Bruins, Badgers Beat Ravens: The Streak Bites

The sun has (barely) risen today, and there are no signs of earthquakes in the Ottawa valley, but a rumble has sounded over the broad horizons of homegrown university basketball…
Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout,
But there is no joy in Bytown – mighty Carleton has streaked out.
     (with apologies to Mr. Thayer, Mr. Casey, and his Bat)

Yes, friends and neighbours, The Streak is over, and the Mighty Ravens have lost a game that counted in the standings. They were bushwhacked 69-67 on the road by the Brock Badgers.

(A note on alliterative naming: when you are a young university, with no hoary traditions that require your teams to be called the Fighting Blue Hens or the Banana Slugs – and I’m not making those up – a predisposition to cutesy alliterations like Brock Badgers suggests lousy luck, crazy karma, stilted style and inadequate imagination. Isaac Brock was a British general, people! Couldn’t we come up with something vaguely related to the school’s namesake? Or its history or geography? Are Badgers even native to the Niagara peninsula?! I desist.)

But the Badgers and their Tiny Perfect Pointguard, Brad Rootes, got it done. With Rootes and a dominant big man, Kevin Stienstra, Brock has two elements that this year’s Ravens don’t, which has made the continuance of their 87-game winning streak in regular- and post-season play all the more incredible. It also looks like they’ll lose their hold on first place in the Ontario Universities East conference for the first time since the millennium, or thereabouts.

There’s more than a hardworking Rodent Road-killer at play here, though. There’s no doubt about it: the Ravens’ wings were actually clipped by Walton Gang Karma. Even though a couple of pre-season losses to Canadian and American teams — including the fabled Bruins themselves at Pauley Pavilion this year — had always placed an asterisk beside The Streak, 87 straight counters and three straight national titles make for a potent resumé. Still, the gods of basketball, at the certain behest of Bill Walton, Jamaal Wilkes and Greg Lee and the rest of the early-70s UCLA Bruins, had decreed that the Ravens Must Die. Those John Wooden-coached teams, with their astounding (asterisk-free) run of 88 games, remain on the top of the college basketball heap. Not that the Ravens ever tried to pass themselves off as sharing the same level as UCLA – for all their domestic greatness, they would be at best a marginal NCAA D-1 team that could hang tough only in the weakest of conferences – but a tiny stir of anxiety in the hoops pantheon has been safely squashed.

But listen: the Ravens rock anyhow. They may be relieved, after all, and Coach Dave will surely have their attention now, if focus was missing. (And I doubt that it was.) At least they didn’t lose to the cross-town Ottawa Gee-Gees, who come to the Ravens’ Nest soon. (Gee-Gees. Gee-Gees? But no, no more rants on team names. Not today.) I’m sure some of the joylessness of Bytown hangs over the Ottawa gym, where they thought they’d be the giant-killers. Still, the lead dog in Canadian basketball has stumbled, and the pack is restless. Should be fun to watch from here.

The Streak Continues

And now it’s 85 in a row for the Ravens. Carleton beat the York University Lions tonight, and their ridiculous romp through all comers is approaching the 88 of the immortal UCLA Bruins teams of Bill Walton, Marques Johnson, Greg Lee and The Coach, John Wooden. (The caveat, which Carleton generally remembers to mention, is that they count (only) regular season and post-season games they’ve won on their way to the last three Canadian University titles. St. Francis Xavier got ‘em in a preseason tourney this year, as the University of British Columbia did last year. And they don’t count their swings against American powers, where this year they played and lost fairly respectably at the legendary Pauley Pavilion of those UCLA Bruins. Glad we got that straight.)

I used to coach at summer camps with Carleton’s head man, Dave Smart, before he embarked on his astounding and still fairly young career. It’s as easy to admire and respect the Ravens as it must be difficult to play for such an unrelenting and insistent coach. He is focused, and so are his teams.