Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Florida Gulf Coast Eagles 58 at USC Trojans 71 (NCAA Basketball) - December 29, 2019

The first half of my college basketball doubleheader had finished, and now I had to get from Stanford to USC in 4 hours. The first wrench in the plans happened as soon as I left Maples Pavilion. During the game, it had started to pour and I had not brought an umbrella. I had over two hours to get back to San Jose airport (SJC) for my 4:10 flight but was hoping to catch that free bus most of the way. The rain made that difficult as the stop was 10 minutes away, but the slow traffic outside the venue made getting a rideshare just as miserable. Instead, I waited under cover for the rain to lighten, which it did after 20 minutes. I then jogged back to the bus stop, only to see the 522 to Santa Clara pull away. I couldn't risk waiting for the next bus, so booked a Lyft and 30 minutes later, arrived at SJC. I had some time to kill, which allowed me to charge my phone at least.

It was good I did that, and also good that I had a right side window seat as I had a chance to snap some stadium photos during the flight. Above is Avaya Stadium, home of the San Jose Earthquakes, while below is the SAP Center, home of the Sharks and Barracuda.

On the way into LA, I snapped a two-fer with the Coliseum, which had just seen its last NFL game, and Banc of California Stadium, home of LAFC.

The flight landed 30 minutes early, but the second wrench was a 10-minute wait while 7 planes departed the runway we needed to cross, and the third was when we arrived at a remote gate. We had to wait for a bus to take us to the main terminal, adding another 20 minutes. By the time I got out of the terminal, 45 minutes had passed and any chance of taking transit downtown had disappeared. This left me with no choice but to book a rideshare, so I jogged over to LAX-it (pronounced LA-exit), the new area for those who need to grab a car. Unencumbered by luggage, it took less than 10 minutes on foot and I was in the car just before 6. The driver was polite but missed the exit off a jam-packed freeway, leading to an additional 10 minutes in traffic and no tip for him. That was the final wrench in the plans, but none of them were serious and I found myself in front of the Galen Center at about 6:25, still plenty of time to get a ticket and do a tour.

I walked around the front of the building for a few photos and to see if anyone had freebies, but no such luck. Not that it mattered much, tickets were very cheap with Florida Gulf Coast in town, and I nabbed one for $10 on StubHub.

The Galen Center opened in 2006 and is still quite new. The building is clearly visible from the Harbor Freeway and I have driven by on many occasions, always yearning to get inside. The exterior brickwork includes several scenes of athletic competition, such as a contested dunk, above.

Entering by the northwest corner, you will soon find yourself looking at a wall of Sports Illustrated covers featuring Trojan greats, not just in college, but in their pro careers too. You can really get lost in the history here.

Keep walking to see a unique display of national championship trophies on two opposite walls. One is missing for some reason, and I thought that might be due to the vacated football title from 2008, but the dates don't line up, so if anyone has any information, feel free to comment.

There is also a timeline of championships nearby. So much to read, and most of it very detailed about teams that few have heard of, even at USC. Great to see them commemorated like this.

The Hall of Fame is also here, listing inductees by sport. Pictures do not do this area justice, so make sure to get there early and look around.

You can sneak into the floor level for a picture here, but you will need a ticket to go any farther.

Instead, I made my way up the stairs to the concourse, which was more than adequate for the few fans who showed up. The seating bowl is two levels, with suites at the very top, so that the upper bowl is actually quite reasonable.

There are some special tables just inside the breezeways on the south side of the lower bowl. Like most seats on this night, they were not being used, but they look to be for groups. I found it a bit odd that you had to walk through here to get to the seating bowl.

The east wall is actually a large window that looks out onto the LA skyline just beyond the freeway. I wasn't able to get a good shot from there at night, but make sure to walk by and have a look.

Banners are above both baselines, including those for other sports that play here, such as volleyball and gymnastics.

I like the slope of the lower bowl here; it is relatively steep, which keeps the seats near the back rows quite close.

I spent the first half in the last row (view below) and thought it was adequate. I moved down low at halftime and stayed there for the rest of the game.

There isn't much more to Galen Center. It is a large edifice, but with a lot of interior space for concourses, leading to a compact seating bowl. The location is fantastic, with the Coliseum, Banc of California Stadium, and Staples Center all within walking distance, so doubleheaders are definitely a common occurrence. UCLA and Pauley Pavilion are the college basketball leaders in L.A., but don't leave the city without checking out Galen Center and it's collection of history.

The Game 

USC head coach Andy Enfield was the man behind the bench when Florida Gulf Coast went to the Sweet Sixteen as a 15-seed back in 2013, and he joined the Trojans after that season. This was the first of three annual matchups between the two schools, but nobody was very impressed. FGCU came in at 3-11, while USC was 11-1. Despite missing leading scorer Onyeka Okongwu, the Trojans clearly did not have any respect for their opponents, allowing them to take a quick 7-1 lead.

It seemed like the only Trojans with energy on the floor were the dance team.

An 11-0 run by USC ended that little dream for the visitors but they were still scrappy, trailing 35-31 at the break. The second half began with a dunk by the Eagles Justus Rainwater to get them within a deuce, but a 9-0 Trojan rally put paid to the idea of an upset.

A thunderous dunk by Nick Rakocevic (above) made it 65-52 and he added another slam later as USC held on for the uninspiring win, 71-58.

The difference here was at the line, or perhaps in the officiating. My buddy King called it a homer game, and with FGCU getting whistled for 17 fouls to just 6 against USC, it would be hard to disagree. The Trojans went 16-23 from the line, while the Eagles managed just 1 lousy shot in 6 attempts. I felt that it was more a factor of the complete lack of intensity on the defensive end from USC. Whatever the case, I was happy for the quick game after a tiring day.


USC travels to Fort Myers to play the Eagles in Alico Arena in November 2020, while the Eagles return to Galen Center in 2021.

Did you know that there are 2,983 men's teams across 19 sports, and 3,303 women's teams across 21 sports in NCAA Division I alone? That's a lot of history to maintain and a lot of venues to visit. A lot.



Monday, December 30, 2019

Kansas Jayhawks 72 at Stanford Cardinal 56 (NCAA Basketball) - December 29, 2019

When this trip was first planned a couple of weeks back, I had expected to see the Arizona Cardinals visiting the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday afternoon. But on Friday night, I had a look at the NCAA basketball schedule and discovered that another Cardinal team would be in action, namely the Stanford Cardinal, who would be hosting #5 Kansas in a marquee noon matchup. I initially dismissed the idea as Stanford is in Palo Alto and I was staying in LA, but after sleeping on it, I decided to investigate. A quick check on flights revealed that prices were not unreasonable, despite being the day before. I was able to use miles to get to San Jose in the morning and then fly back on American that evening, arriving in plenty of time to get to Galen Center for USC. As it would be my first, and likely only, true two-city doubleheader with a plane ride, I took the plunge and hoped that everything would work out.

I happened to be staying within walking distance to LAX and so left my hotel at 6:15, reaching my gate at 6:45, far too early for the 7:40 flight. There were no issues with weather or mechanics, and we left on time, landing just 50 minutes later. San Jose is a better airport for access to Palo Alto, and buses were free on this Sunday, so I took the 60 to Santa Clara Transit Center and switched to the 522 Express, getting to Stanford at about 10:45, where I was greeted by the billboard above.

Cardinal basketball plays at Maples Pavilion, which is about a 10-minute walk from the corner of El Camino and Embarcadero/Galvez. You pass by Stanford Stadium, which held the 1985 Super Bowl. Along the way, I saw the informative sign titled "Home of Champions". There would be a lot of that talk today.

That's because Stanford has the most NCAA championships of any school. If you only follow football (Rose Bowl trophies above) and basketball, this might be surprising, but there are 24 sports contested at the college level and they all rank equally when it comes to success, at least in the eyes of the NCAA. So to honour their teams and stars, Stanford opened a separate venue known as the Home of Champions back in 2017. It is right across from Maples Pavilion and free to the public. Let me just say that it is impressive. I know many fans look down on the less popular sports, but every single college athlete has worked hard to get where they are. When you see all the trophies and records set here, both my teams and individuals, you realize the commitment necessary to achieve success, even at this level. The Cardinal have won the Director's Cup (below) for 25 straight seasons and lead the current race as well, with titles in water polo and women's soccer. Make sure to visit this museum if you are ever on Stanford's campus.

Getting back to the task at hand, Maples Pavilion opened in January 1969 and underwent a significant renovation in 2004. It is a fairly flat, non-descript building hidden behind some trees.

Tickets were outrageously priced for this battle, not surprising given the wealth in the area. Lower chairback seats were $299 at the window, while the cheapest was $49. I spent a few minutes to see if anyone had extras, but that was fruitless, and as I wanted to tour the venue, I forked over $41 on the secondary market.

The northwest entrance was relatively busy, but the northeast, where students also enter, was empty (below).  As you can tell by these photos, there were a lot of Kansas fans in attendance. As you can also tell, wearing basketball jerseys over collared shirts is not a good look.

Inside, the concourse is wide and circles the entire floor. Concessions are found along each side, with each offering some sort of specialty item along with typical arena fare.

At each section, there are doors that take you to the seating bowl. There is a student section here, known as the 6th Man, along the sidelines that was quite empty on this winter holiday weekend.

That's the 6th Man at halftime in the right foreground in the shot below. You can see all the white towels indicating that seats were not taken during the first half.

The shot below was taken before the game and shows that those lovely white towels were only given to those fans in the lower seats. The rich get richer and all that.

I imagine the sign below gets updated quite often. The 149 national championships includes the 123 NCAA ones as well. The other 26 were won before the NCAA formed. Their only basketball title was in 1942, although they claim the 1937 championship as well via the Helms Athletic Foundation.

The seating bowl is quite compact, with a walkway between the two levels. The shot below is of one baseline section. You can see how the sideline section extends past the court so if you are sitting in the last few seats, you will have to turn your head to watch the action.

The shot from behind the net illustrates just how compact this place is. Capacity is 7,392, a good size for a Power 5 venue.

This is from just below the camera bank. The scoreboard is four-sided, with video on each side, and stat boards are located in the corners of the seating bowl.

My seat was in Section 4, Row T, which is the second row from the top. Face value for this was $99, the most I have seen for a regular season college basketball game. The view is below, showing that even the nosebleeds aren't really that far away, and certainly it wasn't worth an extra $200 to get in those first few rows.

Overall, Maples Pavilion is a simple venue, with little fanfare or features of note. This is to be expected with the Home of Champions right across the way housing all the silverware and other memorabilia. A visit to any Stanford venue would not be complete without a stop here first to see that success comes in all sports at the college level, not just those that ESPN covers.

The Game

Stanford came in at 11-1 with their only blemish a 1-point defeat at the hands of Butler, and there were high hopes that they could contend with Kansas. Those hopes were dashed early. Both teams were brutal to start, with Kansas slightly less so. The Jayhawks led 11-0 when Stanford scored their first points, on a free throw from Oscar Da Silva at 12:11. It wasn't until there was 8:08 left that Stanford scored their first basket that made it 15-4. The rest of the half saw the teams finally pick things up as it finished 28-18 Kansas.

I moved down behind the basket that Kansas was attacking for the second half and was rewarded with some impressive shooting. Stanford was down 33-24 when Isaiah Moss sank 3 consecutive treys for Kansas to double the lead and pretty much end any chance of a comeback.

Udoka Azubuike had a late dunk for his only two points (that's him above about to miss one of his five free throws) to put the icing on the cake that was a 72-56 Jayhawk beatdown. Bleacher Report has a good article on Azubuike from 2018, when Kansas made the Final Four.

Hard to believe, but the score reflects favourably on Stanford, who were simply outclassed from start to finish. It was Stanford's 5-23 shooting in the first half that did them in; both teams shot over 50% in the second half but Kansas had 15 offensive rebounds to just 4 for Stanford to make the game a laugher. Still, I was glad to get to see a marquee game at Maples, even though it turned out to be quite the opposite.


Condoleezza Rice was the honourary captain for Stanford. They probably should have put her in for a few plays.

Near the end of the game, some Kansas fans walked around carrying a "Beware of the Phog" sign. A gentleman sitting close by asked a female Kansas fan what that meant. The fan, being devious, said it related to the fog in San Francisco. The gentleman believed her, suggesting that he does not follow my blog.

I use the term true doubleheader to signify that both games in two venues are seen start to finish (similarly, a true tripleheader involves 3 games in 3 venues and all must be seen from beginning to end). Often, scheduling circumstances or weather quirks force chasers to leave one game early to get to another (or arrive late). This has happened to me in the past, such as at the beginning of 2019 when there was a tripleheader in Charlotte but I had to miss the first period of the hockey game due to the schedule. So it did not count as a "true" tripleheader. Thankfully, everything worked out on the first half of this one, check the next post to see if I made it back to LA in time to compete the true two-city plane ride doubleheader.



Morgan State Bears 74 at Loyola Marymount Lions 71 (NCAA Basketball) - December 28, 2019

After watching the Bruins lose, it was time for my second LA college hoops game of the day, this one with another ursine competitor. The Morgan State Bears were visiting the Loyola Marymount Lions; if you wanted Tigers you had to watch the CFP semifinal with Clemson.

LMU is located in the Westchester neighbourhood, just north of LAX. With Gary and King opting to spend their evening in Bakersfield for an AHL tilt, I had to use transit to get there, taking the Culver City bus from UCLA, a bargain at a buck. After disembarking at Sepulveda and 80th, I walked the final mile and a half through a very quiet and dark Westchester, arriving at the university gate at Loyola Boulevard over an hour before game time.

Gersten Pavilion is part of LMU's athletics complex in the middle of campus, right next to the Burns Recreation Center. This is a surprisingly formidable looking combination of buildings, with the space between them an eerie outdoor atrium that looks more like a Star Wars rebel base than a college rec center.

Gersten is on the right in the above photos, though it is tough to see underneath the roof. The shot below shows that the structure has a bit of colour to it, but with it being so dark, it was tough to get a good exterior view.

The name on the venue is rather understated by comparison. Opened in 1981 and named for Albert Gersten, father of LMU regent Albert Gersten, Jr., the facility used to be the occasional practice court for the Lakers and was the site for weightlifting at the 1984 Olympics. It has a capacity of 4,156, which has been exceeded on nine occasions. That would not be the case this night.

Inside the main entrance is a long hallway with the Spirit Store the only inhabitant. There are doors directly to the court from here, but those are restricted to courtside seat holders. Other fans will have to choose between the two staircases at either end of the hall.

These staircases do have a few photos that are worth checking out; I liked how they are cut to match the bannister below. It shows that someone has a good sense of design and that is reflected throughout the venue.

Inside, the gym is quite colourful, with one side in blue and the other in red. This motif extends to the floor itself, where one key is red and the other blue; a sight I had not seen before. This is a good way to utilize both of the school's colours.

There is a clever transition between the two colours along the sidelines as red stripes get larger and blue stripes get smaller towards center court, and then reverse on the other side. There are also palm trees on the court, making it a unique floor in college hoops.

Gersten Pavilion is also unofficially known as Hank's House after Hank Gathers, who led the country in scoring and rebounding in 1988-89 but passed away after collapsing during a WCC tournament game in 1990. Gathers #44 jersey is retired and there is a Hank's House plaque on the south wall. A statue is also being funded and is expected to be revealed in the spring 2020 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Gathers' passing. These teams were coach by Paul Westhead and led the country in scoring for three straight seasons, with their 1990 average of 122.4 points still standing as the record.

Banners are located in the rafters on each side of the court, again with blue and red. Retired jerseys are on the blue wall, as you can see in the photo below. After Gathers died, the team was awarded the WCC's tournament berth and they went to the Elite Eight before losing to UNLV. It was an inspiring story at the time and worth reviewing if you don't recall the details.

On the west side of the gym, the lower level encompasses Sections 101-105 and each seat is a chairback with a cupholder in the armrest.

Across the way in Section 301-305, there are individual bench seats (below). The upper levels on both sides (201-205 on the west, 401-405 on the east) are wooden bleachers, but all seats are reserved. Prices for all sections vary depending on opponent, as an example, the cheapest bleacher seats are $9 for San Diego, but these are $24 when #1 Gonzaga comes to town.

The shot below is from just below the camera stand and shows the full gym and its colour scheme.

The logos for the other schools in the WCC are tastefully displayed in white against an off-white background on the south wall, divided into two groups of five.

The scoreboard is two-sided and hangs above mid-court, while stats boards can be found directly behind each basket.

The concessions are outside in the atrium, with a scoreboard above that lets you know how long until the second half resumes.

They even sell beer here, with season ticket holders and students getting free suds. My attempts to look half my age in order to enjoy this benefit did not succeed.

Overall, I really enjoyed Gersten Pavilion and marveled at the contrast between it and Pauley Pavilion, which I had seen just that afternoon. LMU lacks the national profile of UCLA, but their gym is creative and different in many respects. Don't overlook the Lions next time you are in LA, as they provide an equally entertaining alternative to some of the bigger college programs in the city.

The Game

Morgan State is from Baltimore but were not unaccustomed to visiting California, having scheduled New Year's trips every season since at least 2013, including several stops at LMU, who were favoured by 10 on this night.

The game started with a fast pace, as both teams went back and forth. With LMU up 17-11 after a trey from Ivan Alipiev, Morgan State went on an 18-2 run that was the key part of a 40-32 halftime lead.

The Lions fought back and managed to tie the game at 44 at the midway point of the second half, in other words, just 16 total points in 10 minutes. Troy Baxter made a three for the Bears and Sherwyn Devonish followed with a layup and those five points were just enough. LMU got back within one on several occasions, but could not regain the lead. With 1:08 to go, Erik Johansson made three freebies to get LMU within 63-62, but Baxter made another triple at the 40-second mark to regain the four-point cushion. When Jordan Bell missed a three for LMU, the Lions had to foul, and the last 27 seconds were just that.

Morgan State made 7 of their 8 shots from the stripe, but allowed some easy shots to LMU, who used another Alipiev three and a pair of layups from Deovaunta Williams to get within 2 with just over a second left. Another foul brought Morgan's Malik Miller to the line and he sank the first before missing the second. Jordan Bell grabbed the rebound and heaved it the length of the court as time expired, only to have the ball bounce off the front of the rim, ending any chance of the game being featured on SportsCenter.

Another three-point road upset on the day. LMU jacked 26 threes but made only 9, while Morgan State was 18-35 from inside the arc, perhaps a sign that old-style basketball can still win games? Baxter led all scorers with 27, including 5-of-9 from downtown, so no, you still need the outside option to keep the defense honest. All in all, an interesting contrast for the day, not just in venues, but also in styles of basketball.