And Then There Were Two
Apparently, The Road Ends Here. Or so the million some odd banners currently draping this town would have you believe.
The road ends here.
If San Antonio hasn't been in full out Mardi Gras mode these last few days (and really, it has) then today, it became official. From about noon right on to tip time, the streets were teeming with people, the bars were overflowing, and the hilariously disgusting karaoke that these people seem to love was already in full swing on a warm and sunny Texas afternoon. For a block leading up to the Alamodome the road was blocked off, the giant black-metal smokers were doing their thing on great heaps of barbecue, live bands were blasting, and fans from four different corners of the country were pouring into the scene a full five hours early.
If there's a city well-suited to host this jamboree, I think we're in it. Out on the sidewalks, some friendly back and forth between the different camps quickly fades beneath the party atmosphere. Maybe it's the beer that flows like wine here, or the soft touch of the high sun, but we saw more cross-camp high fives and bear hugs here than on any of the road trip's previous stops. No matter what you hear from the players and the coaches, for your average man and woman on the street, its pretty clear that everyone's simply happy to be here.
Inside the dome, it's not much different. The media room is packed still two hours out. A member from maybe every publication in the nation, recognizable or not, is busy holding forth over a Texas-sized spread. More bear hugs. More high fives. More flashing of the pearly whites. The party continues.
Penny Hardaway in town to get down for alma mater Memphis.
Of the four cities who came here to get down this weekend, and maybe watch a little basketball, those folks from Tennessee are the ones who travel with vigor. The UNC crowd, as we've grown accustomed to, is more the wine and cheese set. The UCLAers, a little harder to find than the others, seem to be the flip-flopping, laid-backing, cooler-if-you-did kind. Kansans, to their credit here in force, tend towards stoicism, the hardcore if also somehow reserved fanaticism, that perhaps comes with the territory of a long Kansas winter. And Memphis. Well. Memphis brought Beale Street with them. The blue and white pompons, the flashing blue lights, the shades, the face paint, the lack of due restraint...it's all got the mark of the Tiger this week.
It's interesting who shows up and who doesn't. Sometimes there's just no rhyme or reason to it. Arguably the most storied program to make the final weekend, UCLA, represents perhaps the least rabid fan base. And the relative newcomers, the party crashers, the Memphis Tigers fans are here in numbers, with loudness. I don't know that I would have predicted this scene, so heavily dominated as it seems by the Jayhawk and the Tiger faithful, but it's unmistakably turned out this way.
Inside the arena, the biggest bursts of noise, the most aggressive bands, the rawest emotions belong to those two schools. Small wonder that it spilled over onto the court as well.
Memphis gets their energy levels fixed to level 11.
There was one thing Jake and I were agreed on coming into today's action: the UCLA vs. UNC national championship was going to be great. But it's a funny thing about college basketball, it's a funny thing when kids lace up the sneaks and hit the hard court: you never can tell who's going to show up and who might not. Both Memphis and Kansas jumped out early in their games. Watching it happen, you could see the difference almost immediately. From the starting five to the head coach and right on down, Memphis and Kansas were two self-fashioned underdog teams that truly believed they could make this happen. Both teams rocked the opening five minutes of their respective games with a chip on their shoulders, a heavy dose of confidence, and some fast, high flying, high scoring action.
Kansas committed thirteen personal fouls in the first half of their game. UNC had five. Normally, you'd think that might be a bad thing. Not tonight. Tonight, it was a measure of how hard the Jayhawks were set on taking it to the bigger, stronger, and favored Tar Heels. In the Memphis game, everyone will be writing about Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts, two guys that seem to be reliable combining for fifty every time out. But the story for me was Joey Dorsey. With the Joey for Mayor t-shirts out, the Mr. Dorsey signs hanging all around the stands, and the pre-game talk that as Joey goes, so go the Memphis Tigers, there was more than a little bit of pressure on the twenty four year old senior from Baltimore. And this is what he did: 0 points. But in 27 minutes of play, he was everywhere. He notably frustrated Kevin Love. He grabbed 15 rebounds, 6 of them off the offensive glass. And he had two monster blocks that brought the Alamodome to its feet.
Rock Chalk Jayhawk: the only ones not surprised by this outcome?
The entire state of Kansas.
Tonight, the folks from Tennessee and the folks from Lawrence, Kansas showed up big in San Antonio. Their kids followed suit. As reward, they'll play for everything on Monday night. I've got a prediction: Memphis wins. Watching these fans get whipped up, hearing the rowdy southern accents late night on the river walk, and witnessing Joey Dorsey clear out the lane and snatch another clutch lose ball, what can I say: I'm a convert. Unfortunately for Memphis, I haven't predicted anything right since February.