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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Arizona fans never stop

Kyle Hansen

Arizona fans cheer toward the end of Arizona’s 70-64 win against UCLA in the semifinals of the 2015 Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament in Las Vegas, Nev., on March 13. Arizona fans have traveled in droves to see the Wildcats for both the Pac-12 tournament and NCAA Tournament play.

The 1980 film  “Field of Dreams” featured the famous line, “If you build it, he will come,” and something similar applies to college basketball. If you schedule Arizona, they will come.

Having been blessed enough to travel to El Paso, Texas, Las Vegas, Nev., twice, Tempe, Salt Lake City, Utah, Portland, Ore., and the Pac-12 Conference tournament and NCAA Tournament, I can tell you that Arizona men’s basketball fans certainly travel well.

CBS Sports analyst Doug Gottlieb puzzled many on Selection Sunday when he said Arizona playing in the second and third rounds in Portland, Ore., was a “virtual home game.”

Those who are well versed in the ways of geography (or know how to use Google Maps) know that Portland is almost 1,500 miles from Tucson and about a 22-hour drive. Of course, people on Twitter joked about it, but the funny thing is, Gottlieb was right.

Although Eastern Washington and Utah are closer to Portland, and the Utes were making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2009, Arizona fans outnumbered everyone in the Moda Center and in Portland.

Even outside of the Northwest, Arizona dominated the old Rose Garden. On Saturday, the Moda Center’s Twitter account asked, “Which red team do you think will win?,” and Arizona got about five times as many votes as Ohio State.

This came a week after Arizona fans flooded Las Vegas for the Pac-12 tournament.

Since ASU can’t fill it on its own, its gym, Wells Fargo Arena, has long been known as “McKale North.”

However, there was a much higher percentage of Arizona fans in the MGM Grand Garden Arena than Wells Fargo Arena in the last two years. UA supporters were all over Sin City.

A Las Vegas entertainer asked where I was from and then said, “Wow, there’s been a lot of people from Arizona. Is something going on or something?”

UA fans are also opportunistic and savvy, buying up tickets from supporters of teams that lost. Their presence increased more and more each game, especially for the Pac-12 tournament Championship Game, an 80-52 Wildcat win over second-seeded Oregon.

“Great environment for Arizona, tough environment for us,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said after the game.

The Wildcats went undefeated in McKale Center the last two seasons and have won 38 straight homes games. Then, the UA went 3-0 in Las Vegas with considerable support this season, begging the question: Should those wins be added to the home winning streak?

“We have one of the great home courts in the country, and they made Vegas our home court here for three days,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said after the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Arizona so thoroughly took over Las Vegas, there were signs that said “McKale North” and “McKale Northwest.” But based on location, and with so many people, wasn’t Portland more like “McKale Northwest?”

It should probably be simplified. How about calling the MGM Grand Garden Arena “McKale March” and whatever stadiums Arizona fans invade “McKale (city names)?”

However, to channel another movie, “There’s no place like home.” While Arizona fans were plentiful in Las Vegas (at UNLV, too) and Portland, and had surprisingly good representation at UTEP and Utah, they weren’t quite up to par with the McKale Center faithful.

The fans at the Pac-12 tournament and the Big Dance, especially in Portland, were more reactionary: cheering for good plays but generally being quiet before them.

McKale Center enthusiasts will sense the Wildcats need a little boost when an opponent goes on a run, something that’s been mostly absent the last couple of weeks.

Thankfully for Arizona fans, they have another chance this weekend to recapture the McKale Center magic. Wisconsin, North Carolina and Xavier aren’t in reasonable driving distance to Hollywood. So, let’s see if Arizona fans can make the Staples Center “McKale LA.”


Follow James Kelley on Twitter.

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