"Good luck to you," replied the Missus, sincerely.

            Can't you just feel that Big 12 Conference love?">
            "Good luck to you," replied the Missus, sincerely.

            Can't you just feel that Big 12 Conference love?">

The Trail Rider-Round 1

KANSAS CITY – The couple in Jayhawk regalia greeted us as we pulled into the Kemper Arena parking lot Friday morning. <BR><BR>             "Good luck to the Cowboys," said the man with a friendly smile. <BR><BR>             "Good luck to you," replied the Missus, sincerely. <BR><BR>             Can't you just feel that Big 12 Conference love?

Don't kid yourself. From my seat, the mutual admiration society lasted maybe five minutes – tops – into our NCAA opening round tussle with Eastern Washington. As soon as the Eagles looked like they might make a game of it, many of the Jayhawk faithful began cheering for an upset.

            Still smarting that we whupped them by the equivalent of three touchdowns in Gallagher-Iba, in front of Dickie V. and a national TV audience? Jealous, maybe, that we won both the Big 12 regular season and tournament titles? Or simply unable to accept the fact Kansas – cradle of the peach basket and Dr. Naismith and the Phog – doesn't automatically get a seat at the right hand of the Hoops Master?

            It was a disappointing turn of events. The old Trail Rider is weary of so many dumping on Big 12 basketball this year because such disparagement can only diminish what our Pokes accomplished. I vowed to root for all the conference teams in the Big Dance – yes, even the dreaded Hook `Ems and Bully Bobby – because I was convinced it would help validate our hoops success.

            Some of our Big 12 brethren from Kansas evidently don't understand the big picture. So be it. We gave them plenty of reasons to exit Kemper's afternoon session early and head to the Golden Ox for extra refreshments. The Cowboys shook off their first-half doldrums, turned up the defensive intensity in the final 20 minutes and wiped out a very good Eastern Washington team.

            As Yogi would say, it was déjà vu all over again returning to Kemper. For so many years, we made the trek to the banks of the Missouri River for the conference tournament. Everything seemed to be in its place: The ticket scalpers along the route to the American Royal complex. The giant tent in the Golden Ox parking lot, pep bands and fans inside for pre-game rallies. The Fan Fest inside the Hale Arena next door.

            Hundreds of OSU faithful squeezed inside the Golden Ox tent at late morning to get our game faces on, clapping along to the strains of Ride ‘Em Cowboys and the OSU Chant and cheering pep talks from President David Schmidly, our magnificent PA announcer Larry Reece and OSU Alumni Association President Jerry Gill. [Note to the editors: Yes, many were picking up copies of the new-look O-State Sports Report, available right next to the orange pompons.

Inside Kemper, orange was everywhere. It wasn't quite as plentiful as last Sunday's Big 12 Championship game in Dallas, where we outnumbered the Longhorns at least two-to-one. But it was impressive for an opening round game on a workday – in an arena where, no doubt, the vast majority of tickets are in the hands of hometown Kansas fans. One Jayhawker, standing near the ramp that leads to the second-level concessions, noted, "OSU sure travels well."

As for the game, it felt like a typical opening round contest to the old Trail Rider. The upstart 15th seed gives its small, but rabid contingent something to cheer about initially. We, the fans of the Goliath 2nd seed, sit quietly, mostly confident that our team will rise to the challenge as it has all year. Of course, there is that sliver of fear: A first round upset? Please, Lord, don't let it be. Thankfully, it didn't take long in the second half to douse such concerns.

So, the NCAA 1st Round is in the books. All four Big 12 teams were winners. The Missus and I could almost see ourselves in a MasterCard commercial. Game tickets: $100. Kemper Parking: $15. Three t-shirts [for the boys and a friend] and a game program: $74. Five-star dinner at Johnny Cascone's: $50.06. Winning in the NCAA Tournament: Priceless.  

 Next Up: Give Memphis a serious case of the blues.

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