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Archive for Monday, November 27, 2006

Vegas was home sweet home for KU

Loyal fan base filled up Sin City, making monster tilt with Florida seem like a home game

November 27, 2006

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— You know it's a big-time college basketball atmosphere when you have to peak outside at halftime to make sure Tropicana Avenue didn't suddenly transform itself into a network of independent coffeehouses and bookstores, if the bright lights and streams of hotels and casinos along The Strip weren't converted into a small college town surrounded by parks and locally owned shops.

That's how much of a Kansas University influence descended on the Orleans Arena on Saturday, how much it felt like Las Vegas had become part of that rectangular shaped state famous for its endless fields of wheat.

How much - albeit in a small dose - this city again experienced the magic of the game's elite level.

It isn't going to be this way every year for the Las Vegas Invitational because there are few programs with the maniacal following of Kansas, but when you can create an NCAA Tournament environment for 40 minutes in a town that might not be able to recall such unbelievable enthusiasm (how many years has it been?), you have more than succeeded.

When you can do it in November, you have reached beyond even the most over-zealous ambitions.

The matchup all but assured a sellout of 8,500, given defending national champion and No. 1 Florida was playing its first opponent of the season that might not struggle beating a local AAU roster. It should have also been the first legitimate test for No. 10 Kansas, if not for that major stumble against the school (Oral Roberts) known more for its televangelist founder than anything involving a basket.

But this is what happens when half the seats in an arena are wearing your colors, when if you closed your eyes and listened to the roars each time a Jayhawks' shot went down, you would have sworn this was Allen Fieldhouse.

You play extremely well.

You compete with purpose and toughness and reward your fanatical followers with a memorable effort.

You snap Florida's 17-game win streak dating to last season with an 82-80 overtime victory and prove why preseason polls had you sitting squarely at No. 3.

You feed off the frenzy whose decibel level was that of mid-March at times, a wild ambience weakened only by an arena announcer more suited for screaming down-and-distance at an Arena Football League game.

(To that end, maybe someone should inform the guy not to give out college football scores from three days prior and not to completely embrace buffoon behavior by shouting the losing team's score first. It's not clever. It's not funny. It's just stupid).

But take away him, and you couldn't have asked for a better response from those who stood and cheered and rocked and chalked like a Sweet 16 bid was at stake.

Oh, yeah. The game was really good, too.

Oh, yeah. The game, for this early in a season, was terrific.

"It really is unbelievable," said Chris Spencer, the tournament's Cincinnati-based promoter. "I walked down the hallway into (the arena), and it felt like a Final Four."

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