Last night, UConn upset Florida in front of a raucous crowd at AT&T Stadium in Texas to earn a shot at the program's fourth National Championship. Unfortunately, since all of us here at The UConn Blog have other jobs and limited funds, none of us were able to attend the game in person. So to provide you with an in depth look of what's going on in Dallas, we reached out to Tim Fontenault, the Sports Editor of The Daily Campus and one of the paper's men's basketball beat writers, who is in Dallas this weekend and was in the building last night. Here is a transcript of our conversation.
The UConn Blog: So how crazy was last night?
Tim Fontenault: Ha, well, it was about as crazy as it could get. Obviously UConn started off so poorly and everyone who wasn't rooting for Florida was pulling for UConn, and at that point everyone was like ‘why would we want to see this team play in the National Championship game?' And the way Florida was playing they really looked like the best team in the country, but UConn settled down, they got into their game, they played the way that we've seen them play all year and now we get to see them play on Monday night.
TUCB: Are there a lot of UConn fans in Dallas?
Tim: Obviously you're down here in the south and there's going to be more Florida fans and more Kentucky fans, they've got fanbases closer that can travel, and Wisconsin, they're one of those teams that hasn't been here in a while and they're closer than Connecticut, they brought it last night. But I was very impressed with the UConn crowd considering how far and how expensive it was to get here. I booked my flight an hour after the [Michigan State] game, not even, and it was like $800, so the fact that we were able to get several thousand people down here was pretty impressive, and they were really into it the entire game.
TUCB: How about the student section, was it a better situation than last time in Houston?
Tim: Well the good news is we didn't need to bring any Rice fans in. There was a lot of kids, I'd say there were maybe 10 or 15 empty rows, but they were sort of half rows, and it was the same thing with Wisconsin. You give a bunch of college kids four or five days to prepare to come down to Texas for the Final Four from Connecticut, it's always going to be difficult. The way UConn got the kids down here, obviously there was a student bus funded by USG, which was impressive, a lot of kids drove down, a lot of kids flew down, they did whatever they had to do to get here, and they were going crazy from about 2 hours before the game until the end of the game, and it was pretty fun to watch.
TUCB: What are the accommodations like? Is there any particular place where UConn fans are staying?
Tim: I think it's pretty scattered. There are some people who are staying in the cheap motels a couple of blocks from the stadium if they could get them, some people are staying in the city itself, everyone is just all over the place. I know a couple of kids who are actually out in Irving instead of Arlington or Dallas.
TUCB: Is it easy for fans/media to get to and from the stadium? And how about to the free concerts and other things going on around town?
Tim: This city is huge and everything is really spread out. I'm staying in the media hotel and we're like 25 minutes from the stadium. That's actually the reason we stayed there because we knew we'd have the shuttle, otherwise we'd be paying through the roof every day for a taxi to and from the stadium. Once you get into the city, there's a couple of long walks, it's like a half hour walk from our hotel to the water for the concert and about 15 or 20 minutes to the food and the nightlife, but it's not as bad as it seems. But for getting to the arena, it's pretty difficult.
TUCB: Was there a point in the game where you could really feel things start to change for UConn?
Tim: Yeah, after it was 16-4, I believe UConn took a timeout at that point, I'm not sure, but at that point it was 16-4 and everything seemed like it was going to be falling apart, and UConn would be lucky to score 10 points in the half. But then DeAndre Daniels and Ryan Boatright hit those back-to-back three-pointers, and that's when you started to see the confidence come back for them, because we've seen it all year, they hit one or two shots and the other team is done. That's when they went on that 11-0 run, I think it was in a minute and a half, and they outscored Florida the rest of the way 21-6 for the rest of the half. They went up by three at halftime and there was no way they were going to let it up.
TUCB: Did you stick around for the Kentucky game afterwards?
Tim: I saw the second half, I actually came out to watch it as Kentucky started its 15-0 run.
TUCB: What was it like inside AT&T Stadium during that game, was it different than it was during the UConn game?
Tim: A lot more crazy because Big Blue Nation really stepped up and then you had the Wisconsin fans who came down and it was their first Final Four since 2000, so they were going ballistic. Kentucky fans always travel well, that's what Big Blue Nation is all about, they're always going to be there, but they really brought it last night, and that run obviously helped them. It was just an alley oop here, a ‘how Julius Randle put that in, I don't know' there, it was pretty intense.
TUCB: Last night you mentioned something online about a certain Wisconsin fan running into some trouble, do you want to elaborate on what happened?
Tim: Well, I looked over because I heard the Wisconsin kids start going crazy, and a couple of minutes earlier they'd shown Russell Wilson and JJ Watt up on the big screen, so obviously they were all excited, but then another Wisconsin football star was trying to get down to the student section. It's separate from everything else down on the floor, and it took me a second to see what was going on, I saw this guy talking to security, and you heard the Wisconsin fans start chanting "Let him in! Let him in!" and then I realized that it was Montee Ball. That's the great Montee Ball, they're all cheering for him, "Montee Ball! Montee Ball!" and he's just trying to explain, "I'm Montee Ball, I played at Wisconsin, this is my school, I want to get down to the student section," and they were giving him a really hard time. There was about three or four security guards around him, and eventually a police officer started coming over, and that's when Montee very angrily walked away, and that was the last we saw of him.
TUCB: See anybody else famous?
Tim: There was quite a big UConn contingent there. I saw Jeremy Lamb and Hasheem Thabeet talking to Jim Calhoun at halftime. Taliek Brown and Caron Butler, there were some people taking pictures with Andrea Walker, and Kemba Walker is supposed to be here tomorrow night, so there's a nice UConn crowd of former greats, and obviously more Wisconsin people. Florida had Chandler Parsons there, and he brought along his buddy Dwight Howard, he was doing the Gator chop all night. LL Cool J was there, Troy Aikman and Jerry Jones, a big celebrity crowd.
TUCB: You've got a day off between games now so what do you plan on doing today?
Tim: Well, we have the media availability today, and the two teams have practice today so we'll get to talk to them ahead of the game, and then obviously there's a big concert tonight, fun. is opening for Bruce Springsteen, it's a free concert downtown, but I'm not sure if I'm going to go, I'm not a huge Bruce Springsteen fan and obviously our women's basketball team is playing in the Final Four tonight against Stanford, and you can't miss out on the Game of Thrones premiere tonight.
TUCB: Can you get Game of Thrones at the hotel?
Tim: Yeah they have HBO at the hotel! And if something goes wrong there's always HBOGo.
TUCB: Fair point. Alright, well last thing before I let you go, how has this experience been for you so far? Greatest weekend ever?
Tim: Ha, it's been one hell of an experience, that's for sure.