Monday at the Final Four: One shining moment…one crummy shooting performance

With Saturday’s semifinal games in the rearview mirror and Monday’s title tilt between UConn and Butler still a day away, we took the time to wander off the beaten path a bit Sunday afternoon during our time in Houston for the Final Four. Ray Daniels, our Infiniti rep for the weekend, had previously told us that he hooked us up with tickets for Cirque du Soleil Ovo, which is described on the official site as, “an immersion into the teeming and energetic world of insects.” If that sounds crazy…well, it is, but in a fantastically awesome way. We had no idea what to expect when we arrived Sunday afternoon, but we immediately were met with another surprise: Ray not only had tickets for us to see the show, but he also secured VIP passes that got us into the Tapis Rouge tent beforehand and during intermission, where we were treated to a sensational spread of hors d’oeuvres and desserts, plus beer, wine or mimosas from the bar.

With bellies full, we made our way to the main tent to see the show. Unfortunately, no photography or video is allowed during the show and words simply wouldn’t do justice to the performance we saw. We’ll try to elaborate on the event when we recap the weekend’s festivities later this week, but for now, we’ll say that Ovo featured some of the most impressive feats of strength, balance, body control, grace and coordination we’ve ever seen, and the show itself is a memorable mix of intoxicating music, outlandish costumes and all around magnificent performances from the show’s entire cast. If you ever get a chance to check out a Cirque du Soleil show (there are a bunch in Las Vegas, including The Beatles LOVE), don’t pass it up. Your lady will absolutely love it and you likely will be surprised by how much you enjoy it. (You’ll see a photo of our group outside of the VIP tent in the slideshow above.)

Afterward, we walked through Bracket Town, the area set up in downtown Houston with more sports activities and games than you can shake a stick at — basketball, baseball, football, hockey, lacrosse, video games, you name it. The NCAA did a great job putting Bracket Town together, although it clearly is geared more toward kids than adults. Then again, we saw plenty of dads trying to slug home runs in the whiffle ball home run derby event and seeing how fast they could hit a slapshot. Later, we grabbed a delicious dinner at Hearsay Gastro Lounge Sunday night and then hit Cabo up again Monday afternoon for some lunch before finally making our way one final time to Reliant Stadium for the championship game.

As memorable as the weekend in Houston with Infiniti has been, it was disappointing to have it end on such a low note on the basketball court. The third-seeded Huskies rode a 22-3 second-half run to a 53-41 victory over the eighth-seeded Bulldogs, but there’s more to the story than that. Not only did Butler have the worst title game shooting performance in college history (12-of-64 — that’s a stellar 18% — overall from the field, 9-of-33 from the 3-point line and 3-of-31 on 2-point attempts), they nearly had more missed shots (52) than UConn had points (53). Their 41 points marked the lowest total in any National Championship game since Oklahoma State scored 36 in 1949, and the 94 combined points by the two teams is the fewest in a National Championship game since 1950. In a word: Ugly. But let’s not take anything away from UConn, whose defense deserves credit for forcing Butler into what may very well be the worst offensive performance in NCAA postseason history. Jim Calhoun (68) became the NCAA’s oldest championship coach while junior G Kemba Walker took home Most Outstanding Player honors. It may not have been the highlight-reel finale we were hoping for, but it won’t take away from what was a memorable sports weekend, capped by seeing CBS’ famous “One Shining Moment” video montage in person and then watching the champion Huskies cut down the nets.

  

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Saturday at the Final Four: Another helping of Mack and Skeen, please

When complete strangers start chucking mini foam basketballs at you on your way down an airport escalator, you know Final Four fever has settled in. Houston was buzzing already, and we were still more than 24 hours away from the tipoff of the Butler/VCU game. Fans were moving through the George Bush Intercontinental Airport with their team affiliations proudly displayed on jerseys, t-shirts, hats, luggage and, of course, directly on their bodies with temporary tattoos and skin paint. Houston was ready to party. And so were we.

After getting settled at the Magnolia Hotel in downtown Houston, we met with our trusty Infiniti rep for the weekend, Ray Daniels, and headed to Cabo for a quick bite to eat and a couple of cervezas. Great way to start a great weekend. A few hours later, we found ourselves at the Sambuca Jazz Cafe for some dinner — the lobster enchiladas come very highly recommended — and stuck around after the meal for a few more drinks and some great live music. If you ever are in Houston looking for a place to spend an evening out, Sambuca should be on your short list.

Of course, Saturday was game day, and after grabbing a quick burger, we hopped onto the shuttle bus and headed over to Reliant Stadium (home of the NFL’s Houston Texans) to check out Infiniti’s Tip-Off Tailgate event, with all sorts of games, activities and, of course, food and drinks. We milled around the tailgate section for an hour or so, our celebrity radar already on high alert since we could safely assume that some big names would be in attendance to take in college basketball’s biggest weekend. Sure enough, just before we made our way to the gate, we saw former NFL defensive lineman Warren Sapp hanging with a group of people in a tucked away corner of the event, but we wisely resisted the temptation to snap a quick picture. We’ve made a point of not irritating 300-pound former NFL players, and it’s worked well for us so far so why deviate now?

Shortly thereafter, we had settled into our club seats, center court, ready to take in the action. The stadium, like the city, was electric, with fans from all four teams — Butler, VCU, Kentucky and UConn — ready to cheer their boys on to Monday’s title game. Up first was 8-seeded Butler vs. 11-seeded VCU, a meeting of Cinderellas that got the evening off to a great start. In fact, while Kentucky vs. UConn represented what many fans considered the primetime highlight of the evening, the Butler/VCU game was the more enjoyable matchup. Butler G Shelvin Mack and VCU F Jamie Skeen exchanged baskets for much of the evening, with Skeen topping Mack in points, 27-24, but VCU stumbled late and Mack’s Bulldogs ultimately wound up with the advantage on the scoreboard. And that, as we all know, is the only thing that matters.

Unfortunately, #3 seed UConn and #4 seed Kentucky couldn’t keep the momentum going, engaging in a sloppy game of ugly turnovers, poor shot selection and overall lackluster play. Despite being cheered on by the weakest student-body turnout of the night (seriously, where was Husky Nation last night??), the Huskies escaped with a 1-point win in the back-and-forth contest thanks, in large part, to some strong defense on freshman PG Brandon Knight, but we left the stadium wishing the Huskies and Wildcats had played first so we could have ended the evening on a high note with Butler vs. VCU. Of course, we won’t dare complain about what’s been a fantastic weekend so far. Fans here are anxious to see what should be a prime matchup Monday night between UConn and Butler with all the marbles on the line. Can UConn carry its defensive momentum into the title game or will Butler capitalize on their second-straight trip to the championship round? See you Monday night!

  

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