Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Observations from a night at the Fieldhouse

517. That's the number of times, by my calculations, that I have walked, prior to last night, into Allen Fieldhouse on the campus of the University of Kansas in Lawrence with a ticket in hand to see a Kansas Jayhawks basketball game. My visits began as a child, hand-in-hand with my parents, and have evolved to seeing games there as a student, an alum, a parent and always as a rabid fan.

So, it was visit 518 last night for the annual showdown with the University of Missouri. As has been recounted in sports media outlets locally, regionally and nationally, this rivalry is one of the nation's fiercest. And, while the rivalry has lost a bit of the edge generated by Missouri coach Norm Stewart's passionate dislike for all things Kansas, the games always come with an energy in the building that is rarely matched during the season.

Here then are some observations, from Section 10 of the Fieldhouse, on last night's ESPN Big Monday contest:

- I've made the comment several times, "I've never heard it louder than the (fill in the blank) game." The beginning of last night's game was, I believe, the loudest opening I've heard at Allen Fieldhouse in many years. (For the record, my belief is that the sustained volume for the KU-Texas game in 2003--the "Nick Collison game"--was the loudest game of the post-1990 era.)

- To MU Coach Mike Anderson's credit, his Tigers weren't scared of Kansas' opening video and stayed on the court during the opening pageantry prior to tip-off. Anderson handled it the right way--drawing his team in tight for instructions while Kansas played its video and introduced its starting five. Take a lesson, Scott Drew.

- Eddie Money as the singer of the National Anthem? How random...and the dude looked more than a bit weathered.

- Even more random was the plate-spinning gal at halftime. She was straight out of "America's Got Talent," or some other television reality show.

- The good--Kansas' star of the game, Cole Aldrich. Aldrich played his best game since last year's first round game in the NCAA Tournament versus North Dakota State. He rebounded, blocked shots (he seemed to have more than the box score stat of seven), altered shots and, for good measure, scored 12 points. Aldrich was dangerously close to a unique triple-double--the 12 points combined with 16 boards and what seemed like more than seven blocks.

- Kansas' bench player of the game: Tyrell Reed. Reed hit all four of his three point attempts, continued to play solid defense and handled MU's pressure (only one turnover.)

- Kansas' glue guy: Brady Morningstar. Let's face it--Kansas is better right now with B-Star starting versus Tyshawn Taylor. Morningstar is KU's best defender and may be its smartest, basketball IQ, player. He consistently attacked the press and had five assists, including a couple of nifty passes.

- Missouri's star of the game: Justin Safford had 19 points although it was on 5 of 15 shooting. Safford went 8 of 10 from the free throw line and was MU's leading rebounder, with 7, on a night when they got outrebounded 53 to 28.

- The bad: Missouri's inside presence. And, yeah, you're right, this isn't a "bad"--it's a "non-existent."

- The ugly: The referees. No, not their physical appearance but the way they assisted in sucking any life and flow out of the game in the second half. This ref crew apparently determined at halftime that they were going to call the game tighter in the second half--and it showed. The half was only about six minutes old and already 14 fouls had been called.

- The funny: The elderly Kansas fan jawing with the youngish MU fan behind him and pointing out the 13 Final Four banners. I'll let you guess as to the crux of that "discussion."

- The angry: The man, a few rows behind us, who was in such a rage at the officials that I would have been concerned for their safety, had he not been eight rows from the top of the building.

- The best: Win number 54 in a row for Kansas in a building which, even on visit 518, still managed to be the setting for one of the best fan experiences in sports. The beauty of this venerable building is that those who attend want to be there and go there, not for comfort, but for a love of their team and the wonderful sport of college basketball. The experience isn't the seats which are too small and too tight, the lack of suites, the lack of video boards and other creature comforts. No, the experience is the game, the players, the tradition and the pride of a court which bears the name of the game's founder, and a building named after the father of basketball coaching.

The love affair with Kansas basketball continues--for visit 518 and for the 16,299 friends who were there to experience it with me.

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