By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
The streets of New Orleans are coming alive, and fans of both Kentucky and Kansas start milling about. That’s exactly what the scalpers were waiting for. According to Chris Matcovich of TiqIQ, the current average ticket price on the secondary market is $304.21.
Former Kansas coach Roy Williams is in attendance at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame ceremony, and during his speech, he says something that could annoy Kansas fans.
“Yes, we’d still like to be playing tonight,” Williams says. “I really believe we would have had a better chance if (Kendall Marshall) didn’t have that cast on his wrist right now.”
Nike founder Phil Knight, who is among this year’s Hall of Fame selections, is blunt when he’s asked what he thinks of Louisville’s interesting electric red uniforms, an Adidas invention reminiscent of some of Nike’s louder designs (Can you say Oregon?).
“We wouldn’t have anything that looks that bad,” Knight says, shaking his head with a laugh.
Former pro stars Ralph Sampson and Mel Daniels weigh in on who they think will win tonight.
Sampson: “It’s one of those final games that will be exciting to watch on both ends, but Kentucky, I think, has the bench and the power to win it all.”
Daniels: “Size, athleticism, Kansas has a lot to deal with. You’ve got pros playing for Kentucky, the No. 1 player in the country playing for Kentucky, even though he’s a freshman. That carries a lot of weight.”
Former Indiana Pacers star Reggie Miller is an analyst these days, but when asked whom Kansas forward Thomas Robinson reminds him of, Miller goes with a blast from the past.
“Thomas Robinson, I’d put him more like Cliff Robinson … who could hit the outside shot, run the floor, show some strength, play physical,” Miller says.
With all the racket about Kentucky’s overwhelming array of talent, longtime NBA coach Don Nelson — an offensive innovator — is asked if the Wildcats could beat the worst NBA team on its worst night.
“No,” Nelson says with a Santa-like chuckle. “NBA against college, men against boys.”
Becky and Kyle Bowen are diehard Kansas fans and alumni, but they rarely, if ever, have the urge to bring a sign to games. But Monday’s game is different. Roughly six hours before tipoff, the Dallas couple huddle in their downtown hotel, creating the “Self 2012” sign they plan to proudly display at the Superdome.
“KU is not that good,” Kyle says. “I think the only reason they’re winning is because of Bill Self.”
Mike Fassio, a professional scalper, says tickets on the street are going for $40 to $400. The face value for these tickets is much higher, but Fassio says there’s another dynamic at work: the 70,000-seat Superdome.
“If only the capacity were only 20,000 or so,” Fassio says with a laugh.
The crowd gathers outside the Aston Hotel, eagerly awaiting the arrival of their heroes. Hundreds of Kentucky fans stand shoulder to shoulder for a chance of seeing the team they hope will bring home the program’s eighth NCAA title.
Then suddenly, a noise crackles overhead, the sound of thunder. The rain starts falling — and hard — but they aren’t going anywhere. Instead, they break into a chant.
C-A-T-S, Cats, Cats, Cats!
The rain falls hard and steady, drenching everyone who doesn’t have the good fortune to be inside. And as fans make their way to the Superdome, they not only have to find a way to avoid the rain, but they also have to maneuver through traffic.
“It’s worth it to watch the ’Cats,” says Kathy Johnson from Harlan, Ky., raincoat and all.
Only a half hour remains until tipoff, and the Superdome is nearly full. There’s a palpable buzz in the air, the unmistakable sound of a night in which fans know something special might happen.
The national anthem is performed by The Fray with acoustic guitar and vocals — some like it, some don’t — and tipoff is only minutes away.
Here come the starting lineups. Kansas, wearing its blues for the second time all tournament, gets a healthy round of applause, but Kentucky’s fans are louder. The Wildcats have the edge this night.
Kentucky goes into a timeout with a 23-14 lead midway through the first half. Kansas’ players walk back to the huddle, heads down.
Kentucky leads 37-21 with 3:33 left to play, and KU’s band starts playing Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer.” Fitting.
Kansas gets a basket right before the break, just as it did in the semifinals against Ohio State. So the Jayhawks — who trailed the Buckeyes by nine at the break and now trail Kentucky by 14 — have that going for them.
Watch out, Kentucky. Two more free throws by Robinson cut the KU deficit to five with 1:30 left.
Oh, a huge mistake there by Kansas. A three-pointer would make it a one-possession game, but Tyshawn Taylor turns it over and fouls Marquis Teague, who nails both free throws. The Wildcats lead by eight, and this one is about over.
The confetti is falling, and Kentucky is cutting down the nets. The Wildcats win 67-59, and are the national champions for the third time since 1996.