Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Last night's Game 5 of the Phoenix-Portland NBA playoff series definitely was a game of spurts. As shown in this play-by-play sheet, the Trail Blazers blazed to a 14-2 lead, only to have the Suns go on a 12-0 run to tie the game at 25-25 with a minute remaining in the first quarter. Phoenix edged ahead over the next 19 minutes or so, taking a seven-point lead, 65-58, at roughly the six-minute mark in the third quarter. At that point, the Suns caught fire, outscoring the Blazers 26-10 in the span of roughly eight minutes to take a 23-point lead, 91-68, with around 10 minutes left in the game.

I've enjoyed Phoenix's uptempo style in recent years, a style that may be particularly conducive to scoring spurts. The Suns have always fallen short in the playoffs, however, and probably will again this year, although they lead Portland 3-2 in the current series. One thing Phoenix has done to improve, in my view, is to make use of younger players from its roster such as Jared Dudley (age 24) and Channing Frye (26), to complement aging stars Steve Nash (36) and Grant Hill (37).

Saturday, April 17, 2010

It's a bit belated, but I definitely want to comment on Phil Mickelson's victory in last weekend's Master's golf tournament, driven by his back-to-back eagles (making a hole in two shots below par) on Day 3. And Mickelson nearly eagled the next hole! According to an ESPN.com blog posting:

Lefty [Mickelson] became only the third player in Augusta National history to make back-to-back eagles -- and came within 6 inches of pulling off another one -- briefly stealing the lead from [Lee] Westwood with one of the most remarkable three-hole stretches Augusta has ever seen.

During Mickelson's remarkable third-round, he made the par-5 13th hole in 3 shots and the par-4 14th in 2. Aggregate statistics from this year's 13th hole, taking the third and fourth rounds combined (to restrict the sample to players who made the cut after the first two rounds), there were 6 eagles out of 96 player visits to the hole. It was the 14th that was really the stingy hole: Mickelson's Saturday eagle was the only one of the entire tournament.

Rather than try to estimate the statistical probability of Mickelson's feat, I would instead fall back on its historical rarity. The Masters tournament has been around since 1934 and, as noted above, back-to-back eagles have been achieved only three times. If one thinks of all the golfers who've participated in the tournament's 77 years and all the rounds and holes they've played, the number of opportunities for consecutive eagles would be astronomical.

In Mickelson's first Master's win (2004) of his three, he got five birdies (one under par) in the last seven holes. Although extensive research has shown a "hot hand" in golf to be elusive, Mickelson has seemed capable of one in at least some years' Masters.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The NHL's Boston Bruins found a hot scoring hand at an odd time this afternoon -- while outnumbered on the ice by the opposing team. As part of a 4-2 win over Carolina, Boston achieved the unpredented feat of scoring three shorthanded goals within the same penalty!

For readers who don't follow hockey closely -- or at all -- it is important to note that goals by a shorthanded team (that has lost a player due to penalty) are extremely rare. Given its precarious situation, a shorthanded team will usually be very defensive-minded, staying near the goal it is defending and hitting the puck to the other end of the rink (i.e., "icing the puck") to kill time and get a reprieve from the advantaged team's offensive attack (icing is not allowed when teams are at equal strength, but is permitted for a shorthanded team).

Statistics for the current season show that even the team with the most shorthanded goals in the league (as of April 9), the Chicago Blackhawks, don't have that many, 13 in 81 games. The Tampa Bay Lightning has scored only two shorthanded goals in 80 games. Thus, Boston today scored more shorthanded goals during a single two-minute penalty than Tampa Bay has scored all season!

As documented in the play-by-play sheet, the following sequence of events took place:

The Bruins' Matt Hunwick got a two-minute hooking penalty with 18 seconds remaining in the first period. Those 18 seconds expired uneventfully, sending the teams to the locker room for a break, but Boston still had to play short-handed with Hunwick in the penalty box for the first 1:42 of the second period (unless Carolina scored, in which case Boston, as the shorthanded team, would immediately be restored to its full complement of skaters).

When action resumed, however, it was Boston doing all the quick scoring, racking up goals with 0:32, 1:21, and 1:36 having elapsed in the second period. Ironically, it must have been Carolina, and not Boston, who was relieved when the Bruins' penalty ended!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

UConn Women End Season with 78th Straight Win

The University of Connecticut women exhibited streaky shooting early in their NCAA-championship encounter with Stanford tonight, but not the kind we're used to. UConn missed 16 straight field-goal attempts as part of a dreadful first half that saw the Huskies score only 12 points to Stanford's 20. Fortunately for UConn, it was able to turn things around at the start of the second half, outscoring the Cardinal 17-2. The second-half turnaround was enough to power the Huskies to a 53-47 win.

With the win, UConn has now won 78 consecutive games and the last two women's basketball national titles. The Huskies now need 10 more wins without a loss next season to tie the men's basketball record of 88 straight wins, by John Wooden's UCLA teams of the early 1970s. Connecticut will try to equal and surpass the UCLA men's record the right way, going against top-notch opposition. According to an article about the Huskies' run:

Stanford will be one of the major obstacles the Huskies will face during the non-conference portion of their 2010-11 schedule. They are tentatively slated to host No. 14 Baylor in the second game next season. They will host No. 6 Duke, No. 11 Florida State and No. 12 Oklahoma. They will travel to North Carolina State and meet Ohio State at the Maggie Dixon Classic in New York. That's three Final Four teams and two others that reached the Elite Eight this season.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

O-O-Oklahoma on the Baseball Diamond

University of Texas pitchers held University of Oklahoma batters scoreless for 21 consecutive innings this weekend. The Longhorns took the first two games of the series by scores of 5-0 and 2-0. UT then took the finale, 9-3, with OU not scoring until the fourth inning.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

The long, season-opening win streaks of the Arizona State and UCLA baseball teams, which were previously discussed here, both came to an end on Friday. ASU lost to Oregon in 12 innings, leaving the Sun Devils 24-1 on the season. Meanwhile, UCLA dropped an 8-4 decision to Stanford, so the Bruins are now 22-1.

It would have been neat if UCLA and ASU could have faced each other with both teams undefeated. Even if both teams had won yesterday, however, considering that the Bruins and Sun Devils don't play each other until a three-game series from April 30-May 2, it wouldn't seem realistic for both teams to go roughly another four weeks without a loss in the very competitive Pac 10 conference.