Last night went downtown to the Energy Solutions Arena (home of the Utah Jazz) to watch NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 games with some buddies from high school. A year ago, one of them suggested we all put in for the lottery to buy tickets for this weekend's games that would be in Salt Lake. One of us was lucky enough to win an opportunity to buy, and then we all bought tickets from him. Who would have guessed it would turn out to be such an exciting set of games?
The first game (#1 Syracuse vs. #5 Butler) started just after 5, so I left work around 4 and figured it would take me a bit of time to find a parking spot and walk to the arena. However, as I was driving down by the stadium, I lucked into a spectacular free curbside parallel parking spot that I 8-point-turned my way into. Almost took a photo to capture the moment forever. Mr. Mohler, my drivers ed teacher, would have been so proud. I was literally half a block from the arena, right outside a pay lot that was charging $10 a car. In any case, I made it there with plenty of time to spare.
Which meant I got plenty of time to watch Syracuse and Butler warm up.
And also check out my surroundings. For instance, these Syracuse fans were on the row right in front of me:
And this old guy came and sat down right next to me:
We found out later he was in the wrong section, but he was definitely an interesting one. He had a scorebook where he was tracking the game, binoculars, and the radio you can see in the photo. When it turned out he was in one of our seats, he asked if he could please wait for a break in the action before moving, so that he wouldn't have to miss any of the game.
In addition to the interesting people, it was interesting to see the changes they made in the arena for the games. The most obvious was the entirely new floor that was brought in. However, in addition, all Jazz paraphernalia inside the actual arena (as opposed to the concourse area) was taken down or covered up. The division and conference championship banners were gone. Retired jersey, also gone. The plaques commemorating Stockton's assists and steals records were covered up. No "Bear Cave" or "Boozer's Buddies" banners. Nothing. The LED ring at midlevel, that usually shows ads during Jazz games only had some simple NCAA branding. I assume it's all part of what you agree to when you agree to host (and officially this event was hosted by the University of Utah, even though it wasn't in their home arena).
Anyway, then it was time for the National Anthem,
and then it was time to get things going.
Butler jumped out to a quick lead, leading by 10 or so for much of the first half, while getting 9 steals and keeping Syracuse from getting anything going. Butler didn't shoot so hot either and probably squandered chances to increase their lead. The half ended with Butler up 10. In the 2nd half, Syracuse battled back and made a game of things, taking the lead a couple times late.
I didn't take a lot of pictures during this game, but here one from early in the 2nd half.
In the end, Butler made some huge shots down the stretch, including an amazing 3-pointer that was in-and-out-and-way-up-on-the-backboard-and-in-again that pretty much sealed the deal. Final score: Butler 63, Syracuse 59. Down goes another top seed.
We then had 30 minutes until the start of the 2nd half of the night's doubleheader, #2 Kansas State against #6 Xavier.
This game started out looking like it was going to be a blowout. K-State jumped on Xavier early and was up 19-4 when I decided it would be a fantastic time to go find some Papa John's pizza for dinner.
*Tangent Alert*: At Energy Solutions Arena, among many other concessions, they sell personal-sized Papa John's pizza. And when you buy your pizza for $6.50, they also offer a choice of beverages, including sodas and bottled water, for $3.25 each. But if you want to go for the "Double Team" combo, you can get pizza and a soda for $8.75, saving yourself $1 over the cost of buying them separately. However, if you want pizza and a bottled water, it's still $9.75. Even though soda and bottled water sell for exactly the same price. ($3.25) You can only get the discount if you get a soda. What kind of madness is this? I ran into this at a Jazz game earlier this season and was equally stumped. I was hoping last night that I'd figure out a way to get around it. For instance, could I buy a pizza, soda, and water for $12, then decide I didn't want the soda and get $3.25 refunded? I feel like if the individual retail prices of soda and bottled water are identical there's got to be some way that I could get the $1 discount with bottled water instead of soda. So far, I'm at a loss. I'm sorry that I don't want to drink your Coke Zero, ESA.
Anyway, by the time I returned with my pizza and water, Xavier was starting to turn things around, and managed to close within 1 by halftime. The 2nd half turned out to be spectacularly thrilling, close all the way. Kansas State led most of the time but never by much, and Xavier just kept hanging around. I remembered to take more pictures this time around:
Of all the teams' fan groups, Kansas State's was the most boisterous, standing for long portions of the game, and doing some loud, coordinated cheers several times
Even early in the game, it became clear that Xavier's players were not afraid to chuck up 3-pointers from way outside the arc, and though many of them missed, if you take enough eventually some are going to drop.
Kansas State was not shy about throwing up the treys, either.
The two teams combined to shoot 47 3's. And make 20 of them. Which wasn't spectacular, but for teams that only managed 65% and 76% from the free throw line, it was pretty impressive.
Coming down the final stretch, Kansas State appeared to have the momentum and had a 3 point lead with 10 seconds left. But Xavier's Terrell Holloway managed to get fouled while shooting a 3 with 5 seconds left and then proceeded to make all 3 free throws to force overtime.
Overtime was a flurry of excitement with both teams scoring 15 points a piece in only 5 minutes of action. Both teams continued to toss up deep threes with reckless abandon and we were joking that Xavier's coach was telling his players to shoot from further out.
Again it looked like Kansas State might have it wrapped up, leading by 3 with 19 seconds to play. But then this happened:
Jordan Crawford (who you might remember hearing about from his dunk over LeBron last summer at a Nike camp) pulls up from 35 feet away (practically from the "We Support the Troops" ribbon) and drills a huge 3 to force double overtime. Ridiculous.
Well, the excitement had to end sometime, and in the end Kansas State pulled away (well compared to the rest of the night, a 5 point lead was pretty big), on more strong play from Pullen and Clemente.
All in all, it was a fantastic night. Saturday's game between Butler and Kansas State will be hard-pressed to provide an encore of equal excitement. But who knows?