Sunday, March 3, 2019

Air Force Falcons 80 at Wyoming Cowboys 72 (NCAA Basketball, Mountain West) - March 2, 2019


Among my many stupid quests is one to see a game in all 50 states plus 10 Canadian provinces. I have 3 of each left: Wyoming, North Dakota, and Alaska in the U.S., and Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island in Canada. Those last 3 are being saved for when the CFL expands to Halifax, while I'm holding off on Alaska until the Seattle NHL team arrives, at which time I'll do a Leafs trip and pop up to Anchorage for something. That leaves two states that I want to visit this year, and fortunately, Wyoming is close to another quest venue, namely the AHL's Colorado Eagles. So I looked for a time where Wyoming basketball was home at the same time as the Eagles and found the first weekend in March was just such a time.



The University of Wyoming is located in Laramie, about 50 miles west of Cheyenne and 60 miles northwest of Fort Collins. The basketball team plays out of Arena-Auditorium, which is not a very accurate name as there is no auditorium, just the arena. Known as the "Double A," the venue is the highest Division I court in the country, built at an elevation of 7,220 feet. This is noted outside with a large pole welcoming you to 7220 and the other mentioning another nickname, The Dome of Doom.



Of course, no Wyoming venue would be complete without a cowboy of some sort, and there is a bucking bronco statue east of the main entrance.



Free parking can be found in a lot west of the stadium on Willettt Drive. You can access this either from 15th Street if coming via US-287, or 22nd Street if taking the I-80 westbound. Either way, Grand Avenue is the street you will use to get there.



As you can probably tell, Laramie was in the middle of a major snowstorm, and so everything was covered in white. The roof of the dome is barely visible in the photo above, though when it is not snowing, it is actually brown.



There are two entrances, with the one above called Willet West, where you will find the box office. Tickets are $20 for the lower bowl or $15 for the upper, which is almost completely empty. With a capacity of 15,029 and attendance less than 4,000, it isn't hard to find a seat here.



The other entrance is on the east side of the building and leads to an area that honours Kenny Sailors, who is credited with popularizing the jump shot. There is a huge statue of Sailors just inside this entrance, which is part of the Sailors Gallery. This area was only added a couple of years ago, and it is very impressive.



Sailors was on the 1943 team that won the national championship and that trophy is just behind the statue. The lighting was not good, so you can see my reflection as well as that of the outdoors.



This is only the beginning of the history on display here. Major accomplishments are denoted on panels, starting with one that encompasses the university's first 50 years of athletic competition.



After that, they go decade by decade, and even have space for 2020-2029 and 2030-2039. If I am still alive in 2040, I hope to make a return visit to see what the Cowboys did.



There is also a Hall of Fame along the concourse wall, with a couple of interactive kiosks. Jay Novacek played here, as did Josh Allen, now QB for the Bills.



Wyoming won the 2017 CBI tournament and that trophy is one of three on display (below), along with the 2015 Mountain West championship and the women's 2007 NIT.



Along with all of these accomplishments, there is also a gigantic yellow chair on the concourse. I could not deduce the meaning of it, so am including it here should anyone be able to enlighten me.



If you want a program, it will cost you $4, with sellers found all around the concourse. Once your tour has been completed, it is time to enter the seating bowl. There are portals that take you inside, and some of these are decorated with Wyoming's natural landmarks, such as Flaming Gorge.



Look above some of the portals to see the slogan, which emphasizes the fact that this is the only university in Wyoming.



Due to the snowstorm, I left my hotel early just in case something went wrong. Nothing happened and I arrived more than two hours before game time. I parked and wandered to the entrance, and was happy to find the doors were open. This meant I could tour the venue alone, and take lots of pictures of the empty seating bowl.



The lower level of gold seats is quite large, but better to sit in the upper rows as the lower rows are set at a strange angle, and not high enough from the floor. I had picked up a ticket in row 1, but chose to sit farther away because of this.



The upper bowl has two sections of brown seats, with a gold stripe. School colours are brown and gold if you haven't guessed.



The view from the end zone.



There is a student section, but few students were in attendance on this day, and those that were did not stand. Fans have historically been very supportive, but this year the team is struggling, so crowds have been a bit sparse. Add in the snowstorm and there were less than the 3,991 announced.



The view from center court on the walkway. The Cowboy logo is one of the best in college sports.



This is the view from the top row. You can see the cameras here; they block a few rows of seats behind so capacity is probably slightly under 15,000 if you wanted to get technical about it.



There is a ring hanging from the roof that holds all of the banners that commemorate basketball success here.



The roof is a geodesic dome, which is rare but not unique in college hoops; Northern Arizona's Walkup Skydome in Flagstaff is quite a bit larger.



Overall, Arena-Auditorium is one of the best venues I have seen for college sports. They have done a fantastic job preserving their history and you should get there early and wander the whole concourse to see it all. Laramie is only 2.5 hours from Denver, so if you are in the Mile High City during basketball season, consider going up another 2,000 feet to see the Cowboys.

The Game

Air Force was in town, making this the second time to see them this season after they lost at UNLV just a couple of weeks back. The Falcons were 7-8 in conference, while the Cowboys were a dreadful 2-13. The first half was typical of college basketball these days, with three-point attempts equaling the number of shots inside the arc. The teams combined for 31 treys, with Wyoming hitting 8 of 19, while Air Force drained 7. The difference was turnovers, as Wyoming made 5, leading to 13 points for the Falcons, while the Cowboys could only muster 2 points off the 2 Air Force miscues as the Falcons took a 44-40 lead into the break.

Despite being so close, Wyoming could not catch up in the second half, doomed by many more missed threes and poor rebounding as the Falcons scored 9 second-chance points. Even then, the Cowboys got within 74-72 with a minute to go, but Hunter Thompson fouled A.J. Walker, who made both free throws. When Justin James missed a three for Wyoming, they were forced to foul and Air Force made all four of their remaining freebies to win 80-72.



Ryan Swan was the star for Air Force, with a career-high 37 points on 13-17 shooting, while James led the losers with 23. The Cowboys ended up 13-36 from long range, compared to a much better 11-19 from inside, but they refused to change their game plan and it cost them.

Notes

War Memorial Stadium, home of Wyoming football, was open and I walked in to take a few pictures of the snow-covered seats. College football is not on my quest list, so I doubt I'll ever see a game here.



The drive back was through the bulk of the snowstorm along US-287. It took over two hours to go 80 miles, bringing back memories of some of my winter drives from my earlier trips in Canada.

There are limited sports in the three Canadian territories (Yukon, Northwest Territory, Nunavut) so I am not including those in my quest at this point. But I am keeping an eye on upcoming events such as the Arctic Winter Games in 2020. Because you never know.

Best,

Sean

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