Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Hey, it's only (two) missed layups

During Gonzaga's warmups prior to the team's Sweet 16 game against Xavier on Saturday, one of the Zags missed an easy shot. "Gotta make your layups!" a member of the Xavier pep band bellowed.

Here's hoping none of the Zags stuck around Sacramento for Monday's Elite Eight finish.

Plain and simple, Dee Dee Jernigan choked. Twice. That's not me being cruel or insensitive. It's a fact. With the stakes at their highest and the game on the line, Jernigan found herself unable to do something which under normal circumstances she could do 100 times in a row while blindfolded.

Doesn't mean she's a bad kid, and it certainly doesn't mean she's a bad player. She's one heck of a player. But everyone who has played competitive sports has been in a situation where the pressure got to them. Jernigan's misfortune was that her choking moment occurred on national television.

“I was too anxious,” Jernigan said. “It was like a kid in a candy store. I was too open and didn’t think it was coming out.”

Surprisingly, that quote came from the Associated Press account of the game, not from Xavier's paper of record, the Cincinnati Enquirer. I figured the people that covered the Musketeers all season and had a staff reporter in California for the game would have the most poignant, detailed account of Jernigan's struggles. Instead, the writer spent most of his space detailing the game-winning coast-to-coast drive and layup by Stanford's Jeanette Pohlen and Xavier's gritty overall play. Jernigan's misadventures under the basket were briefly summarized in a paragraph two-thirds of the way into the story, and the player herself was never quoted.

Now there are many different ways to cover a game. But I'd bet 95 percent of the people watching that game came away wondering, "How could she have missed those layups!" And there's only one person who can give the answer.

This isn't to suggest it was easy to approach a clearly distraught Jernigan after the game. The last television image we saw was of her in a heap on the court in dismay. But given a chance to explain herself later, the same toughness that got her a full scholarship and a starting spot on one of the nation's best teams came through.

In fact, I'd argue that not approaching Jernigan after the game is making the situation even worse. I mean, she didn't commit a crime out there. The pressure got to her. It happens. Lindsey Harding choked, and is now enjoying a nice career in the WNBA. Chris Webber choked, then went on to become an NBA all-star.

Dee Dee Jernigan choked, and whatever bright future loomed for her Monday morning is still ahead of her Tuesday afternoon.

Just ask her.

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