Wisconsin vs. UWM: Everyone's the Home Team
I feel like I was cheating a bit last night. It was my first UWM game of the year, and I was excited about that, but I was admittedly there primarily because Wisconsin was coming to town. When my favorite team decides to come to my city instead of visa versa, I’m going to make the effort to see them. I didn’t expect a great game, and I didn’t get to see the most crisp game of all time, but it’s still impossible to have a bad time when two in-state teams are playing one another. My thoughts:
1) I did a quick lap around the arena immediately when I arrived, partly just so that I could take in some of the ambiance at my first live UWM game of the year, and partly so that I could get a glimpse of the always entertaining smoothie booth that offers the option of adding booze to your smoothie. To my dismay, I never saw said booth. Am I just blind, or have I lost the option to enjoy an orange dreamsicle smoothie with a slight kick during games? And if that booth is gone, how is the concession stand with the worst “Mexican” food I’ve ever had still around?
2) I developed an unhealthy love of media guides back in the early 1990s when they used to sell them at Marquette games and my dad would buy one for me at the start of the season. I would then spend the next week scouring every page for obscure facts. Sadly, I haven’t seen a Marquette media guide being sold at a game in years, but they’re always available at UWM games, so I make a point of buying one at my first game of every year. They must not be flying off the shelves at the MECCA this year, though, since the guy at the merchandise booth who I bought mine from first tried to sell me a program, and didn’t seem to know what I was asking for until I pointed at the stack of books that were slightly thicker than the programs. Then he asked his co-worker what the media guides cost. I’m hoping that I just confused him since I was decked out in red, and it would seem nonsensical for an opposing fan to want to know that much about the home team. But I don’t think that’s the case.
3) What has happened to intros for the Panthers? Just a few years ago, it was pure excitement. Highlight videos and well-produced pieces talking about not being satisfied with past success were the norm. It was everything that an introduction should be to pump up the crowd. Now during introductions, there’s just some music, and the player’s picture and vital statistics appear on the screen as he runs onto the court. Totally unexciting, and I have no idea why UWM doesn’t continue to jazz things up. When you’re not the most popular team in the state (Wisconsin) or the most popular team in your city (Marquette), you need to provide a little something extra in terms of entertainment. But UWM now provides a much more bland game experience, which is disappointing, since they were clearly on the right track a few years ago. (I won’t even get into how much I miss the Popeye’s rubber chicken toss during one of the media time-outs).
4) I was appalled at the weak attendance last night–lots of open seats behind each of the baskets, and it was a late-arriving crowd to boot. How does an arena the size of the MECCA not sell out for this game? If you’re a UWM fan, you get to take on your higher profile sister school to the west. That’s always fun. If you’re a Badger fan in Milwaukee, for once you don’t have to drive just upwards of an hour to see your team. Maybe I’m just confused, since I’m the rare Badger fan who was excited to buy a 5-game pack for this game, since I knew I’d easily get to 4 other Panther games anyway. But the number of open seats really did surprise me. (The one exception to this issue being the UWM student section, who showed up in numbers that I didn’t see all of last year. Way to bring it students!)
5) Just as a housekeeping point for anyone who’s young enough to be confused about me still calling the U.S. Cellular Arena the MECCA--that’s what it was known as back during its glory years. It’s an acronym for the Milwaukee Exposition Conference Center and Arena, though this fact was lost on me when I was a kid. When I was about 7 years old, I actually thought that all Muslims had to attend a Bucks game at some point in their lives. Hey, it made sense, particularly given Lew Alcindor’s eventual name change. (Perhaps more confusing to me now is why I was familiar with practices of Islam as a 7 year old...)
6) I forget which of my friends made this point, so I’ll just credit both Curl and Coth for noting that it’s not every day that you get to see two players from South Dakota (Paige Paulson and Joe Krabbenhoft) on the same basketball floor playing in a game that doesn’t involve a school from South Dakota. Making things even more amusing was that they were matched up on one another. Actually, Krabbenhoft did one heck of a job defending Paulson, one of UWM’s top scorers, as Paulson didn’t manage to put a ball through the hoop all night (his only points came on a goal-tend by Greg Stiemsma).
7) I missed this, as I was looking away at the time, but according to my buddy Coth, when UWM was honoring its apparently dominant women’s soccer team during one of the time-outs, they began showing highlight videos on the screen that showed not actual highlights, but just random video footage of women kicking balls during games. So on second thought, maybe it’s better that the athletic department didn’t put together a pre-game basketball highlight video of introductions. I don’t need to see shots of Marcus Skinner in triple threat position...
8) I’m legitimately questioning right now whether Marcus Landry and Torre Johnson might be the most athletic match-up that I see in person all year. I love Johnson’s game, and he’s come a long way since I last saw him play in person at Milwaukee Juneau high school. Back then he was little more than a leaping and blocking machine. Now he looks like he can drop in a mid-range jumper here and there, too.
9) I liked UWM’s halftime contest involving a race between three recumbent bicycles, but thought it lost some momentum when the third place finisher was eliminated and the two winners moved on to a free-throw shooting contest to determine who would take one shot for the grand prize. Is there any more boring promotional device than the foul shooting contest between two people that don’t know how to shoot a basketball? (Actually, that book-stacking contest that they used to do when I was a student at Madison was probably slightly worse...) Couldn’t we just let the bike race winner shoot the big shot, rather than muddling through something dumb for another 30 seconds?
10) The Klements racing sausages from the Brewer game were in attendance last night, and that’s always a nice touch. One problem, however–there was never any sort of announcement regarding what they were dong there, and they didn’t actually do much beyond ambling around and shaking hands with some fans. I love Cinco (the chorizo) as much as anyone, but could we at least give these guys a purpose? Maybe make them run suicides or something...
11) I’ll defend Brian Butch’s performance until the end of time, since it really bothers me that people still talk about how a guy who’s averaging 14 points and just over 8 rebounds this year is a bust. Regardless of how he looks while he’s playing, he still gets the job done. But last night reminded me of why Butch really bugs me sometimes, though, as I watched him repeatedly fall to the floor while banging in the post and then complain to the refs about it. You’re a heck of a player, Brian, so stop whining and play the darn game already.
12) Coming out of one of the time-outs last night, Soulja Boy’s “Crank That” (aka, the Bo Ryan song) came over the sound system, and the guy sitting behind me immediately started yelling “Overplayed!” I’ve got no idea if this song is overplayed or not, since I don’t listen to much current music on the radio. Coincidentally, though, I did come upon the song on the radio on my drive down to the game last night and came to two conclusions. One, it’s not a very good song. Two, despite the song’s shortcomings, it’s still an awesome tune to hear in a gym or basketball arena.
So, it was nice to get back to a UWM game, and nice to get yet another up close (well, not from my seats, but you know what I mean) look at the Badgers. I’m still not giving up on UWM yet–I think things should improve a bit once they get deeper into conference season. But either way, I’ll be back, if only to try and find the missing rum smoothie guy...