We are in Tampa, FL, for the Women’s Final Four College Basketball Championship. For the past 15 years or so we have made the Women’s Final Four a vacation trip. We go almost every year, regardless of what teams get through the earlier rounds of the tournament.
We are not completely disinterested fans, however. My husband and I both grew up in Connecticut, and although neither of us attended the University of Connecticut, we still root for its teams, particularly the women’s basketball team. Most years we get to see the UConn women at the Final Four. This year they are going for a threepeat: a third consecutive national championship.
But even if the UConn women weren’t here again this year, we’d still have a good time. I love college sports. I love the bands and the mascots and the partisan fans with their signs, costumes, and painted faces.
2014 was a particularly special year because, as we were in Nashville for the Women’s Final Four, the UConn men were winning the men’s championship. The day after the men won it all, the women did the same. The University of Connecticut is the only school that has ever had its men’s and women’s basketball teams win their national championships in the same year, and UConn has done it twice (2004 and 2014).
That won’t happen this year, but the women are still in the running for another trophy. Last night’s semifinal games were a mixed bag. The first game featured Notre Dame against South Carolina. The South Carolina women began the season ranked #1. They started out slowly in their game against ND but did manage to catch up. The second half, especially the last 10 minutes of that 20-minute period, was exciting. SC managed to pull ahead by one point near the end and had a good chance to win, but they failed to score with the final seconds ticking away, allowing ND to score a bucket and win by one point.
The second game between UConn and the University of Maryland was quite different. Maryland stayed close for a while, but UConn was up by 11 at halftime. Eventually UConn pulled away. The final score was Maryland 58, UConn 81.
The championship showdown comes tomorrow night. (Those of you who can’t be here can watch on ESPN.)
As always, immersing ourselves in the crowd outside the stadium before the gates opened offered lots of interest. A not-very-subtle security guy walked slowly past us, with his earwig and walkie-talkie. Don’t they know that, in 88 degree weather, in a crowd wearing shorts and tank tops, a guy in a suit, even a light-colored one, would stick out? Maybe that’s the point. Maybe his presence was an announcement: “Don’t try anything. We’re watching.”
And in addition to a couple of pairs of ordinary police circulating, I also saw a group of six more intimidating officers march by, 3 x 2. They were more heavily dressed, including their gadget-laden belts and heavy lace-up boots. These were not your ordinary Officer Friendly cops. They weren’t wearing helmets and didn’t have SWAT emblazoned across their backs, but they might as well have. I thought it prudent not to try to photograph them.
It’s not terribly surprising to see such sights at a time when a young man is on trial for bombing the 2013 Boston Marathon.
On a cheerier note, I marvel at the creativity and patience of the creator of this sand sculpture outside the arena: