I haven't been to a Kansas game since I finished school there. In fact, one of my great regrets, looking back in my time in Lawrence and Kansas City is that I never went to the Big XII tournament. So I was thrilled that I had a chance to head up to Arlington to see the game on Friday night, despite the outcome.
I had some vague hope when the bracket was announced as I said to myself "well, Houston to Arlington isn't that far away". But if it had been Thursday, there's no way I could have gone. And if Kansas had lost the opening weekend, well, you know this team and we all admitted there was a chance of that. Really, the second weekend is also ideal. The first weekend is just wall to wall basketball so I wouldn't want to limit myself to the games in just one location.
So, once the Jayhawks had dispatched with the Tar Heels last weekend, a friend and I, both KU graduates, finalized plans to go see the games on Friday night.
Here's a nice intro shot to Jerry's football pleasure palace. Yes, the screen is bigger than the court. I kindof wish I had grabbed a picture of the exterior to start but this will work. I got there a few minutes before the gates opened at 5 and wandered around. They didn't open up the Cowboys pro shops but just set up makeshift souvenir stands so the lines were long. I think they only had about a third of the staff they had there for Cowboys games.
I thought the juxtaposition of the different "motivational squads" for each team made a good picture. I'm not sure what I expected but there wasn't much pageantry for being an NCAA tournament game. There were the standard bands and cheerleading squad, standard player introductions, and the game was pretty much the same. Considering how many Big Monday or other nationally televised tv games we have, I'm used to the slow pace with all the tv timeouts. They even had some commercials shown on the giant screen tho they also had the standard stadium fare like trivia. As an aside, "Hail to the Victors" is a great fight song.
Speaking of time outs, I didn't really get many game shots for the first game and most didn't turn out. We were up in the 300 level so I was maxing out my zoom to get a lot of these pictures, which can make for shaky action shots. Frankly, I was more interested in what was going on down on the court. I hate to say it, but it's a lot easier to take pictures at a baseball game.
This was the tipoff for overtime. Obviously a lot happened before that. I hate to say I called this one, but I leaned over to my friend when we had a 14 point lead with 7 to play and said "you know how this goes: it's going to be a 4 point lead with 4 minutes left after we try to milk the clock and bog down the offense". The prediction was right but the timing slightly off: it took about 2 minutes longer than that but it came true. It's just how the game was flowing: we were in foul trouble so we were going to dial back on defense and the refs tend to let a team down by 10+ get away with more on defense and under the hoop. The Kansas crowd could sense it and it was more cautiously optimistic than excited about the 14 point lead. We've talked about this before: you don't really get to celebrate the wins all that much with high expectations. There is relief when you win and apprehension about losing but there is rarely joy as that typically requires unexpectedly winning.
The crowd noise on the shot by Trey Burke was amazing. There was this collective gasp by the Jayhawk faithful and whoosh-cheer from the Wolverine fans. Kansas fans outnumbered Michigan fans but, to their credit, the Michigan fans were louder all throughout overtime, even tho it was close to the final buzzer. It stunk to blow that lead but it took a crazy shot from one of the best players in college basketball to tie the game. Some nights, you're just not meant to win.
There's the last shot of a lot of our guys. Our whole starting 5 for this year are gone and that leaves only Perry Ellis, Naadir Tharpe, and Jamari Traylor from the rotation for next year. But I guess you already know that. It would have been special to win something this year with a senior team that isn't super-NBA talented. McLemore is a certain lottery pick and he played like it on Friday, even with the foul trouble. Hard for me to guess his ceiling as he has holes in his game but is so fast and skilled and still very young. Withey looks like he might have an Ostertag-like career: bouncing around as a backup center in the NBA who starts for a couple of his best years. But I don't see the NBA in the future for any of other guys leaving. Ellis will probably be there in 2 or 3 years but that's about it from our rotation.
It was disappointing to lose as we did. First to lose a game with that kind of lead is worse than just getting blown out to start. Secondly, to lose on that shot in OT. Well, as I explained to the vendor who asked why KU didn't just go for the tie, I had to sadly say "that's just EJ being EJ". That said, I'll miss this class. So, godspeed Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford, Kevin Young, Jeff Withey, and Ben McLemore.
And there's your final score. Frankly, the Michigan fans were a little more obnoxious than I expected but, oh well. I would chat with anyone around me in a friendly "non-partisan way" as that's just who I am but most of the game, but many of them just sat there sullenly. Then, after they made the comeback and won, there was just a lot of "we hate Kansas" and "you guys suck". Not like the Florida fans (a little more on that later) but I was just a little disappointed in them. Oh well.
After that, we went to go grab dinner, which was pricey but good. There was standard stadium food like hot dogs and pretzels but a majority of the seats that were perpendicular to the court were in club sections so they had fancier fare, too. I had BBQ brisket nachos for dinner but for more refined palettes, they had a vegetarian spicy black bean burger or sushi sampler or a roast turkey deli sandwich. Like a couple of NCAA events I had been to previously, most notably the Big Ten tournament last year, they served no alcohol.
This is easily my favorite action shot of the night. Fieler got called for the offensive foul on this but that should take nothing away from this ballerina pose. The Florida defender is already well on his way to the ground. The rest of the players are all looking at or running for the potential rebound, including Sherwood Brown's hair. Meanwhile, on the sideline, Donovan, a ref, and a sub all watch the play unfold.
We were kindof making good-natured Florida Gulf Coast jokes throughout the game: "And here's so-and-so; he's a tv-vcr repair major who joined the school three weeks ago". I think I laughed more than I cheered, especially early on when FGCU had built a pretty good lead. At that point, the crowd was very much a partisan FGCU crowd, probably 90% in their corner. Speaking of the crowd, it was probably 40% Kansas, 30% Michigan, 5% Florida (maybe), 5% FGCU student body, and about 20% locals who had Cowboys season tickets or friends who did, many of whom donned FGCU shirts.
They were new to this whole thing: "Five weeks ago, we were in our beach studies class and now we're a cheerleading squad". It really felt like a true underdog story where they had no business being there but they had legitimately won their way there and it was great to watch them. In this picture, I think the mascot was supposed to be doing something but was watching the cheerleader pyramid pensively. In short, Go Florida Gulf Coast!
This FGCU Cinderella got on screen quite a few times: it was a good costume. I was trying to get a picture of her as she was leaving after the game but she was steamed and saying something about classless Florida fans so I didn't trouble her. Shocking?!? Wait, no sarcasm font on the Fanposts? She seemed genuinely surprised by this and all I can say is "Sorry, guys: welcome to big time sports where there are a lot of jerks".
Another shot to remind you just how ridiculous the screen was. The total attendance was just over 40K. They had closed off large sections of the stadium which I presume will be open next year. This was their dress rehearsal for Final Four and I think they were a bit shortstaffed. It made it feel like, in some ways, they had never hosted a large even before as there were a lot of long lines even though you know a lot of this runs a lot more smoothly for an average Cowboys game when everyone is working.
I had mentioned before that all the club sections were open. Actually, a really large number of the seats were club seats as they kept open all the club seats, left some more "corner" standard sections, and then only a couple of levels of seats behind the backboards. And, on the whole, they were pretty comfy with nice foam cushions and reasonable width. I asked the frequent flying friend I was with if these were more or less comfortable than standard coach class airline seats and after about 5 hours in them (with some walking around mixed in), we both agreed that we'd rather be in these seats.
With about 2 minutes to go, after Brown clocked someone on Florida and they were doing the classic "was it a technical 1" review, we decided to head down to the lower level. We snuck past a busy staff member and got to the lower level and once we were down on the floor level with a minute to play, they let us take some pictures from down there. We were thinking of getting some tickets down here as they were the same price as up where we sat in the 300 level at midcourt. But, I decided I'd rather be higher up and at a perpendicular angle than lower down with a worse viewing angle.
All would probably have been much better in my mind if not for some "fun" with the secondary ticket market. I had originally ordered tickets in the 200 level on Razorgator on Sunday afternoon, after we had won against North Carolina. I received an email from them on Tuesday saying there was an issue with an order and to call in. Once I called, I found out the tickets I had selected and paid for were gone and I had a conversation for over a half hour, trying to get "equivalent" tickets. Unfortunately, by then, prices had already gone up more than $50 for equivalent seats and they could only offer me a discount of "what they paid for the seats" with fees waived. However, what they paid was still more than was listed and I would have had to pay another $50 per seat for tickets that weren't as good as I had picked out Sunday. They even tried a couple of replacement seats I thought would have been ok and called the dealer while I was on hold only to find out they had been sold. Ultimately, after exploring a few more options, I opted for a refund, in disgust, which, for the record, I still have not been credited.
I went with Razorgator instead of my usually reliable Stubhub because on Sunday, tickets were about $30 cheaper there and with some discount codes, I was saving $100 between two tickets. On Tuesday, I picked up some tickets in the 300 level for a few bucks less than the 200 level tickets were on Sunday as prices continued to rise. I got an email from Stubhub saying to call them on Wednesday and I was thinking "here I go again". However, it was just that the guy who was selling the tickets had ordered electronic tickets instead of paper ones and wanted to verify that was acceptable. And that just typifies the two experiences: with Stubhub, I feel that it's a lot of season ticket holders dumping tickets while Razorgator is more of a clearinghouse for ticket brokers with no real penalty for failing to deliver. Suffice to say, I won't use them again without a really good reason.
(To Editors: If we've gotta edit the above portion out, go for it. However, it was a significant portion of my weekend so I thought it important to be left in)
And here is the table at courtside where they figure out newer and more technologically advanced ways to fix games. Sorry, I thought FGCU got the short end of a lot of calls but that's not shocking. We reached a point in the second half where it felt like the 1/16 or 2/15 games in the first round where the high seed gets some serious home cooking and the refs just wanted to go home since it was getting towards midnight. We've seen Kansas be the beneficiary before so you all know what I'm talking about. Also, you can see Craig Sager giving a postgame interview to Billy Donovan and a Florida player in the background of the shot.
Speaking of Sager, I give him a lot of credit for this. After the interview was done, he came over to the table and then posed with some kids and even some college students, so they could get pictures that looked like him interviewing them. The crowd had really thinned out by then as it was getting late but he posed for pictures for at least 5 minutes until everyone had their picture. He looked tired and could have just gone to the "I have to pack up and get ready for Sunday" card but he was generous with his time.
And that's all folks. Would have really liked to see Kansas with a chance to cut those down on Sunday but it was not to be. Only about 6 months until Late Night.