TUCSON, Ariz. – The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament stormed through the small town of Tucson with flair, memories and a showcase of eight of the best teams in college hoops. The talent was on in full force and I was witness to some great action.
The action was elevated in part due to the close proximity of the teams to Tucson; nearly every team carried a large fan base. Teams from Colorado, Utah, San Diego, Kansas and Wisconsin had their fans show up en masse to the games. Unfortunately for Temple and Penn State, they had to travel across the country and did not have the same home court advantage as the others.
In the exciting action on Thursday, we all witnessed Juan Fernandez of Temple send his team to the second round with a leaning game winner. They would go on to play San Diego State University in the next round after the Aztecs dispatched Northern Colorado with relative ease. Temple seemed to have a feel for the drama as they fought SDSU in a double-overtime thriller that saw them come up on the short end. SDSU’s Kawhi Leonard and Malcolm Thomas came together for a steal down the stretch that was punctuated with a Leonard slam to end the game.
In the other bracket the drama was minimal as Wisconsin and Kansas State finished their opponents to create an epic encounter of two of the best programs over the last five years. Wisconsin and Kansas State lived up to their billing as the two pre-season Top 15 teams battled neck-and-neck throughout the first half. The second half was just as contested, but had a different group of characters step-up. Kansas State really rode Jacob Pullen (38 points) and fought hard, but Wisconsin ended up with the win behind clutch plays from Jordan Taylor (big block), Jon Leuer (free-throws) and Mike Bruesewitz (tie-breaking three) that led them to the victory.
All-in-all it was a successful run for the University of Arizona.They hosted six games of high quality basketball. They pulled it off and created an atmosphere where all teams were welcome and the fans left with a memorable experience. Good luck to Wisconsin and San Diego State in the Sweet 16 via Tucson.
On Thursday, Lute Olson paid a visit to McKale and drew a very warm crowd reception. Also on Thursday, Tucson gave Arizona native Ryan Evans, who plays for Wisconsin, a great homecoming and eventual win. Good thing for Evans his journey continues as his team plays Butler in New Orleans in the Sweet 16.
Behind the scenes was all the work that you never see or hear of that really makes these games tick. From the security, venders, volunteers, ushers, technicians, media members, clean-up crew and beyond, these people were what made this event soar with flying colors. Without them this would have been a steaming mess resulting in bad opinions of Tucson.
The games were the marquee that is why I came and what I am here to talk about. But crediting these fine workers with the great job they have done needs to be done. My hat is off to you, everyone who made this a great, clean and hospitable NCAA Tournament.