wanted to get paid more for a film for promoting it on Twitter. That's news? It leaked the finale of one film, too. Most films are based on novels, which … anyone not know how "The Hobbit" ends? All they're really doing with the release of movie stuff is promoting movie stuff. As for the company e-mails, maybe that will result in executives writing better e-mails, as though they might get read by someone from North Korea. Basically, be nicer and there won't be any news.

Taking the threats with no response has limits, though. The best public response could be economic for Sony, and social for North Korea. Sony could recognize the issues involved with showing the film in theaters and simply send the movie straight to DVD - with a purpose. Since the film is far more well-known to the public since the hacking, it's going to have a wider audience and involves public recognition for freedom of expression. More people are likely to buy the movie on DVD, or pay for it via their cable provider. Heck, a social movement might come with promoting an international "North Korean Film Festival." Celebrate North Korea's independence by viewing "The Interview" on a specific weekend.

As for a social response, the only thing North Korea's government really has to take away is it's control of the populace. That's control of everything, including the media. There's only one channel, and surely it can be hacked - perhaps with some unique programming. Say, adult in nature. Every night at 7 p.m., North Koreans get a minute or two or even just a few seconds of some Western visuals, prompting national discourse on … whether the public should be watching television at 7 p.m. "But, honey the news is on at 7."

Of course, that would be responding to terrorism. But, it would be through capitalism and social means. A social mission in the U.S. might be to ensure "The Interview" makes a profit. Producers then respond with a series of movies involving social unrest in North Korea: say, an elite group of nerds located in Tuscaloosa, Ala., hacks into North Korea's way of life and sparks a rebellion that causes the military to revolt and brings down the government. (Along the way, they find romance with their female counterparts in North Korea who use their guile and good looks to empower the nation's generals.) Sounds like an independent film to me, one funded through Kickstarter. And, premiered during the North Korean Film Festival.

North Korea - middle finger from American society. No government or military involvement, just creative ambition.

If this reads kind of mean, it's how the sports world works, isn't it. Just ideas on how one side is going to empose its will on the competition.

Terrorism is like a cancer on society, and this hacking of Sony could be an instigator for America to step forward in combatting it. Remember Livestrong? It could be restarted, and re-tasked to promote international awareness and unity against terrorism.

Terrorism exists, and it's not going away without society finding a unified voice to say it doesn't work. We all play a role in that by attending sporting events, even with some reservations a threat of terrorism exists. As Sony showed, the companies involved in promoting public events all have an intensified responsibility to provide as safe a venue as possible, and better e-mails, better work environments play a role there.

Most people are sparked to attend a game or a film simply by it's interest. A team that wins more will get more fans. A movie that looks interesting and is well-made will make more money. A happier workforce is likely to produce more. These are things that make America the best country to live in across the world (other than Germany in August). Let's hope society only gets stronger, regardless of threats from terrorists.

 

Andersen seems a good fit

Wed, 12/10/2014 - 6:20pm
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When news of Gary Andersen being hired as the new football coach at Oregon State got out today, the response from my office was quick - "what?"

From Wisconsin to Oregon State? The Oregon State? Usually, it would be the other way around as Wisconsin has so much more ... available.

Wow - for the Beavers.

Why would a coach leave Wisconsin for Corvallis? With the cursory glance at his background, he actually seems like a great fit for Corvallis, maybe better than the Big 10.

He spent most of his coaching career off the beaten path in Utah, turning Utah State into a football name. That success earned him the job in Madison, but after two seasons - the Badgers played in the Big 10 title game, and he's got a running back among the three finalists for the Heisman - maybe the Big 10 was just, too much. All that hype, all those expectations.

Corvallis just might have seemed a lot more appealling to him - and, it looked pretty appealling as we all learned more about Mike Riley's contract. If Andersen gets anywhere close to the same deal, he's set for a long time. And, expectations are very different, too. At Wisconsin, a spot in the Rose Bowl is on the agenda every year. In Corvallis, six wins is a good season.

Of course, Andersen had much more available in terms of resources at Wisconsin, or at least that's how we envision the Big 10 world from out here in the West. But, reports from Big 10 insiders reveal he was often unhappy with resources to pay assistant coaches, and other school issues involving junior college transfers.

It's actually not all that hard to understand why someone would want to leave Wisconsin for Oregon State, especially if he had the idea it might be a program he'll build and then manage for years to come.

If Riley had left two years ago and OSU had hired Andersen then, he certainly would not be the coach he is today. Coming to Corvallis from Utah State via Wisconsin makes Oregon State look like a scene stealer on the national scene. And, OSU doesn't get that opportunity very often.

 

 

No cooking like home cooking

Tue, 12/09/2014 - 9:19am
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The College Football Playoffs seem to be the University of Oregon's to win, or Oregon's to lose depending on how you look at them.

The Ducks are in the semifinals, ranked only behind Alabama and playing defending champion Florida State in the Rose Bowl, Jan. 1.

So, with a win over Florida State, then a win over either Alabama or Ohio State in the title game 11 days later, the Ducks will be national champion in one of the major televised sports for the first time since 1939.

And, America expects they'll win, too.

In voting conducted on espn.com, Oregon beat Alabama, FSU and OSU to the answer - "Which team will win the College Football Playoff?" With more than 780,000 votes tallied Tuesday morning, the Ducks were at 39 percent, to 35 percent for Alabama. Ohio State was third with 14 percent and Florida State fourth with 12 percent.

Some interesting points from the voting - FSU didn't own Florida, and only Ohio voted decisively for Ohio State. Oregon owned the West and Northeast, and no state voted as emphatically for one school than Oregon did: 78 percent for the Ducks. Alabama, in contrast, voted 63 percent for the Crimson Tide, while Ohio voted 61 percent for OSU. Florida gave the nod to 'Bama with 36 percent to 30 percent for the Seminoles. Oregon had 25 percent in that state amongst more than 30,000 votes.

Alabama still owns bettors, though. The Crimson Tide sit at almost even money to win - 11/10, while the Ducks are second at 17/10 at oddshark.com.

 

College football committee did its job right

Sun, 12/07/2014 - 12:07pm
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No matter what Texas Christian fans might be thinking today, college football fans definitely got their money's worth out of the committee that selected the four teams that will play for the national title - they got drama and excitement.

There could not have been a better finale to the regular season than Saturday's games - none of them upsets, which led to all the hype over what the committee would do with Big 10 champion Ohio State and the two co-champions of the Big 12, TCU and Baylor.

Would TCU drop from its spot at third last week to lower than fourth and miss the playoffs?

Would Baylor move up to fourth because of its win over TCU during the regular season?

Would Ohio State's stunning victory over Wisconsin in the Big 10 title game boost it to fourth, despite it having the worst loss of all the teams involved?

Would the Big 12 teams get the shaft for not having a title game? And, why doesn't the conference have a title game - it doesn't like money?

So many questions, so much hype. It's exactly what the playoffs are supposed to create, and it did - the SEC West even played its way out of any discussion it should have two teams involved thanks to Mississippi State losing not only to Alabama, but then to Mississippi.

Ultimately, Ohio State got the nod as the fourth playoff team, and it was clear-cut in the voting, too, in remarks made following the release of the pairings. And, that's what should have happened - the four conference champions earned their spot in the semifinals, while the Big 12 co-champions were left to ponder what would have happened if they had played a conference title game ... or just went unbeaten.

TCU lost 61-58 to Baylor (defense, eh?), while Baylor lost at West Virginia the week after its win over the Horned Frogs.

What a season, and it's not over. Remember Mississippi State's rise from being unranked to No. 1? That seems like such a long time ago. And, Oregon dropping from No. 3 to 12 in one week after it's humbling loss at home to Arizona. But, that was the week before seemingly the entire nation got upset on a single day.

The semifinals are not just great in terms of teams involved, but storylines, too. Oregon and Florida State are likely to have two Heisman Trophy winners involved, while Alabama and Ohio State has coaches with numerous games between them.

Look out ratings records.

 

 

 

Let's give those Blazers fans some piece of mind

Wed, 12/03/2014 - 2:22pm
Wanna Be Like Mike

As I sat at home watching the Portland Trail Blazers complete their latest remarkable comeback, this time against the poor Denver Nuggets, I had to wonder how much longer they could pull off shenanigans like this.

The Blazers couldn’t score behind the three-point arc (with Wesley Matthews the main culprit at an eye-watering 1 of 10 from deep), they were getting outworked by the Nuggets front line, they were too iso-heavy, and Damian Lillard had foul trouble for most of the game.

Portland clawed its way back when Nuggets coach Brian Shaw decided it was a good idea to leave J.J. Hickson, an undersized, witless wonder of a center, in the game instead of putting in Kenneth Faried. Hint: it’s usually a good idea for your second-best player to be playing in crunch time of a close game against a great NBA team. Hickson proceeded to goaltend two LaMarcus Aldridge shots, accidentally tip another Aldridge lay-up into his own net, and swipe futilely at the entry pass that Robin Lopez converted into the game-winning basket.

Denver was also whistled for more traveling violations than a middle-school team dealing with a rash of awkward growth spurts, shuffling their feet all over and not knowing which of their feet were down as the pivot. They missed open shots and allowed the Blazers to steal the ball on consecutive possessions of crunch time. Instead of taking this game and running away with it, they allowed Portland to steal it from them.

The point I want to make is, while a middling team like Denver will allow a sluggish, bricky Trail Blazer squad to stay in games, the elite teams of the NBA won’t be so accommodating. The game against the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday is Example A.

Portland did hang in that contest for awhile, but when it was time Memphis put the game away. The missed shots, turnovers, and dumb fouls the Blazers continually get away with against teams like Denver will always get them beat against teams like Memphis, and the Blazers haven’t faced enough great teams yet to fully appreciate this fact.

On a related note, other than the last game played in Denver (where the Blazers hung 84 points on the Nuggets in the first half), I can’t recall the Blazers really dominating teams, either. Almost all their games have been close affairs, and the laws of analytics say close games tend to even out over a large sample, like an 82-game season. There’s an element of randomness that’s favored Portland in games like last night’s, or the game in Boston last week. Balls that bounced one way instead of the other, or shots that juuuuuuust rimmed out. That stuff evens out over the course of the season, and the Blazers can’t count on Lady Luck continuing to favor them.

I will say, though, the Blazers have shown toughness and a never-say-die attitude all season long. They never think they’re out of a game and they’ll keep fighting to the bitter end, two qualities that will serve them very well in the playoffs. Aldridge, Lillard and Nicolas Batum (who’s mired in a shooting slump) all have histories of coming through in the big moments, and guys like Matthews, Lopez, and backup guard Steve Blake are consummate grinders, professionals to the core.

It’s a good thing that the Trail Blazers have the mettle to make dramatic comebacks. Most of Rip City, however, would prefer that said mettle won’t be needed as often as it has been this season.














OSU's big game opportunity

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 7:30am
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Corvallis is plenty off the beaten path in the college football world, so it's hard for the Oregon State football team to get a lot of publicity. But, that won't be true Saturday, so it's as big an opportunity to make an impact in front of the nation's fans and incoming recruits as the program is going to get.

The Beavers get to play in-state rival Oregon at home and on national television with the Ducks needing only win by any margin to continue their path toward the College Football Playoffs.

Oregon State, meanwhile, is playing for its football life - especially its seniors. The Beavers have five wins and need a sixth to become bowl. So a win Saturday extends the season by a month. And, a sixth win qualifies coach Mike Riley for a $1 million bonus.

Riley has never seemed like someone motivated by money, but the game is being played at Reser Stadium, and being on national TV with the win moving his team to a bowl game, it might just be what the program needs to score what would be one of its biggest upsets.

There's plenty of elements to a big win in place for Saturday.

First, it's at home. The Beavers just seem to be a different animal at home. Almost all of their big wins are at Reser these days, starting with USC. OSU hasn't beaten USC in Los Angeles since 1964, but it's owned the team in the past decade at Reser, regardless of the Trojans' rankings.

Two weeks ago, the Beavers beat No. 7 Arizona State at Reser, 35-27.

Saturday is the final home game for seniors, led by quarterback Sean Mannion.

Second, the Ducks are ranked No. 2, and have beaten the Beavers six straight times - so they should win. The betting line is by nearly three touchdowns, too. This is one of the best elements an underdog has available - surprise, even if the Ducks publicly say they're fully ready. In Oregon's lone loss - to Arizona on its home field, it was rated a 23-point favorite.

And, Oregon has shown it's available for a big loss, too. At Utah, the Ducks were on their way to being down 14-0 when fate intervened in the form of a historic "Not Top 10" play. Even then, the game was 30-27 in the second half.

Third, it's on ABC. If there's a way to pump up a group of seemingly overmatched football players, just put some cameras in their faces and tell them every play they make has the potential to be a national headline.

Oregon is already in the Pac-12 Conference Championship Game, so it realistically only needs to win by one point, which it did last year, 36-35 at Autzen Stadium. That's going to be in player's heads throughout the game.

Oregon Stat's best chance is a dominating start, especially on defense. And, it's performed well on defense. Against ASU, the defense gave up only 20 points as one of the Sun Devils' scores was on a fumble return.

Saturday's game looks like a blowout on paper - for Oregon fans, and maybe the world. But, it's one of the biggest wins the Beavers can ever have, one the program will celebrate for decades, and that opportunity doesn't come along very often.

 

 

 

 

 

The West is there for the taking

Thu, 11/20/2014 - 11:03am
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So here’s a crazy thought: can the Blazers finish the regular season at the top team in the Western Conference?

This idea wasn’t even on the outskirts of imaginable just three weeks ago, but since Oklahoma City has disappeared to the extent it probably isn’t even going to reach the playoffs, and the rest of the Northwest Division is still in rebuilding mode, it actually seems like a reasonable idea.

What makes it more reasonable is the comebacks the team has started to become adept at - 23 points, 16 points - and the roster depth, a key issue the past several seasons.

With the Southwest and Pacific Divisions stacked with playoff teams, Portland is likely the only divisional team that will reach the playoffs - and by a large margin since it’s clearly possible it will be the only team in the division with a winning record.

And the Blazers get 16 games against teams headed for losing records - currently they’re 3-0 against the division and have a five-game winning streak heading into a home game against Chicago Friday night.

Being the top seed in the West certainly doesn’t guarantee even one playoff series win, especially when the team is 0-3 against the Pacific Division. But, that’s homecourt advantage in every series, and they Blazers are 7-1 on their home floor.

Top team in the West? Who would have thought that three weeks ago?

Beavers Believe

Mon, 11/17/2014 - 8:23pm
Wanna Be Like Mike

Who would have thought that the Oregon State Beavers would take down one of the giants in the Pac-12 Conference?

Well, if you ask Mike Riley and the “Beaver Believers” in Corvallis, they would’ve said, “We did!”

I've given Mike Riley a hard time this year, whether it was his play calling or not lighting a fire under his players. This time, I must take my hat off to him and congratulate his team on a statement victory right before the Civil War. I’m not saying that they are going to beat the Ducks, but this win sure does give this team some much needed confidence.

Once again, Riley gets a signature win against a ranked opponent. Whether it be USC, Stanford or UCLA, Riley always seems to find a way to get a victory even when is team is only playing for pride.

The Pac-12 is loaded this year, and for the first time in a while, it seems that they can match up with any conference in the country. There’s still a lot of football to be played, but with the new playoff format and less time to prepare for your opponent, the highly touted SEC may have their work cut out for them.

When USC needs Oregon

Mon, 11/10/2014 - 11:31am
Wanna Be Like Mike

What comes to mind when you think of Mark Sanchez?

For most, it would be the infamous “butt fumble” game on Thanksgiving against the New England Patriots in 2012, which aired for 40 consecutive weeks on ESPN’s “Worst of the Worst”. For me, I think of a quarterback that made history by becoming the only other rookie QB to win two consecutive road playoff games (the other being Joe Flacco), and take his team to consecutive AFC Championship games in his first two seasons.

It’s funny how one play can change the view of an athlete’s career, but that’s just how it is.

Now, Sanchez might not step into his new starting role and light the league on fire. He’s never been that type of quarterback, as he still struggles to complete sideline passes. But, he can be more than serviceable for the Eagles offense because they have a ton of weapons, an improved defense and, most importantly, Chip Kelly’s system.

When Sanchez has had offensive weapons, a good defense and good coach, he has proven that he can win games. Let’s not forget the 2009 Rose Bowl win over Penn State, where he was the offensive MVP and set a record that still stands by completing 80 percent of his passes. With Philadelphia, he is entering into a much more comfortable system than that of former Jets OC Brian Schottenheimer. He has much better running backs (McCoy, Sproles and Polk) and receivers (Maclin, Matthews and Cooper), and a coach from the Pac-12 that knows him quite well.

Kelly has proven that he can win with any quarterback going back to his days in New Hampshire, where he coached the Walter Payton Award winner, Ricky Santos in 2006. Not to mention Darron Thomas (BCS National Championship runner-up) and Marcus Mariota (current Heisman hopeful). I’m not expecting Sanchez to be a top 10 fantasy football quarterback, but Chip Kelly’s system will help a lot of people forget about the “butt fumble” and Philadelphia fans can get excited about winning consecutive NFC East Championships.

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