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November 28, 2008 at 12:16 PM

Live from St. Thomas’ 9th Annual Paradise Jam

OK, so I literally peeled myself off the beach to checkout the basketball tournament today. And when I download the photos, you’ll know how hard it was to do that. In fact, only basketball could make me go inside before sundown, especially when word is it’s typical rain and cold in Seattle.
The island is spectacular. Made it to Molly Malone’s, thanks for the suggestion, but the food wasn’t as great as Gladys’ Cafe downtown (try the mango colada with rum if you make it here. And yes, I realize rum is not a food group). I took a $2 “safari ride” from where I’m staying in Sapphire Beach over to the University of the Virgin Island for the games and the ride — if there’s no traffic — is scarier than anything Six Flags could create. The twists and turns while ridding in an open-air truck? Good thing I love adventure, that’s all I can say.
Anyway, Baylor is about to tip-off against Villanova for the second game of the day. The No. 6 Bears’ fans have filled a small section of the approximate 4,000-seat gym, which is set right by the airport. The place was packed earlier in the week for the men’s tournament (Connecticut won) and attendance is a little down for the women because of all of the excitement behind having No. 1 Connecticut here last November. Seriously, everyone is still gloating about it.
Nels Hawkinson, the tournament’s executive director, whose business is coincidentally based in Edmonds, said the crowd will pick-up later when No. 3 California faces Texas Tech. I’ll check-in frequently with updates from the games and see if I can’t spot anyone in the stands worth catching up with for a note.
FUTURE IN PARADISE?: The Jam will continue for years to come, contrary to rumor I heard back home, it’s just that this was the final year for Fox television’s contract with the men’s tourney. The women were on TV last year, but didn’t sign with any to broadcast their game this season. The men’s field for 2009 is already set with Tennessee, Purdue Boston College, DePaul, St. Joseph’s, Northern Iowa, and two teams Hawkinson can’t disclose. The women’s teams are Rutgers, Notre Dame, Maryland, NC State, Texas, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Mississippi State — which is actually a field more intriguing for the head coaching staffs. If you’re wondering if the Bears will ever return with prize recruit Brittney Griner, the 6-foot-7 dunking master, she’s slated to be at The Jam in 2012 as a senior. Baylor is hosting its own tournament next season.
NICE GIG: Dee Kantner, WNBA Supervisor of Officials, is in St. Thomas working the games. She said it’s about her fifth year in a row, making it a “working vacation” where she suns all day and works at night. Kantner reffed the Villanova-Wisconsin game on Thursday and is doing the Iowa-USF game tonight. Bonita Spence, a full-time WNBA official, is currently reffing the Baylor matchup. The Bears are up 43-29 with 14:55 remaining in the second half and seniors Jhasmin Player and Jessica Morrow are even better in person.
BAYLOR WINS CLOSE: Missed opportunities kept No. 7 Baylor from being upset by Villanova. The Bears had two key sloppy turnovers, yet the Wildcats made an errant pass to no one with 28 seconds remaining when they were down three (57-54), nixing a chance to tie the score. The Wildcats used a bevy of three-pointers to get back into the game, moving the Baylor fans to pop on their feet since when Villanova climbed within 10-points. Made free throws preserved a 62-57 win for the Bears. They’ll face Wisconsin for their final game on Friday. Villanova plays Central Florida. Morrow led the Bears with 17 points while Rachel Allison had 16 and Player finished with 14. G Maria Getty was 4 of 6 from three-point range for Villanova for 14 points, teammate Laura Kurz led in scoring with 17.
UW UPDATE: I’m getting double-takes as everyone tries to figure out what tie would have the Seattle Times send me to St. Thomas when I should be covering the Husky Classic right now back home. Again, I booked this long before changing beats. But I’m keeping an eye on the Huskies, who are playing Seattle University. The Dawgs are up 32-23 in the opening half. On the island, Iowa is leading South Florida 12-4 with 15:59 remaining in the first half. The crowd has grown a little, but these teams didn’t bring much of a following.
DAWGS WIN: Washington won today, 82-56 against Seattle U.
POWER UP: So, there was some sort of fire at the power plant down here on Tuesday. Not a real problem for the tournament because the school runs on generators as does the major hotels. (My spot was out for two days, but I didn’t need a light to find the beach) A problem for the splashy welcome dinner P-Jam always has for the teams. Apparently to take some gondola up a crazy steep hillside and have dinner at the top. With the whole island out of power, there was not way to get the teams up the hill. Until Hawkinson made a call to Gov. John P. de Jongh Jr., who ordered the power on for the party. “I felt bad because the rest of the island was without power,” Hawkinson said. I told you the tourney is huge here!
ISLAND UPSET: It took overtime, but USF defeated Iowa in Game 3 of today’s matchups. Great game, too. Iowa, which made its 17th NCAA appearance last season, is bigger and had a better offensive set. But they didn’t control the ball (27 turnovers) and the Hawkeyes were no match for the Bulls’ athleticism. Iowa senior F Wendy Ausdemore hit the tying three-pointer with 4.5 seconds remaining to send the game into overtime tied at 74 apiece. USF outscored Iowa 6-1 to open extra play, stripping their opponent of the ball at times, to pull ahead, winning 82-79. USF senior G Shantia Grace, two-games removed from a school-record 44 outpouring against Coppin State, was dazzling. She finished with a game-high 27, making 10 of 15 from the FT line. Junior G Janane Stokes was clutch late, finishing with 11. Senior G Jazmine Sepulveda had four steals, including one in OT that showed exactly whose game it was. And lastly, Senior C Brittany Denson erased a Candace Parker tournament record, tallying 10 blocks in two games — four against Iowa. Parker had nine in three games, sharing the old 2005 stat with Laura Harper of Maryland. Oh, and I heard Parker finally got hitched. Congrats!

BLOG-O-SPHERE: I’m not the only one blogging down here.USF’s Sepulveda has a link here and the P-Jam organizers have this site to keep you up to date with streaming video. We’re getting ready for the final game of the night and the place is lively with Caribbean beats and locals filling the seats. In case you forgot, former Storm original Charmin Smith is currently an assistant coach for California. I plan to catch up with her when I’m really on the clock, but we spoke briefly before the game started. On Texas Tech’s bench is former Storm training camp invitee Shereka Wright, who was cut under Anne Donovan’s regime.
HAMPTON PLAYING: Senior post Devanei Hampton is playing in just her second game since suffering a right knee injury. She’s wearing a bulky brace and collected a cheap foul, still regaining her movement. No. 3 California leads Texas Tech 14-6 with 11:09 remaining in the opening half.
DADDY WALKER: Oh, the natives are having fun with the Texans, making them do some island dance and shake their moneymaker when the singer shouts “Daddy Walker.” Funniest thing, but now they’ve moved onto the “Step walker,” which has a faster beat than the samba. You’re supposed to put your hand at your waist and shake it in a circle, but the guy Texas Tech fan just started jiggling like Beyonce to the delight of the crowd. It just proves an age-old fact–Texans can’t dance. Cal leads 38-29 at the half behind G Alexis Gray-Lawson’s 16 points and Ashley Walker’s 15.
FRIED CURRY: P-Jam DJs played a Caribbean version of “Psycho,” for Texas Tech coach Kristy Curry, who went completely nuts at a non-call. And when I say nuts, I mean, girl-you’ve-never-seen-a-coach-go-off-like-this nuts! Full-on, childlike tantrum that didn’t stop until the well was dry. And it was really uncomfortable to watch. The toss was quick and Walker made both FTs to put the Bears ahead 59-43 with 6:14 remaining in the matchup.
CAL WINS: Thanks to Curry, the game wasn’t a total snore. The No. 3 Bears were simply better and withstood one real run in the second half to win 68-54. It’s always fun to spend the holidays inside a gym watching basketball — reminds me of my youth in Maui or New York. But I’m going to stick with the beach tomorrow and only return for the latter games. USF is too exciting to watch to miss their matchup against Texas Tech and the No. 3 Bears play Iowa, which should be reeling after their loss today. Until then…



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