Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Georgia State Panthers 59 at Kansas State Wildcats 71 (NCAA Basketball) - December 15, 2018

After a morning game at the University of Kansas, I drove about 85 miles west to Manhattan, home of Kansas State. The route includes a short section of the Kansas Turnpike, with the toll between Lawrence and Topeka only $1.25, so there was really no reason to avoid it. Should you choose to save those five quarters, you will add about 10 minutes to your journey. I arrived on campus at 4:00, and with winter break having just begun, the only bar close to the basketball stadium was closed. This gave me a chance to explore Aggieville, a small shopping district about a mile from campus. A friend who had attended K-State a few years back recommended Auntie Mae's Parlor, and that is where I ended up. This is my type of establishment, with a quiet downstairs bar that was once a speakeasy, and where you can bring your own food.

I spent a couple of relaxing hours there before heading over to Bramlage Coliseum, home of Wildcats hoops. Parking in the official lots is listed at $10, so I parked on a side road off Jardine Drive and walked through a campus housing parking lot to get to the stadium. This did not allow me to take a good exterior shot.

The Coliseum is named for Fred Bramlage, who contributed part of the funds for its construction and spearheaded the drive for the remainder. It was opened in 1988 and has aged very well, looking brand new in most places. The ticket window is on the southwest corner, where you can pick up a GA seat for $12, at least for these non-conference matches. Capacity is 13,500, and there was a surprisingly robust crowd of 9,568, but the GA sections still had space.

The concourse is lined with accomplishments for both the men's and women's teams. There are also several concession stands throughout. I highly recommend the brownie available at the bakery stand, a bargain at $2. That is all I needed to stay awake after a long day.

I was impressed that they had already included the most recent celebration, namely the upset of Kentucky in last year's tournament.

The Hall of Fame is also along the concourse, and includes athletes from all sports.

A giant bobblehead of Jacob Pullen, who played here from 2007-11, can also be found.

As Bramlage sits atop a hill, the single seating bowl moves down from the main concourse. It is not steep, with end zone sections going up to 38 rows, while those along the sideline have 34. Sections 16-23 have loge boxes at the top that are not available to the general public. The seats match the team colours, with purple chairbacks and grey benches, and it is quite a nice look when it is mostly empty. The seat map on the university's website, used for seat selection, is quite impressive.

Retired numbers are honoured on banners, with the men's banners in purple in the distance of the photo above (Mitch Richmond's #23 is on the far right), while the white ones in the foreground and the photo below represent the women.

The team has been generally successful over the years with a winning percentage approaching .600, but they have yet to win a national title, coming closest in 1951, when they lost the final to Kentucky.

They have three other Final Four appearances, with the most recent coming in 1964. If only they had beaten Loyola-Chicago last year, we would have had two Kansas teams in the Final Four. Instead, K-State remains in the shadow of their rivals, and Bramlage Coliseum suffers a similar fate when compared to Allen Fieldhouse.

That is not to say anything negative about Bramlage. It is an excellent basketball arena that should be visited by any hoophead traveling through the state, but it will never have the aura of The Phog.

The Game

Georgia State was in town with coach Ron Hunter, famous for falling off his stool back at the 2015 NCAA tournament. Kansas State were ranked #25 but had lost two in a row on the road. The home fans were expecting an easy win, but the Panthers are no pushovers, and played solid basketball early to stay level. The Wildcats took a 29-20 lead, but Georgia State came back to get close at the half, down only 35-32.

Early in the second, K-State again moved ahead, going up 48-39, but a 14-2 run by the visitors had them thinking upset with less than 10 minutes to play. That thought turned out to be premature as a cold spell by the Panthers (4 misses and 3 turnovers in the next 5 minutes) allowed the Wildcats to storm ahead 62-53, a lead they built to 70-57 with 2:34 left. Georgia State missed a couple of treys, and after the Wildcats sank a free throw, the Panthers decided not to foul any further. A late layup made the final 71-59 in a game that was closer than the score indicates.

Almost nobody will agree with me, but I enjoyed this game more than the earlier match at Kansas because it was fast paced, had fewer fouls, and finished in less than two hours.

Next Up

This was my last trip for 2018 but I'm already hard at work planning more adventures for 2019. I'll be releasing my schedule shortly, so check back for that.



Monday, December 17, 2018

Villanova Wildcats 71 at Kansas Jayhawks 74 (NCAA Basketball) - December 15, 2018

In the sport of college basketball, there are six storied programs that stand above all others: Duke, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and UCLA. Each of these plays in an equally storied arena that are destinations in themselves for sports road trippers. I've only seen the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill, so whenever possible, I want to add another one of these historic venues to my list. So when the scheduling gods presented UMKC in one of their last games at Municipal Arena just two days before Kansas and Kansas State had a doubleheader, I jumped at the chance to visit Allen Fieldhouse, home of the Jayhawks.

The University of Kansas is in Lawrence, about 40 miles west of Kansas City, with Allen Fieldhouse located in the middle of campus. The drive along K-10 is quick until you get off, when traffic can get backed up along Iowa Street if there is a basketball game being held. With the only public parking garage charging $25, your best bet is to park in Lot 301 and take the shuttle bus, which costs $3 on the way there, but is free on the return. The walk is about 25 minutes should you want to save your cash.

The arena is named for Forrest "Phog" Allen, who played at Kansas under James Naismith, the inventor of basketball. Allen, whose distinctive nickname came from his foghorn-like voice, later coached the team from 1907-09 and 1919-56, winning a single NCAA tournament in that time. He is known as the "Father of Basketball Coaching" and there is a statue of him in front of the main entrance.

The main entrance is also labeled as Gate 6 and is where you will want to cross the threshold, as just inside is an excellent collection of memorabilia along with displays detailing the history of sports at the university.

These are quite detailed and will take a while to read through them all. Even an hour before the game, the crowd can be quite intense and it is difficult to move around easily, but fortunately they keep the arena open after the game giving you some time to read everything.

Wilt Chamberlain played here and there is a pole dedicated to his accomplishments, at least those achieved on the court.

Another nearby pole honours those Jayhawks who participated in the Olympics.

The Jayhawk mascot is given his own display case, a rarity that should happen more often.

Each decade of KU sports is also given its own section with several items on display. Although basketball is obviously the prime attraction here, other sports are given their due, and there has been success in other disciplines such as track and field.

Along the back wall is the Hall of Fame, which includes hundreds of inductees throughout all sports.

There is also a display on all of the arenas used by Jayhawks basketball, including, of course, Allen Fieldhouse.

All of these exhibits are on the ground floor just inside Gate 6, but that is not all to see. Go up to the main concourse and follow the signs to DeBruce Center. This is a building next door with a few surprises of its own, including a wall of quotes (below) and murals of James Naismith and Phog Allen.

But most important of all is The Rules, the original, typewritten and hand-corrected set of rules as laid out by Naismith back in 1891. They were bought at auction by a KU alum, who donated them to the university. They are now behind glass, and you can press a button that lights them up. After the game, there was quite the queue to view these, so it might be worth getting in early and trying to see them before the rest of the crowd.

With all that done, it was time to enter the seating bowl. Tickets for this one were sold out immediately and prices on the secondary market were very high at first, but gradually dropped. I bought a pair the night before and was able to sell the other ticket, so I got in for about 70% of face value, which was good enough for me. The view from my seat in Section 10 on the left aisle is below.

As you can tell, moving around the seating bowl before the game is difficult as most fans are in their seats well before introductions. There is just a single bowl with up to 30 rows, and no walkway that goes all the way around.

I had to wait until after the game to get some good shots of the mostly empty arena. The lower seats are benches with backs; the middle sections are chairbacks, and then benches above that.

A close-up shot of those classic chairbacks.

And a view of the sideline seats from the baseline.

The baseline seats are mostly benches. The photo below shows one of the student sections after the game, littered with newspaper confetti that they toss up during introductions, after burying their heads in the papers during the visiting lineup announcement. During the game, the students jump in unison on many occasions, making this a very loud place indeed. In fact, Allen Fieldhouse is the site of the loudest roar according to the Guinness Book of World Records, achieved in February 2017 when a reading of 130.4 decibels was recorded before a game against West Virginia.

The students also hold up letters during the game, with Rock Chalk, the KU chant, the most prominent.

This is the view those students have during the game.

I took the below photo at halftime - most fans remain in their seats and so getting around easily is still not possible.

There are banners celebrating the team's appearances in the Final Four...

...as well as those 5 national championships. The first two were not NCAA titles, rather they were retroactively named as champions by the Helms Athletic Foundation, so any records you see will only list the other three. That puts them behind UConn, who have 4 NCAA titles, as well as the other five schools mentioned above. It is interesting that the school with the most history has the fewest championships out of these storied programs, but there is a chance that they could get another one this year (Update: they did not win this season, but grabbed #6 in 2022).

Also note the sign above the banners. This warning was given to opposing teams entering "The Phog" and it certainly is accurate, as Kansas had a 754-109 (0.874) record there before this game.

Overall, Allen Fieldhouse is one of the great sports venues and a must-visit for any fan, not just those of college basketball. So much history, plus a crazy crowd that is full of energy from start to finish, make this a top destination for the sports traveler. It's even better when you get a top team as the opponent, as I did.

The Game

Defending champ Villanova was in town with their sham #17 ranking after losing to Penn a few days earlier. Kansas was ranked #1 but was winning ugly, with most of their eight victories of the less-than-impressive variety, including a 63-60 win over New Mexico State the week prior. The game started at 11 a.m. for TV, but the refs were wide awake, whistling the Jayhawks for the first six fouls. Most were of the non-shooting variety so Villanova could not take advantage and the game was tight early. Kansas took a 29-20 lead late in the half, but the Wildcats went on an 11-2 run to tie it, only to foul a driving Charlie Moore with 1 second left. Moore made both freebies for a 33-31 lead at the break.

The second half saw several lead changes and Villanova had a 56-55 lead with 5:25 to go, but they missed their next six shots from the field as the Jayhawks went on a 10-2 run, nearly the reverse of the first half. Down 65-60 with 50 seconds to go, Villanova decided to foul, and those last 50 seconds took nearly 15 minutes to play, as there were 7 fouls, 3 timeouts, and a replay review for good measure. It was tough to watch as the game turned into a series of stoppages, but that is basketball these days. All the fouling did Villanova no good as Kansas went 9-10 from the line down the stretch to win 74-71.

This was a compelling battle for 39 minutes, but it turned into a slog in what should have been the most exciting part of the game. With that extended final minute, the game took about 2:20 to complete, ridiculous for 40 minutes of action. Basketball should be named stoppage-ball, because it seems like there are more breaks than baskets.


This was my 800th venue lifetime. Glad it was in such a fantastic place.



Saturday, December 15, 2018

UW-Milwaukee Panthers 69 at UMKC Kangaroos 66 (NCAA Basketball) - December 13, 2018

The University of Missouri at Kansas City (UMKC) played basketball at the Municipal Auditorium Arena in downtown KC from 1986-2010 before moving all games back to Swinney Recreation Center on campus.  This was a short-lived relocation however, as the college jumped to the Western Athletic Conference in 2013 and returned to a renovated Muni in an attempt to raise the team's profile. This did not work, so once again, they are moving back to campus starting in January 2019. Which meant that if I wanted to see Division I basketball in this historic venue, I had to hurry. With Kansas and Kansas State hosting games on Saturday, I decided to fly to KC for Thursday's match against UW-Milwaukee and make it a long weekend.

Opened in 1936, Municipal Auditorium is a classic venue that once hosted the NBA's Kansas City Kings and was the site of Darryl Dawkins' glass-shattering slam dunk back in 1979. It is located right downtown at the corner of Wyandotte and 13th, and includes a theatre and concert hall along with the arena. UMKC games are advertised by shining kangaroos on the front of the building. The school nickname comes from the same year the building opened, when the local zoo acquired two baby kangaroos.

Usually, the team is just referred to as the 'Roos and slogans such as Roo Up are used. Perhaps you can understand why the team is not that popular.

Inside the main entrance is a large lobby, which gives you an idea of the original architecture of the place. It really is like stepping back in time.

Just check out the box office. Is there anything like this at any other college venue? Tickets were $10 for general admission, a bargain. Not that anyone reading this will have a chance to find out; there is only one more game to be played here on December 22.

On this night, there were only 987 attendees, which meant I pretty much had the entire concourse area to myself.

Interior ramps lead to the upper levels, but of course, no one actually sits up there.

The Art Deco signs are possibly original to the building. Again, I am sure this font is unique across the college landscape.

There are three seating levels, but I was the only person who even ventured into the upper bowl.

This hallway reminded me of The Shining for some reason. I'm sure there are some ghosts roaming around late at night.

I appreciated every little touch I saw as I made my way around, even the drinking fountains and the sign above.

The view of the court from the top row. I enjoyed the skyline painted on the floor.

A few other views of the court. Below is the view from my seat in the third row.

The corner view shows the underlying floor quite clearly.

From behind the basket, which is not a good seat. Not that anyone had to sit there. In the distance, you can see one of the two scoreboards that were added as part of the renovations in 2013. These updates totaled $5 million and as the team only stayed here 5 seasons, turned out to be a complete waste of money.

At one end, there is a party area that was mostly empty, like the rest of the place.

There is no reason to discuss Municipal in any more detail as it will no longer be used as a Division I venue. It will still host other basketball games, such as the NAIA tournament in March, and if you are in the area at that time, I do encourage you to stop to see a game. There is nothing quite like it in the sporting landscape and I am glad I got a chance to see it in all its glory.

The Game

It was a battle of acronyms as UWM (2-8) took on UMKC (3-7). I happened to be sitting in front of a Milwaukee cheering section, which was quite amusing. The Panthers were the better team in terms of shooting, but were also aggressive on defense and were called for 24 fouls compared to only 15 for UMKC. The lady behind me felt that this was rather unfair, and constantly berated the refs for their bias. Tom O'Neill, a ref who worked the national championship in 2009, was singled out for his seeming incompetence, being referred to as Grandpa.

To be fair, although some of the calls were of the ticky-tack variety, the Panthers were simply being too aggressive. Once they relaxed just a bit, the game started to move quite quickly and became surprisingly entertaining.

UMKC was up 33-29 at the half, and built a 10-point advantage by the midway point of the second, helped by several Milwaukee turnovers. When UMKC's Xavier Bishop made two free throws with 2:45 to go, the 'Roos had a 66-57 lead and seemed in control. Until this point, they had made only 4 turnovers, compared to 21 for UWM. After Milwaukee's Vance Johnson completed a three-point play, UMKC had the ball for 45 seconds thanks to three offensive rebounds, but missed three shots before turning the ball over. DeAndre Abram drained a three for Milwaukee and suddenly things were tense. An offensive foul on UMKC was another turnover, and after a shooting foul, Darius Roy sank a pair of free throws to bring the Panthers within a point with 26 seconds left. Normally, a team behind with less than 30 seconds left would foul, but instead UWM pressed and Rob Whitfield turned the ball over, the third giveaway in the last minute. Bryce Barnes dove out of bounds to save the ball, getting it to Roy, who drove to the basket for the go-ahead score with 15 seconds left, sending the group behind me into paroxysms of joy. UMKC had a chance to retake the lead but missed the layup and the rebound ended up at the other end of the court where Amir Allen slammed it home to cement the incredible comeback, as UWM ended the game on an unexpected 12-0 run to win 69-66.

Abram was the leading scorer with 20 points and looks to have a chance at a pro career internationally. You cannot see his line as the team and individual stats board was not working. In addition to those late turnovers, UMKC was undone by terrible foul shooting as they went 18/32 from the stripe (UWM went 11/13). If they had just made a few more, they would never have had to deal with the late-game press.

Overall, this was one of the best experiences I've had as a truly classic venue combined with a crazy ending to make this a memorable start to the trip.


This wasn't the only crazy ending in Kansas City that night. The Chiefs blew a 28-14 lead to the Chargers, losing 29-28 on a two-point conversion on the final play of the game.