Three nights after putting my daughters to bed early and racing to Greeley for the second half of Denver-Northern Colorado, I took a different tack Saturday for the Denver-Boise State game at Magness Arena: I brought the family with me.
Instead of planning to take my usual seat on press row, I decided that Saturday's 4:30 p.m. game would be an ideal time for a family basketball outing. So I bought three tickets: one for me, one for my wife, Becky, and one for our almost 4-year-old daughter (she turns 4 on New Year's Eve). The younger girls, 2 1/2 years old (pictured above) and 5 months old, would get in for free.
(FYI: For Internet purposes, we call our daughters "Loyette," "Loyacita" and "Loyabelle," in that order from oldest to youngest. Those are not, of course, their real names.)
This was Loyette's second collegiate sporting event in the past two months -- both, coincidentally, involving the Boise State Broncos. In mid-October, I took her for a daddy/daughter outing to the American-Style Football game between Boise State and Colorado State in Fort Collins. That game was, unsurprisingly, a total rout in favor of the blue-turf boys. The most memorable moment was Loyette's horrified commentary when she saw a ball boy running out onto the field: "Daddy! I just saw a little boy run on the field with the grownup players and TAKE THE BALL! I think that was a REALLY naughty choice!" When I explained to her, after I regained my composure, that the ball boy was just doing his job, she quickly decided that was the coolest job in the world, and she wants to be a ball girl someday.
Saturday's game didn't produce anything quite as hilarious as that quote, but there was much excitement in the house all day for our impending trip to "THE BASKETBALL GAME!" as Loyette and Loyacita excitedly called it. This time, all three sisters would be going -- for Loyabelle, this would be baby's first basketball game -- along with mommy, so that was a big thrill. We've taken the older girls to quite a few basketball games in their lives, including, when Loyette was just 5 weeks old, a Tennessee women's game in which Candace Parker dunked, and they really get enthusiastic about sports generally -- in large part, I think, because they see how happy it makes me when they do that, and they're total daddy's girls (and they have me completely and hopelessly wrapped around their little fingers ... but I digress).
We were late arriving -- a theme for me this season -- as the younger girls had taken long afternoon naps, and we didn't want to wake them, particularly Loyacita, until they were good and ready to get up. This somewhat annoyed Loyette, who had awoken around 2:30 p.m. (naptime starts around 1 p.m.) and was eager to get going to the game. But interrupting Loyacita's nap is playing with fire, so we held off. Thus, the 4:30 p.m. tip occurred as we were leaving the house, and while we were driving, I received a tweet indicating Denver had taken an 8-0 lead on the strength of eight unanswered points from Chris Udofia.
I was forced out of my usual habit of listening to "Voice of the Pioneers" Mitch Hyder's radio broadcast en route to the game because the girls wanted to hear Christmas music. But my iPhone's Sportacular app soon informed me that the lead was 11-0. As it turned out, Denver would never look back all night.
I don't remember exactly what the score was when we arrived at Magness Arena, but the Pioneers were comfortably ahead. We, however, were not initially all that comfortable. We had front-row seats in Section 13, and what I didn't realize when I bought them was that our seat location placed us right behind the band, with limited visibility for the girls. So we decided to move two rows up (it wasn't exactly a packed house) for a better view.
We also had an interesting view if we turned around. George Karl, coach of the Denver Nuggets, was seated in the next section over, about eight rows behind us.
Karl's son Coby used to play for Boise State, graduating in 2007, so Karl may have been interested in this game on a couple of different levels. Regardless, it was nice to see him out supporting DU hoops.
Anyway, we ended up pretty happy with our seats. But as anyone who has attended a sporting event with small children knows, you don't actually spend that much time in your seat. Loyette and Loyacita soon discovered some black curtains nearby, in a relatively isolated spot in the arena, that made a delightful place to play hide-and-seek and run back and forth.
They were also fascinated by the sight of a group of elementary school-age boys climbing and zig-zagging their way through the upper sections of the arena, and the girls eventually decided that was something they just had to try.
You get quite a view from up there, incidentally.
With all of this going on, I didn't get to watch the game very closely, but honestly, there wasn't much to see, drama-wise. Denver's opening 11-0 run pretty much defined the game. In the remainder of the first half, Boise never got closer than six, and Denver never led by more than 15. The Pios were up 14 at the break. In the second half, the Pioneers stretched the lead to as much as 19 with 8:25 left, while Boise never got closer (in the first 15 minutes of the half) than 12. It wasn't a game of huge runs, so my vague awareness that Denver was continuing to play well and lead comfortably was just about all I needed to understand what was happening.
Late in the second half, though, Boise finally went on something of a run, and the game recaptured my attention (by this point I was holding Loyabelle while Mommy was managing the older girls) as the Broncos pulled within seven -- 61-54 with 2:38 left -- off consecutive DU turnovers. The Pios answered seconds later on a rare fast break, with Rob Lewis getting the basket and foul on a pretty feed from Brian Stafford. Lewis would miss the free throw and fail to get the old-fashioned #superhoop, but the play nevertheless broke Boise's momentum and the Broncos never threatened again. Denver ultimately won 79 to 62.
The win improves Denver's record to 8-2 -- quite a contrast from last year, when it started 2-8. There's a remarkable symmetry between last season and this season in terms of Denver's first 10 games. The team started 0-4 last year, won its fifth game (making them 1-4), and then fell to 1-6 before winning their eighth game (making them 2-6) and losing the next two. This year, it started 4-0, lost its fifth game (4-1), improved to 6-1, lost its eighth game (6-2) and are now 8-2. It's a mirror-image season!
Saturday's win is also the Pioneers' second Red Line Upset of the season following their dominant win over Southern Miss of Conference USA last month. This time, they knocked off once-and-future WAC member (and soon-to-be conference rival) Boise State during the Broncos' two-year stopover above the Red Line in the Mountain West. Some might feel that makes it sort of a "cheap" RLU, but this was a big win regardless of Red Line status. Boise came into the game 8-2 and ranked No. 92 by Ken Pomeroy's robots -- one spot ahead of No. 93 Denver -- so this is yet another notch in the Pioneers' belt in their shockingly impressive nonconference season.
Denver has fewer than 48 hours before it hosts another Mountain West team, 11-1 Wyoming (ranked No. 97 by Pomeroy), on Monday night. If Denver can win that, pulling off two Red Line Upsets in three days, it'll really be impressive. A one-loss season at home -- the overtime heartbreaker vs. Iona being the only blemish -- would begin to become a real possibility.
* * *
By the time we got into the car and started the drive home, it was almost the girls' usual bedtimes. Whereas Denver-Northern Colorado had necessitated early bedtimes, Denver-Boise State was going to mean a late night. Ah well, it's worth it, once in a while, for college basketball.
On the way home, there was a certain amount of arguing about who was or wasn't tired (Loyette: "I'm tired." Loyacita: "I'm not." Loyette: "Yes, you are!") and discussion over what snack they'd have before bed. (Loyacita insisted she wanted a "her cheesy kiss" and was resistant to any suggestion that what she meant to say was "Hershey's Kiss.") When we arrived, said snack was served and eaten pretty quickly, and we sped through bedtime rituals, wanting to avoid total meltdown chaos tomorrow due to overtiredness.
Even so, after they picked out their bedtime stories, I realized there was one more book we really ought to read, given the day's events. So I added it on at the end, as a final pre-bedtime bonus:
"From towns and big cities, they've all come to dance." Could those words refer, finally, to Denver this season? The Pioneers have never made the NCAA tournament, but it's beginning to feel more and more like they could. They debuted last week in Joe Lunardi's Bracketology as a No. 14 seed, hypothetically facing No. 3 Kansas in the first round. (This is the nightmare scenario for Denver's basketball SID, Mike Kennedy, who is a Kansas alum and huge Jayhawks fan.) Such a relatively good seed (for a Sun Belt team) presumably implies a very good record in conference play, but who knows what this team can accomplish if it keeps playing the way it has so far.
"At the beginning, each team has a chance." Five weeks past the beginning, Denver still does, in a big way. And that's pretty exciting.
at DENVER 79, BOISE STATE 62 12/17/2011
BOISE STATE 8-3 (0-0) -- A. Drmic 4-13 5-6 14; J. Elorriaga 1-1 0-0 2; W. Perryman 5-10 1-2 12; T. Bropleh 1-3 0-0 2; D. Marks 2-5 9-14 13; K. Buckner 4-8 3-4 11; D. Wiley 0-2 0-0 0; R. Watkins 2-3 2-3 6; J. Hanstad 0-0 0-0 0; J. Crayton 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 20-47 20-29 62. DENVER 8-2 (0-0) -- B. Olson 1-4 0-0 3; B. Stafford 6-7 4-4 18; C. Hallam 2-8 4-4 9; C. Udofia 6-9 3-5 17; R. O'Neale 2-6 0-1 4; T. Hallam 3-4 0-0 7; R. Lewis 3-3 4-6 10; J. Coughlin 5-7 0-0 11; B. Foeman 0-0 0-0 0; A. Pickert 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 28-49 15-20 79.
Three-point goals: BOIS 2-10 (D. Wiley 0-1; W. Perryman 1-2; T. Bropleh 0-2; A. Drmic 1-5), DEN 8-15 (B. Stafford 2-2; J. Coughlin 1-2; T. Hallam 1-1; C. Hallam 1-4; C. Udofia 2-3; B. Olson 1-3); Rebounds: BOIS 27 (W. Perryman 7), DEN 25 (B. Olson 6); Assists: BOIS 6 (W. Perryman 2), DEN 17 (T. Hallam 3); Total Fouls -- BOIS 21, DEN 23; Fouled Out: BOIS-None; DEN-None.