Monday, December 1, 2014

Jacksonville Dolphins 65 at USF Bulls 79 (NCAA Basketball) - November 29, 2014

In the old days when I lived in Japan, my sports road trips were planned months in advance and usually lasted at least a week if not two. You can't just fly halfway around the world on a moment's notice, at least not without some serious damage to your bank account, and if you do, you'll want to spend longer than a weekend. Now that I live in the States however, I can make spontaneous trips when a weekend opens up. The days after Thanksgiving happened to become free just a couple of weeks ago, and it didn't take me long to find a four-game weekend in a warm area of the country, namely Tampa and Orlando. Flights to Florida are typically cheaper because so many families head down to Disney, and I was lucky to get a relatively inexpensive ride to Orlando, leaving Friday evening after work.

The first game was a Saturday afternoon affair at the University of South Florida in Tampa, about an hour southwest of Orlando. USF plays out of the USF Sun Dome (above, please note the perfect blue sky), a large facility on the southern edge of campus that also hosts many concerts. Driving in, you will be charged $10 to park, a sign that USF is part of the American Athletic Conference, a remnant of the Big East (defending champ UConn plays out of the American, so it is no chump collection of schools). Still, ten bucks to park! That's the most I've ever paid to park for a college game, but I had little choice. You'll have trouble finding a free spot nearby, even on the weekend. Every lot is permit only, 24/7 within at least 10 minutes of the Dome, and I grew tired of looking.

Inside, the team colours of green and gold are rather noticeable in both the concourse and the seating bowl. Take a quick tour around and check out the display describing the founding of the university in 1956 and its history over the ensuing six decades. USF is rightly proud of its status as one of America's top-50 research universities.

The seating bowl is two levels, and tickets here are not cheap at the box office. I used StubHub to get a lower level seat facing the free throw line for $8 but face value was $40; those in the upper deck are $20 or $25. That's crazy for an early-season non conference tilt - definitely scout out the secondary market here before arriving. There are no bad seats anyway, as you can see above and below. This place reminded me a bit of the Super Pit at North Texas with its green seats, but the Sun Dome is nicer, having completed a renovation in 2012.

The visitors were the Jacksonville Dolphins out of the Atlantic Sun conference. They were the national runner up in 1970, losing to John Wooden's record-setting UCLA squad, but haven't made the tournament since 1986. A close game wasn't expected, and the rather sparse crowd was evidence of that; with many likely staying away to watch the Florida vs Florida State football game that was about to start.

The Bulls got hot early with Corey Allen Jr. (#4 above) the catalyst as they jumped out to a 31-17 lead. Then they started to hot dog it, treating Jacksonville like a high school team, and trying for the highlight reel play instead of fundamental basketball. The Dolphins were not impressed and responded with a 20-5 run to finish the half up by a point. You knew that Bulls coach Orlando Antigua, who served under John Calipari at both Memphis and Kentucky, was not going to be happy with his team's lackadaisical play, and I expected USF to be more focused in the second half.

Sure enough, they started on a 9-3 spurt to reach the first media timeout and never looked back, cruising to a 79-65 win, with Anthony Collins (#11 above). I like the scoreboard here that includes the first four letters of the player's last names. The star for the visitors was Andris Misters (#22 in both pics) from Latvia who finished with 18 points, while Allen totalled a career-high 29 in the win.

This was a very entertaining game for me; basketball is so much better when you are sitting close and you can appreciate the athleticism and see the emotion of the players faces. It was interesting to notice how the USF players began to take their opponent lightly and paid for it over the final eight minutes of the half. After the game, while driving downtown, I listed to the postgame show and Antigua said exactly that - his charges were not taking the game seriously, and in basketball, as in any sport between competitive teams, that arrogance can be fatal. Antigua seems like a very good coach and USF might be a fun team to watch over the next three months.


There are 351 Division I college basketball programs spread out over 32 conferences. I figure it would take about 10 years of roadtripping to see them all. I used to hate this sport because it would take so long on the ESPN ticker to go through the scores, but as I see more and more of these less popular teams, I find it quite exciting.

The trend in college sports these days is to have both cheerleaders and a dance team. This might have been the trend for years now, I really don't know, but I wonder if the dance team feels inferior when the cheerleaders do these poses like the one above. It certainly seems that way as the dance team has turned their backs on the cheerleaders! By the way, college cheerleading is not as dangerous as has been reported, at least on a per capita basis. Even then, I see at least one cheerleader in a cast at nearly every event I attend, especially as the season goes on. Be careful out there!



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