March 28, 2010

Elite performance in Sacramento

Although the Stanford players insist it wasn’t easy, they made it look that way as the team marched into the Elite Eight via a 73-36 victory over 5-seeded Georgia in the first round of the NCAA women’s basketball regional at Arco Arena in Sacramento on March 27.

The crowd was dominated by Stanford fans, more than 100 of whom had arrived on two booster buses. During the long drive, these fans could enjoy wine, beer or water provided by Stanford and – on my double-decker coach – served by Gayle Mulvey, athletic department receptionist. Some fans also brought snacks to sustain themselves before the buses arrived at the pre-game social.

There they found a large, red-clad crowd enjoying themselves at umbrella-shaded tables on the front patio of Bella Bru Cafe, which served a tasty buffet.

The informal event was capped off by a surprise appearance by the band, Dollies, cheerleaders and Tree. They entertained the fans for 10 minutes before playing “It’s All Right” and running back to their own bus. Their antics drew the attention of the mall’s patrons. Even firefighters in a fire engine slowly driving through the parking lot seemed fascinated.

Then it was back into the buses to head to the arena, pick up tickets and go inside for what turned out to be an entertaining game if your favorite color is cardinal red.

After a slow start, Stanford dominated on both sides of the ball. The score at the half was 37-15. By the time the score hit 66-30 with 6:16 left, the starters were on the bench. When the game was over, all 14 uniformed players had seen action.

The only scary moment came near the end when forward Michelle Harrison crumpled onto the floor under the Georgia basket. After a few minutes, she was able to walk to the bench. It was later reported that she had been accidentally elbowed in the face and that the injury wasn’t serious.

The Georgia band was mostly brass, and its favorite, oft-played song was “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” mostly the chorus part – “Glory, glory, hallelujah.” The final strains at the end of the game, however, sounded more like a dirge than a marching song.

Speaking of songs, news that Baylor had knocked off Tennessee earlier in the day meant not only that a No. 1 seed had been upset, but that we won’t have to hear endless repetitions of “Good Old Rocky Top” if Stanford makes it to the Final Four.

The only obstacle between Sacramento and San Antonio now is Xavier, which knocked off Gonzaga 74-56 in the second game. Most Stanford fans seemed to be rooting for the scrappy Zags, but Xavier’s size was just too much.

During the first half of that game, Stanford players joined family and friends, who gave them big hugs, in the section behind what had been the Stanford bench. Their arrival also was cheered by fans, as was their departure at the half. In the meantime, associate head coach Amy Tucker and assistant coaches Kate Paye and Bobbie Kelsey sat at tables on the opposite side of the court scouting the game. Head coach Tara VanDerveer was in the stands right behind them.

Fans applauded the Gonzaga cheerleaders’ intricate formations, but people sitting near me on the homeward bus pondered the significance of Xavier’s mascot, especially since the team’s nickname is the Musketeers. Some likened it to a blue blob, while others said it was a blue amoeba.

One fan turned to her Blackberry and unearthed amusing opinions about the mascot. The consensus name seemed to be the Blue Blob, but the Web search showed that the mascot sometimes appears as the Red Blob, and sometimes it’s a swashbuckling d’Artagnan from “The Three Musketeers.” Which one shows up for the Stanford-Xavier game March 29 may or may not be a moot point.

The buses got back to campus shortly before 1 a.m. – a long day for the sleepy but happy fans.

One other musical item of interest – It probably was pure coincidence, but as my bus crossed over the Carquinez Bridge on the way to the game, the sound system quietly played ABBA’s “Dancing Queen,” the same tune heard during the Cardinal’s open practice preceding the first two rounds of the tournament in Maples Pavilion. Now we can hope that the team keeps dancing all the way to San Antonio.

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