USF Women’s Basketball Continues Record Season

With the disapproval and utter disbelief of being snubbed out of the Women’s NCAA Tournament, the USF Lady Bulls are proving to the NCAA Selection Committee that they belong. With a 22-10 overall regular season record, the Bulls were hoping to clinch a berth into the Big Dance, but instead were forced to settle for a bid to the NIT.

Regardless of the tournament, USF is taking the field by storm during their sixth consecutive post-season appearance. After receiving a first-round bye, the Lady Bulls defeated Florida Gulf Coast on March 21, although it was no easy task. After Bulls standout Jasmine Wynne put USF up with 15 seconds left to play, Florida Gulf Coast tied the game with two seconds remaining and sent the game into overtime. But in the extra period, USF did what it has done all year long: play hard when it counts. Wynne took control of the added period from its start, scoring the first four points and going 10-for-16 on her way to leading the Bulls to an 88-81 victory.

“I’m really glad to see them doing well,” USF Tampa student Lashawna Jackson said. “I think they deserved to be in the NCAA Tournament, but it didn’t work out. But now they’re showing how good they are by taking one game at a time and knowing what they need to do to keep the season alive.”

USF is taking one game at a time, but it’s also important to look at the whole season to realize just what they’ve accomplished. After all, the second-round win against Florida Gulf Coast was just another accolade in what has been a record-setting season.

According to the official athletics Web site gousfbulls.com, the Lady Bulls have scored 2,649 points during the 2008-09 season. They have also blocked 187 shots this season – second on the schools single season list. They are three blocks shy of equaling, and four from breaking, the current record of 190 blocks that was set during the 2006-07 season. USF set a new school mark for assists, as well, in a single season when it dished out 23 against Cincinnati in USF’s regular season home finale on Feb. 28 in Tampa. In addition, USF currently has 360 steals to its credit, which is the third most recorded in a single season in school history. The Bulls are one theft shy of tying – and two from surpassing – the 2004-05 team that is in second with 361. The single season school record for steals is 365 during the 2001-02 campaign.

Including the third-round 74-57 win against Ole Miss on March 26, the Lady Bulls not only propelled themselves into the NIT’s Elite Eight, but they also clinched their 24th win of the season – the most by any USF basketball team, men’s or women’s, in school history.

USF will attempt to extend their hot streak, and their season, in the NIT quarterfinals against either Wisconsin or St. Bonaventure on March 28.

Is Grey’s Getting Good?

This season of Grey’s Anatomy is getting down to the real drama as the show inches itself toward its close. In anticipation to see what happens to Izzie, Derek’s professional performance and Meredith’s engagement ring that Derek chucked into the woods, I have to ask my self: Is the occurring drama actually as good as it seems?

I am stuck thinking this show is either fabulous or ridiculous. Without really knowing what goes on inside a hospital I cannot conclude what actually happens or not. Maybe it is the character relations that are so aggravating. Can Meredith be any more selfish? Are hospital interns really that stupid? Do doctors always get away with yelling at patients?

Oh yeah, now I remind my self that it is a television show with a cause to provide entertainment.

Now that we all know Izzie has some type of odd cancer, it is down to Derek to save her. If she dies under Derek’s hand, it is safe to assume that he will go into a depressive state while poor Meredith, as selfish as she is, will never get to marry him because she will be too busy picking up his beer cans. If Izzie lives, then I don’t know – congratulations Derek and on to the next season?

Without looking at the Grey’s Anatomy Insider Web site, I still cannot decide if Izzie will live or die. Now if this there is a twist to this week’s episode, I will believe this show is a masterpiece. Otherwise, I’ll look forward to the new actor who takes Izzie’s place.

On the Road Again: My First Road Trip

 I had never been in a car for more than five hours before hitting the road with some friends for my first road trip this year.

My friend’s aunt owns a cabin in the mountains of northern Georgia, and generously offered to take us up there for the first part of our spring break. After grabbing another friend who was also starting spring break, we decided to make it happen.

On the morning of Thursday, March 12th, we met in Tampa and were picked up by Aunt Pam, who would be taking us on a 577 mile, 9 hour long drive through one and a half states to what we expected would be a weekend of peace and quiet. The cabin had no television or internet connections, so we would be able to escape the electronic confines of the real world for a few days and just relax in the tranquil, natural surroundings.

We left at 9:30 a.m. beating the afternoon traffic by a landslide. In less than two hours we reached a rest stop in Paynes Prairie, FL, where big signs warning visitors to watch out for poisonous snakes were abundant.

We drove past a man, hitchhiking along I-75 and holding up a large brown cardboard sign that said nothing but “Ohio.” I still have to wonder how far he got in that endeavor.

By 11 a.m. we were passing Gainesville, and within 90 minutes we reached the Georgia state line, where a sign saying, “We’re glad Georgia’s on Your Mind” greeted us.

Personally, I knew we had entered the good old south when we stopped at a gas station shortly after crossing the Georgia border. I asked the cashier which town we were in, and she answered me in the biggest southern drawl I’ve ever heard, “You’re in Adel, Ma’aaaaam.”

Throughout the trip, we stopped for food, bathroom and smoking breaks as needed. About every two hours or so we’d take a breather and stretch our legs, helping the ride go by faster.

It’s funny how similar the drive is along I-75 from one state to the next. Both northern Florida and southern Georgia have huge areas of dry land surrounding the highway, featuring big cities in between long stretches of dry, open prairies. Every so often, the land along I-75 in Georgia would showcase trees taller than telephone poles, but for the most part, there wasn’t much to see until we got to Atlanta.

Atlanta, by the way, bears a striking resemblance to Tampa in many ways, showing off tall buildings alongside the highway with billboards as far as the eye can see. The excitement in the car was palpable as we got closer to the cabin, and I even yelled “Hi Anderson Cooper!” out the window as we drove past a building marked “CNN Headquarters.”

About an hour or so later, Aunt Pam turned off I-75 and onto another highway, leading us up into the mountainous northern parts of Georgia. Our ears popped as we drove up and down hills, inching our way closer and closer to the Smoky Mountains.

It was an emotional experience when we first viewed the mountains. These were the first mountains I had seen since I was 13 and our family moved from Hawaii to Florida, so I was instantly filled with the pangs of homesickness accompanied by a feeling of peace. We were almost there.

We arrived in Union County at 6 p.m. and shortly after driving up several smaller, one-lane dirt roads, reached the cabin on what we later found out was called Blood Mountain (right next to Slaughter Mountain, in case you were wondering). We finally made it.

The landscape itself was breathtaking, as the cabin provided us with a view of the mountainside and endless rows of trees sporting their multicolored leaves.

Unfortunately, the weather didn’t feel like cooperating with us and it constantly drizzled from Thursday thru Sunday when we drove back toward Tampa, staying close to 45 degrees the entire time.

Determined to have a good time anyway, the three of us put on our warmest clothes and went out on nature hikes while Aunt Pam stayed in the cabin. We made friends with “Cornbread,” the community German Shepard who insisted on leading us up long, winding trails around the neighborhood, and even came across a llama farm deep in the mountains.

We also discovered the people of this sleepy little town have a unique sense of humor.

As we walked around the dirt trails of Blood Mountain, we found ourselves following yellow signs for a house for sale at the top of the hill. After hiking along a winding road for about a half hour, we finally reached the top of the hill and noticed there was a rather large cliff next to the last little yellow sign. To this day, I wonder if the whole town was in on it, as Aunt Pam pointed out another trail of signs she knew of that led to a dead end.

We spent the majority of the time curling up by the fire in the cabin with a pile of books, listening to the sound of the rain hitting the roof, or roasting marshmallows in the fireplace if we felt like it. It was a great relief to be away from the hustle and bustle of school and work for a few days; to be surrounded by nothing but trees, mountains and fresh air is a luxury we just don’t get enough of.

After spending three relaxing days in the wilderness hoping the temperature would drop just enough for it to snow, we were annoyed when it was warmer – and still raining – as we drove away on Sunday morning.

This time we stopped only twice, in a rest stop outside Pinehurst in central Georgia and a gas station near Ashburn in southern Georgia. The three of us took a picture with a huge statue of a cow that was bigger than most of the eighteen-wheeler trucks we passed – it just had to be done – and drove straight to Tampa after that, making it home by 6 p.m.

Road trips can be a great way to re-connect with old friends or give you time to get to know your newer ones. The real adventure isn’t just where you go; it’s how you got there.

The Return of Tiger Woods

The outer appearance of the Ritz Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain is vast, beautiful and uninhibited. Last week at the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship, it served as an appropriate site for the return of perhaps the world’s greatest athlete, whose swing complements the course’s outdoor landscape.

On his first tee shot from the fairway’s first hole, Tiger Woods brought his club back, swung hard through the ball at the point of contact and watched it sail into the afternoon sky. Just eight months ago, that same motion left Woods bending over at the waist writhing in agony; his facial expressions reduced to a degree of horror rather than awe that usually followed just another clean drive off of the face of his three-wood.

But on this swing, unlike during his epic victory last June at Torrey Pines, Woods stood tall at the finish. He proceeded to process down the green for his second shot with a calm stride and an inelastic focus as if he had not missed the game of golf as desperately as it had missed him. He then took out his iron, sized up his next shot, and did it again.

This was the iconic image that has been missing from the sports world since last summer while Woods has been recuperating from surgery that repaired the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) in his left leg. With each and every swing, nothing less than the weight of the game and the future of a long-ago-established brilliant career rests on Woods’ reconstructed knee.

And yet, with the steroid epidemic prevalent in Major League Baseball, the financial troubles of the NBA and the economic recession having a profound impact on professional sports, sports fans seem to be crying out for his presence. The world is already akin to the fact that Woods is a phenomenal athlete with seemingly supernatural ability, but his return to the green in an uncharacteristic and afflicted industry blurs the distinction between golfer and savior.

There is no better time for Woods’ return then now. Golf’s reliance on corporate sponsorship has become more risky considering a decrease in television ratings and spectators’ shallow pockets. Even after football season and prior to college basketball’s post-season – golf’s peak season – the game has had trouble drawing fans. Until now. Tiger’s appearance back on the PGA Tour and on the course in general – even at practice – is sure to bring fans back out to witness the sport’s biggest attraction. Furthermore, the Tour’s network television contract is set to expire in 2012, but worry has suddenly vanished with Tiger’s presence and they are undoubtedly vying for renewal. Woods is also the selling point behind a bid to include golf in the 2016 Olympics. And yet, all of this comes at a time when Woods is on the verge of tying Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major victories.

The time is now. Here he is. A one-act, walking stimulus package that is just what sports needs right now. Last June, Tiger proved what he could do even without one good leg. But with the arrival of spring, and the return of a familiar face, this year’s golf season begins anew. Now let’s see what he can do with two good legs. As a testament to the man’s talent as much as his tenacity, the chances are his performance won’t be much different than what we’ve seen before the injury. And that is just what sets him apart as a larger-than-life athlete in his prime. Even with eight months off, Tiger is still Tiger. And he’s as good as new.

Elton John & Billy Joel Come ‘Face 2 Face’ with the St. Pete Times Forum

Having grown up listening to the classic rock and roll music of Elton John and Billy Joel, I was thrilled to learn my mother had bought my sister and me tickets to their concert as a Christmas present last year. The two would be appearing at the St. Pete Times Forum on March 5th as part of their “Face 2 Face” tour, a new twist on your average concert.

 

Rather than having one performer warm up the crowd for the other, both stars took the stage, rising from underneath it to the roar of an excited audience, sitting at pianos that faced each other.

 

The concert, which started at 7:30 p.m. and lasted until almost 11 p.m., offered the audience a rare chance to watch as both performers played each other’s songs, accompanying one other on the piano while harmonizing along with other hits they’d made through the years.

 

Most of the audience was made up of middle aged and older folks although there were some twenty and thirty-somethings scattered throughout the crowd. In the section we sat in, my sister and I were easily the youngest people there. Nevertheless people of all ages came to enjoy the performance.

 

For the first half hour or so, John and Joel alternated song styles, for instance, they’d both sing one of John’s songs, followed by one of Joel’s. It was a rare treat to hear both of them sing “My Life,” an old Joel classic, and to see them harmonize “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” written by John.

 

After about an hour of duets, the lights went out and the audience was plunged into total darkness, aside from the thousands of camera flashes spotted throughout the arena.

 

When the lights came back on, we could see John perched at his piano, ready to rock and roll, wearing a black jacket with bright pink and green flowers and the words “Music Power” stitched onto the back across his shoulder blades.

 

John entertained the audience for about an hour, playing hit after hit, inviting the crowd to sing along to the songs they knew. Between almost every number, John stood up, bowed at the waist and thanked the audience for their applause.

 

After each song, people in the rows around me tried to guess which song he’d sing next, and no matter which song followed, they grew more and more excited, singing along with every last word.

 

Soon it was Joel’s turn to take the stage, and the lights were dimmed once again as John took his bow, collected a bouquet of roses from someone in the audience and left the stage. The section behind me started chanting “Billy! Billy! Billy!” as the crowd prepared itself for Joel’s energetic show.

 

Joel, although about the same age as John, filled the room with so much excitement and enthusiasm it was like he was a twenty-year-old again performing for the first time. He talked to the audience like we were all friends, and introduced every member of his band in between songs, making sure everyone in the building was having the time of their lives.

 

“I have the greatest job in the world,” Joel told the audience, saying how lucky he was to have not only a job in these tough economic times, but a job that he’s always loved to do.

 

As Joel sings in one of his songs, “I am the entertainer.” That was one of the main differences that I noticed between John and Joel as the night went on: John seemed more serious about his music, thanking the audience over and over and playing his heart out.

 

Joel, on the other hand, kept audience members tapping their feet, singing at the top of their lungs and dancing in their chairs. Barely able to contain his excitement, Joel even jumped to his feet to dance at his piano for some songs. He involved the audience in his songs, even making his piano rotate so no one in the crowd would have his back to them.

 

After about an hour, Joel exited the stage, taking a bow and thanking the audience repeatedly. The stage once again went dark as audience members yelled for more.

 

For the last half hour of the show, John and Joel took the stage once again in their face to face pianos, taking turns singing each other’s music and providing piano and harmony for their best hits. John re-emerged, this time wearing a black jacket with bright orange, pink and green palm trees and “Island Girl,” one of his songs, written across his back in big bold letters.

 

At one point, John asked if there were any birthdays in the crowd, and he and Joel treated the audience to “Birthday,” a song by The Beatles, following it up with “Back in the U.S.S. R.,” another Beatles hit. They then finished off the show by singing John’s classic, “Norma Jean,” and Joel’s debut hit, “Piano Man.”

 

By the end of the show, Joel seemed exhausted, losing his breath for parts of “Piano Man,” missing cues and going blank on a line of “Benny and the Jets,” all of which John smoothly covered up, leaving only the true blue fans in the room with a hint that something had gone awry.

 

Both John and Joel had trouble reaching some of the notes they once were able to hit, and encouraged the audience to sing the tough spots for them. In John’s “Crocodile Rock,” he had the audience fill in the “la la la la la’s” and when we knew Joel was tired from playing the harmonica and singing, we gladly chimed in with the chorus to “Piano Man.”

 

All in all, it was a great night and the energy in the room was palpable as audience members kept humming and singing the songs we’d just heard as we walked down the steps and out of the Forum. This concert was terrific and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys classic rock and roll or anyone who just wants to have a great time.