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NCAA Tournament experience: San Jose

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Photo by Brian Gates
It’s 1,047 miles from Albuquerque to San Jose, a long way from the comforts of The Pit. Though the Lobos were able to amass the most wins in school history, Washington stood in the way of another New Mexico first: The Sweet Sixteen. Making a road trip to an NCAA Tournament game is not something to be lightly undertaken. Unlike the rest of the season, fans don’t know when and where their team will be playing until Selection Sunday, a week before the games. Then the mad scramble for transportation, hotel reservations and tickets begins for eight schools per site. Madness indeed.
3/19
12:00:
My brother and I head out on I-40, only 15 more hours to go…
2:00-9:00: NCAA games on Satellite radio, a little more exciting than the Arizona desert. Wofford gives Wisconsin trouble and New Mexico State beat Michigan State in every category except lame violations… I mean lane violations (funny how you find yourself rooting for your rivals in the tournament because it makes your own team look better if they win. It’s like hoping your ex ends up dating Brad Pitt or something). Also, P.J. Carlesimo announced some of the games with a never-ending phlegm in his voice. It was as if somebody had him at gunpoint and wouldn’t allow him to clear his throat. Or maybe it was a residual effect from the Latrell Sprewell choking incident.
3/20
4:00 a.m.:
We arrive in San Jose with no hotel reservation for the night, planning on it being close to dawn when we arrive anyway. The plan: find an IHOP and sleep in the parking lot for little while before heading in and drinking copious amounts of coffee. Found the IHOP (Google phones are invaluable on road trips) only to find the parking lot lined with cop cars. Assuming the police aren’t to keen on people sleeping in parking lots I drive past, desperate for a place to slumber. Planning on parking in the first decent place I can find in downtown San Jose I finally see it, a beacon to travel-weary Lobo fans: Hobson Street. The street turns out to be a dead end, perfect for a quick nap.
5:00 a.m.: Nap over. Once the copious amounts of coffee were consumed, we cruise the city and proceed to drink more coffee.
11:00: The doors to the HP Pavilion open and we find our seats in preparation for Butler vs. Murray State.

Photo by Brian Gates
12:20: Tipoff. A slow start for both teams reminds us how little sleep we had and forced us to pay $5 for a Mountain Dew. Ludicrous. By the end of the first half both teams start to kick it up a notch. Murray State by four at the half, could this be the next George Mason? The Racers have a balanced attack with five different players scoring between 10-11 points per game. After a fantastic second half, the game ends on a turnover with Butler in the lead.
2:00: The stadium really starts to fill up, purple in one corner, red in the opposite corner. Lobo fans begin the chants “Go Lobos!” Before Washington fans come in with theirs. “Let’s go Huskies!” “They are saying ‘let’s go’ because they are intimidated by us,” my brother quips.
2:20: Tipoff. Both teams came out on fire, trading baskets in the first couple of minutes. But New Mexico was extinguished while Washington continued to burn the nets with hot shooting. Huskies build their lead to 12 at the half, much to New Mexico fans chagrin. My brother optimistically reminds me that the Lobos came back from a similar halftime deficit against Creighton earlier in the year. I pessimistically retort “Yeah, but that was in The Pit.”
3:00: The Lobos tend to make a strong run to start the second half, especially if they are behind. Washington, however, wasn’t going to let that happen. The Huskies played the game of a lifetime; shooting 47% from behind the arc and having a 21-5 assist to turnover ratio. Dairese Gary was relentless, keep the Lobos from being blown out even worse.     

Ap Paul Sakuma

 3:30: Fans are no longer in their seats, but at the top rows of each aisle peaking at the televisions in the luxury boxes to catch the end of the Kansas-Northern Iowa matchup. By this point Washington’s lead is insurmountable and half the stadium is enthralled with the bracket implications of a 9-seed possibly defeating a 1-seed. Loud cheers echo across the stadium from those watching on television while the ball is in play on the court in the HP Pavilion, confusing players and media. I am pretty sure it actually caused a turnover once. Not even kidding.

4:20: Final: 82-64 Washington. Topic of discussion: next year’s Lobo squad. Almost the entire team will be returning next year with a great freshman class and some key transfers. Darington Hobson’s draft stock falls, and will be better off waiting for the NBA, while Roman Martinez ends his lobo career with a busted eye while donning a #41 jersey. Oh well, I guess it’s better than the NIT.
 

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