The WAC basketball tournament wound up its four-day run Saturday night at the Huntsman Center, in case you missed it.
If you did, you weren't alone. After Utah, BYU and Wyoming bowed out in the first round, live spectator interest waned. There hadn't been this much audience apathy at the U. since Dionne Warwick canceled her last concert. Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty drew better than this.People weren't rushing to the Huntsman Center to spend $16 on a ticket to watch UTEP play Colorado State.
This, of course, threw off a lot of pre-tournament projections. The Ute ticket office had geared up for an average attendance of 10,000 per session. About half that showed up.
"We threw a party and nobody came," said Rick James, the assistant director of the Huntsman Center. "I've never seen so much basketball in one week in my life. Usually, I'm out front selling tickets."
Dave Copier, the Huntsman Center's concessions manager, ordered 1,500 hoagie sandwiches for the week. He ended up eating over 400 of them, so to speak.
"You can look like a dummy, ordering 1,500 hoagies and having this many left over," said Copier, who went so far as to cater his hoagies to the press room, free of charge - and still he had the 400 left over. "But at last year's NCAA sub-regionals we sold 2,500 hoagies. You never know."
"The thing is," Copier continued, "You know you're in good shape if Utah's in it (the tournament). Then, if they're out but BYU's in, you're still all right. And if they're out, Wyoming can always bail you out. Because their fans drive to the game and they tend to hang around the gym all day, and they're big-time spenders."
It's nothing for a Wyoming fan to buy half-a-dozen hoagies at a time.
After the Consumer Schools were gone after Thursday's opening round, Copier knew he was in trouble.
Still, the low-key affair went on. And it had its low-key moments.
This, for instance, was the tournament that marked the first time that the University of Hawaii wore its home uniforms (the white ones) on the U.S. Mainland. WAC tournament rules stipulate that the highest seeded team wears white. When the 4th-seeded Rainbows played 5th-seeded BYU, they wore white. That they won turned out to be standard operating procedure. Going into the championship game, every winner in the tournament wore white.
This was a tournament that was so well behaved it was more like a Boy Scout convention. There was, in fact, only one bona fide temper tantrum. That occurred Friday night when New Mexico coach Dave Bliss, whose team had just lost to UTEP by 42 points, was asked about the Lobos' chances of going on to the NCAA's.
"Go ahead and ask that idiotic question," shouted Bliss at the TV reporter who had already asked it. Then the coach stomped out of the room.
This was the same Dave Bliss who, in a press conference the day before, following a win over Air Force, walked into the room and saw his star player, Charlie Thomas, talking to the media.
Bliss looked at the stat sheet, saw Thomas's totals, shouted, "Sixteen rebounds!" and ran over and, in true Isiah-Magic style, gave Thomas a big kiss on the cheek.
Boyd Grant, the Colorado State coach, inadvertantly defended Bliss' behavior when he was asked to comment on an incident in the CSU-Utah game that saw CSU's all-WAC forward Pat Durham lose his composure after having a shot blocked by Utah freshman Josh Grant.
"I don't like to see my players act like that," said Grant. "I always tell them, you let the coach act like the sixth grader."
Among the week's other, uh, moments was when Bobby Dibler, a referee who happened to work a lot of games in which New Mexico lost this year, fell down the stairs in front of - you guessed it - the New Mexico fans.
The Lobo fans finally helped the ref up - but not until he'd rolled down about eight steps.
And so went the nonstop action in the Huntsman Center this week, even if not a lot of people saw it; or ate it up. The WAC can only hope that losing the host(s) early doesn't become a trend. These are the kind of echoes you don't want to wake up.