LEXINGTON, Ky. — The fan sitting 20 rows from the court in Rupp Arena could easily be heard.
The stands were nearly empty. The few who decided to attend the Missouri men's basketball team's open practice a day before its NCAA Tournament opener waited patiently for their team’s arrival.
No. 8 seed Colorado State (25-8)
vs. No. 9 seed Missouri (23-10)
WHEN: 8:20 p.m.
WHERE: Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky.
RADIO: KTGR/1580 AM, 100.5 & 103.1 FM
A row of banners hung high from the rafters, representing the eight national championships that the Kentucky Wildcats have won, were proudly displayed above the court.
This is their home, but on Wednesday, it didn’t look like it.
The court. The signs. The backdrops. The arena. The credentials. The PowerAde cups. They were all branded with one logo: NCAA.
Missouri Athletic Director Mike Alden was among the few who sat in the crowd, chatting up the fans that decided to walk nearby.
Bucknell, Davidson, Butler, Marquette, Louisville, Colorado State, and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State had all practiced on the same court one after another throughout the day, and now it was Missouri’s turn.
The team slowly walked out of the tunnel unannounced, and the fans could easily be heard screaming for their favorite players.
One young fan screamed for Alex Oriakhi, while another screamed for Phil Pressey. Both players smiled, then began what could be their final practice of the season. The loudspeakers began to play the Missouri fight song, and the small group of Tigers faithful in the stands began clapping along.
On Thursday, Rupp Arena won’t be empty, and it won’t be quiet, when it hosts second-round games in the Midwest Region of the NCAA Tournament.
Missouri will once again be one of the final teams to take the court. It faces Colorado State in the final game of the day at 8:20 p.m.CDT.
“This is it,” senior forward Laurence Bowers said. “This is what you play for. This is what you do conditioning over the summer for. This is the big dance.”