Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, March 18 2005
No "Stand up, old people" signs were necessary, no students complaining of bad seats.
For one weekend at least, fans in McKale Center weren't subject to the typical complaints heard around McKale Center, with the home-town UA Wildcats off in Boise, Idaho for their own NCAA action.
But if teams visiting McKale Center this week for the NCAA tournament thought they were heading to a neutral site for first- and second-round games, maybe they should ask the players and coaches from No. 18 Utah.
"Especially when I walked out I was shocked at how much orange there was," said Utah head coach Ray Giacolletti after his team's narrow first-round, 70-64 victory over UTEP Thursday in front of a decidedly biased orange- and blue-clad crowd.
"We'd have loved to have won this game," said UTEP president Diana Natalicio, who declared herself on the trip to Tucson for pleasure as much as business.
"Our fans, we just came from Reno (Nev.) from the WAC Tournament and we had a large group of fans there too," Natalicio said. "Our students, our alumni, our friends in the community; We have a great fan base."
Richard Adauto, with is son Danny and wife Pat, made the trek from El Paso for the game, leaving by car at 3:30 a.m. for the 4-plus hour drive from the West Texas to Tucson.
Adauto said when he and his family prepared to exit Interstate 10 at Speedway Boulevard, they noticed a Denny's just up the road.
"The place was packed with UTEP people," he said, noting that the entire diner was wall-to-wall orange.
Though it was just the second game of the day, the difference between UTEP's fan support and those from Utah, UCLA and Texas Tech - all just short air trips from Tucson, with UCLA less than eight hours away by car - was night and day.
"It was fun seeing the crowd here," said Daniel Corral, a UTEP undergrad who also drove down, leaving El Paso at 8 a.m., with four of his friends.
Corral, one of just 50 UTEP students to get tickets to the games through the school's lottery, said he and his friends camped out overnight just to get the chance to come to Tucson. He said he felt like the fans gave the Miners home court advantage, creating a setting similar to when they play in the 12,500-seat Don Haskins Center in El Paso.
The UTEP - and Utah players for that matter - each echoed the sentiment.
"(The fans) gave them some more energy and they hit some shots that they wouldn't have or probably shouldn't have," said Utah senior guard Marc Jackson, who scored eight points and tallied two assists, despite turning the ball over three times.
UTEP senior forward Omar Thomas, scoring 24 points in his final game for the Miners, agreed with his counterpart.
"The crowd - I felt as though we were at home."
Home sweet home - even if its on the road.