Here it was. The games we’d really been waiting for. The College Basketball double header of all College Basketball double headers- the national semifinals. We’d spent Friday day and Saturday morning getting pumped for what we were about to see- Friday they do an open practice (more like a shootaround) for all 4 teams that we went to and Saturday morning we stopped by the Final Four convention center where they have tons of free giveaways, guest speakers, photo ops, and activities. All had been fun, but the time had come for the battle. We couldn’t wait!
The way the NCAA Final Four ticket raffle works is that when you sign up, you pay the face value for the tickets, which this particular year was $210 each. This includes tickets to both the semifinals and finals, tickets to the convention center, and a free program. Once they do the raffle, you either get informed that you won tickets or you get informed you didn’t and get refunded your money, minus an application fee of $20. They justify this by sending you a program. Majority of the “nicer” tickets are given to alums or fans of the schools participating and their student sections, so you’re randomly assigned generally lower quality seats. However, at the price you get them for, you’re actually getting a pretty good deal. Our seats weren’t great- top section, free throw line extended, but there were certainly worse seats and it wasn’t like I was just watching the jumbotron the whole game- I could see the court decently well.
Honestly, there only bad part of the seats was that it was SO COLD. Up at the top is where the air conditioning is, apparently, so we had cold air blowing on us the whole time. It was fairly warm outside, so neither Joel nor I were prepared for being cold, and I think the majority of our section could say the same.
The matchups were Oregon and North Carolina followed by Gonzaga and South Carolina. The first game, Oregon against UNC, came down to the wire despite Oregon’s studs not playing particularly well. UNC kept missing free throws down the stretch, but unfortunately, Oregon time after time gave up offensive rebounds, resulting in being unable to take advantage of the misses and not even getting opportunities to score. I was bummed for the Ducks and especially Jordan Bell, whose missed box out cost them a chance at a game winning or tying shot, but it was still a good game.
The Gonzaga was another good game between two teams that it would have been cool to see when. Spokane is an easy-ish drive from Billings, so they felt like the most local team, but South Carolina was an older, experienced team who had played above their seed and had a likable coach. Gonzaga led most of the game, but South Carolina showed some toughness and made a push towards the end. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough, and Gonzaga was meeting North Carolina Monday night in the championship!
The stadium is large and has plenty of options for eating, but nothing that particular stood out as different than normal stadium food. I got… you guessed it, a soft pretzel! I don’t remember what Joel got, but if I had to guess, he went with nachos. They don’t sell beer in the stadium during the games, for anyone looking to tailgate or pregame beforehand.
On Friday, between some of the practices, we went to a restaurant right by the stadium called McFadden’s. I got the nachos, which were delicious, while Joel got a chicken sandwich. It’s just a short walk and near both the football and hockey arenas and worth hitting up if you’re in the area.
After the games, we were hungry and tried to find somewhere to get a quick bite. Unfortunately, everywhere was packed full of people in the same boat, so we went with Jimmy John’s, which was right near the apartment building. I am not sure if JJ’s has ever tasted so good as that night.
During the practices on Friday, we visited with a parking lot attendant who had said that we’d probably make it into the parking lot the following day, so that was our original plan. However, on Saturday, Joel and I didn’t exactly see eye to eye on when we should leave for the game- I wanted to leave closer to 3 hours early, while he insisted that 2 hours would give us plenty of time because our phone GPS said it was only a 50 minute drive to the stadium. Joel won out (his friend was there, so I was outnumbered), but in the end he lost when the drive took closer to an hour and a half and he had to deal with me being stressed out and cranky. If there’s one thing that drives me crazy, it’s being late for games. I hate it, with or without Joel. We had to park much farther away and barely made it through security (lines were insane) and to our seats before tipoff. I was displeased, but we made it, at least!
Just a couple of sports fans touring the world, one stadium at a time.