From the Bird’s Nest: Musings from Hot Springs
It was a pretty uneventful trip to Hot Springs on Friday. I got to the hotel about 3:30 and honestly was thinking about a nap. But the Cajuns softball team had beaten the top ranked team in the country so that was worth some website work.
About 5:30 I went downstairs and saw Athletic Director Scott Farmer. His son Kyle is with him on the trip. We had a beverage (actually, two) and then it was time for me to head down the street. For the second straight year I was invited to take part in the North Texas radio special from a bar and grill called Lucky’s. I got there early and had dinner with Hank Dickenson. He’s the Sr. Associate Athletic Director at UNT, but also does their radio. We ate Mexican and it was actually quite good. Then it was time for the broadcast.
I met with Chip Walters who does the broadcasts for Middle Tennessee. I have him a hug and expressed my condolences over what the Raiders’ family has been through this week with the senseless death of women’s basketball player Tina Stewart. He told me it had been a tough week at MTSU. I can only imagine…..
Denver’s Mitch Hyder was going to be a part of the broadcast as well. Mitch is a great guy, albeit somewhat cynical at times. I guess I would be as well if I had been broadcasting Denver basketball for twelve years. They’ve had some good teams, but have one postseason appearance to show for it, a short-lived NIT appearance in 2005.
We had fun on the broadcast. Naturally, we all picked our teams to win. Funny, we all ignored Florida Atlantic, the regular season overall champion. Needless to say, the Cajuns winning streak was a prime topic of conversation, as was La’Ryan Gary. Only Hank failed to pick the Cajuns to reach the championship game.
Afterward it was back to the hotel and off to bed.
Had breakfast with Scott Farmer Saturday morning We were looking forward to the first day of games at the Summit Arena and Convention Center Court. The womens’ games went according to seed. I watched Western Kentucky (#3 East) defeat North Texas (#6 West) while Arkansas State was handling Troy on the other court. I’ve become friends with WKU coach Mary Taylor Cowles over the last few years and got a chance to visit with her briefly after the Lady Toppers’ victory. They’ll have a tough test with Denver tomorrow.
Then it was off to Convention Center Court for the Cajuns’ game against South Alabama. I’ve got to give the women credit. They had a good gameplan and hung tough. They actually took a one point lead at the 3:00 mark, but South Alabama prevailed 58-53. As has been the case for the last few years, the lack of an outside scoring presence hurt the Cajuns down the stretch.
I saw some friends from Middle Tennessee. Many of their fans are wearing a sticker that says “20gether,” in tribute to Tina Stewart. One was kind enough to give me a few and I wore one the rest of the evening to let everyone know I was thinking of MTSU during their difficult time. Several Middle fans and a couple of their men’s players thanked me for wearing the tribute. As I’ve said many times, what happens to one of us happens to all of us. I still can’t imagine what they’re going through. (Middle’s women had a first round bye. I’m sure it will be an emotional quarterfinal tomorrow.)
We had a couple of hours before men’s action and went back to the Embassy Suites. Many of the Western Kentucky fans, along with their men’s team was staying there and they had a mini-pep rally before the game. The Western players got off the elevator and the fans formed an honor guard leading them to the door. The cheerleaders and band were there. Now, this is a team that has a losing record and had to play a first round game. But their fans get it. It’s tournament time.
In men’s action, Troy gave North Texas a good game for about thirty minutes before the Mean Green pulled away. It looks like UNT has righted their ship. They’ll give FAU all they want tomorrow. Meanwhile, on Convention Center Court, ULM was giving WKU one heckuva fight before the Hilltoppers secured a rematch with the Cajuns by pulling away down the stretch.
In the final two games of the night, Denver took on Florida International and the first 20 minutes were about as brutal as college basketball can get. The Panthers had a 22-12 halftime lead. Denver scored four points in the first ten minutes and six points in the last ten minutes. I got Mitch Hyder’s attention while he was in a commercial break at halftime. Embarassing was the word he used. The second half was somewhat better. Denver finally found a way to hit an outside shot in the final few minutes to make the final 53-49. But FIU was never in danger of losing that game. FIU will get Middle Tennessee tomorrow night.
Meanwhile, Arkansas-Little Rock set up an all-Arkansas showdown by beating South Alabama. Summit Arena will be rocking in the nightcap tomorrow night.
All in all, a good first day at the tournament. There’s nothing like a neutral-site tournament to give the proper atmosphere. It’s grown here in Hot Springs each year. I think the Sun Belt got this one right.