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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Laying out the red carpet at McKale

    Ryan Caseyassistant sports editor
    Ryan Casey
    assistant sports editor

    Casey at the Pen

    There was so much red carpet in McKale Center over the weekend, it wouldn’t have come as much of a surprise if Natalie Portman and Keira Knightley had walked around the corner.

    No, the McKale-hosted first and second rounds of the women’s NCAA Tournament weren’t that star-studded, but it could be argued that the six games Saturday and yesterday – and the down time in between – were worthy of an Oscar nomination for all their little nuances.

    To say the least, security surrounding the tournament was … elevated. The guard-every-time-you-turn-around type of elevated. And it wasn’t just the six teams’ apparel that was uniform. From the red carpet in the hallways under the stands to the 17 seats on either bench to the little Dasani cups on press row, there were codes that had to be followed. A code of codes, if you will.

    So 11 a.m. on Saturday morning rolled around. The women of No. 5 seed Utah and No. 12 seed Middle Tennessee State were ready to tip, and thus begin their respective postseason journeys in the 25th anniversary of the women’s NCAA Tournament, but I’d only been awake for 45 minutes.

    About 10 minutes into the game, I got the impression that I wasn’t alone in that department, as the Blue Raiders (I know, they get my vote for the coolest nickname in all of Division I too) looked like they just woke up too, digging themselves an early 19-13 hole that gradually expanded to 10 points at 31-21 with 4:33 to play.

    “”Oh man, here comes a blow out.”” No one said it, but everyone was thinking it. Well, everyone but the Blue Raiders themselves.

    Middle Tennessee State went on a 24-5 tear to finish the first half and begin the second, pushing their lead to as much as 15 points at one point before Utah began to storm back into the game, seemingly fed up with the idea of being upset by these Blue Raiders.

    “”It’s not about losing,”” Utah head coach Elaine Elliot would say after the game of her team’s motivation for their comeback. “”It’s about fighting back, and they did it in an awesome way.””

    That comeback – in the form of a 34-14 run to close the game – would seal the victory for Elliot’s Utes, 76-71. Now it was up to the No. 4 seed Sun Devils of ASU and No. 13 seed Stephen F. Austin to duke it out for the right to take on the Utes in yesterday’s second round.

    Put simply, ASU smoked Stephen F. Austin, 80-61. There really isn’t much more to say, other than that for a period of about two hours, McKale’s stands became a living mustard ASU yellow color for the first time in their history.

    And, oh yeah, their head coach, Charli Turner Thorne, gave all the usuals during her post-game press conference: “”Our hats are off to Stephen F. Austin. … The biggest thing is that this was a great team effort. … They’re (Utah, the Sun Devils’ upcoming opponent) a very good team.””

    Walking back under McKale toward the court after ASU’s press conference (on the red carpet, of course – with flash bulbs popping), I headed for the fridge that held dozens of drinks, from Powerade to Coke to (gasp!) Dasani water bottles, where a sign (I’m not sure which one exactly, there were three of them plastered nearby) caught my eye: “”Please Pour Your Drinks into a Dasani Cup.””

    I recalled a conversation I had had last week with Arizona women’s basketball information director Hope Nsiah-Kumi, who was serving as the media coordinator for the tournament: No drinks could been seen on press row that were not in a Dasani cup. Someone literally had the job of monitoring whether or not the press row patrons were complying with that rule.

    As Arizona is a Pepsi school (meaning Pepsi products are served at sporting events), all logos in McKale Center that made reference to that fact had to be covered. Why? The tournament is sponsored by Coke, of course. (For those of you who don’t know, Dasani – which is bottled by Coca-Cola – is the official water sponsor of the NCAA, hence the cup rule.)

    In between the first and second sessions on day one of the women’s tournament at McKale, a series of videos graced the CatVision screen. My personal favorite? It had to be Pontiac’s, which claimed itself as an “”NCAA Corporate Champion.””

    Hey, at least the NCAA admitted it’s gone corporate. It was about time they stopped hiding behind that “”amateur”” shield of theirs and sold out like the rest of the sports world. I can’t wait to see Red Bull New York play – I wonder if Gatorade will be banned on their bench?

    (As a side note, while the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders may have taken home the title of most impressive nickname, the New Mexico Lobos definitely scored the award for most energetic fans. Toward the end of Baylor’s blowout of NAU, a few sections already filled with Lobo red broke out into “”Lo-bos! Lo-bos!”” chants. This was during another game that had entirely nothing to do with their Lobos. Now that’s fan support.)

    After an off day Sunday, the four teams of victorious women returned to action last night, with the early game bringing arguably the best atmosphere over the two days of games. If New Mexico’s fans were the most energetic, Baylor’s were the loudest, and when combined, the two sets of fan bases assembled made for an exciting environment.

    The final game of the first two rounds at McKale Center between ASU and Utah – while both brought a fair number of fans – failed to match the intensity of the first game, with the Utes taking down the Sun Devils 86-65.

    And, yes, yesterday I was again forced to pour my poor Powerade into a Dasani cup while walking along the red carpet to Lute and Bobbi Olson Court while listening to Pontiac ads.

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