As fans, I would imagine each of us has a conception for what a venue on our side of The Line looks like. If you're a fan of the NEC, it may be a small gym tucked away on the campuses of universities in sprawling metropolises. If you're passionate about the Valley, it may be large, Midwestern arenas where Our Game is the main game in town.
Texas Hall is not what anyone would think of as a place to play basketball. The on-campus venue at UT-Arlington is an auditorium that has attracted musical acts, speakers and other entertainment since its 1965. Its oversized stage has allowed it to play host to college basketball for 47 years, until Saturday night.
The concept of playing basketball at an auditorium is not completely unique. A-14 fans will note that the conference tournament has been played at Boardwalk Hall, one of the country's preeminent auditorium venues in the first half of the 20th century, for the past few seasons. Those same NEC fans likely remember LIU playing at what used to be the Brooklyn Paramount. Part of the original 100 Games Project involved a visit to the Blackbirds' then-home.
However, those were converted auditoria. Texas Hall's other entertainment commitments meant that, until the last few years, the Mavericks could not practice through much of December at "The Stage" because of Texas Hall's hosting of "The Nutcracker".
UTA will have no such conflicts at its new home, College Park Center, which opens with a men's/women's doubleheader on February 1. The 7,000-seat, $78 million venue is something that would probably fit in in the Valley. UTA will be joining the WAC next season, part of a broader Get Big campaign. All over the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, new freeway billboards remind drivers of the university that has been in the shadows of SMU, TCU, North Texas athletically and academically among DFW institutions.
For eight seasons, a common theme on this site has been how different the experience of Our Game is between fans and the media. The lead-up to the last game at Texas Hall exemplified that. A Dallas Morning News feature ran the Sunday before the last game on Saturday and had the lede, "There won't be a wet eye in the house when the curtain goes down on basketball at Texas Hall come month's end." One anecdote in the article concentrated on when Sports Illustrated called Texas Hall the nation's "Best Place to Watch Basketball" in 1997. The athletic department at UTA thought it was a joke and that the magazine was mocking the building. Never mind that the SI story focused on a variety of unique superlatives in college sports. The Morning News story further went on to talk about how Texas Hall has been a liability to UTA's recruiting.
Mind you, I've never been affiliated with UTA in any way, but I loved Texas Hall. I loved just how different the place was and the great sightlines that were unique for basketball. I don't know that I'll ever go to another venue where players' pursuit of loose balls can result in a four-foot drop into the seating area. Texas Hall is where I met Kyle in person for the first time in Season 3, and where I saw an amazing double-overtime game between North Texas and UTA at the beginning of UNT's Sun Belt double-championship season of 2009-10.
College Park Center is certainly a great thing for Our Game in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, a pro football media market where the time devoted for basketball on the evening news is usually allocated to the defending NBA Champions. If larger local media outlets are discussing college basketball, it's commonly about one of the Big 12 schools. In other words, mid-majordom is on the periphery of the periphery in DFW. The new arena has already started to claim headlines ahead of its opening.
Much of coverage of the move deserves to be about the team, led by upperclassmen and up-and-coming young coach Scott Cross. The sixth-year coach is an alum of UTA, and played his college basketball at Texas Hall. The Mavericks came into the game at 12-5 overall and 5-0 in the Southland Conference, the only unblemished record in that league. Since I've lived in the area, UTA has never had a team this good. When the Mavericks made the NCAA Tournament for the only time in their history in 2008, it followed a 7-9 league record and a Southland conference tournament where the seventh and fifth seeds met for the bid.
I decided to go to the game a couple months ago when I remembered that this was the year when UTA would be moving out of Texas Hall. I was somewhat surprised to learn that College Park Center would be opening in February, meaning the Mavericks would only play four home games in the new facility before the end of the season. The general message conveyed in the Morning News feature by the athletic department was, "Happiness is Texas Hall in my rearview mirror," which the mid-season nature of the move confirms.
I went with my father, who heard about the new facility after I did, and wanted to go to the last game at the unique venue. I credit my dad for why I am passionate about college basketball to this day, but not why I love mid-majors. He's a Duke alum. He seemed genuinely surprised that all the tickets were general admission, something that's not really uncommon on our side of The Line.
After buying our tickets and entering Texas Hall, we were handed a program commemorating the occasion.
We arrived early for the 7 p.m. tip in order to take pictures, first at the balcony level of the auditorium where we would watch all the game action. When SI gave UTA that "award" in 1997, I think they were talking about views like this and the up-close view given to fans in the bleachers, opposite the auditorium seating.
After the teams were done with their initial warm-ups, the court level was our next stop, where it was remarkably easy to step on the playing surface. Two unguarded black ramps hugged the baseline ends of each side of the stage. We went up the ramps and started to take pictures at court level. My dad and I had no media credentials whatsoever, but no one really cared about us being on-court 40 minutes prior to tip.
Like a normal performance venue, Texas Hall has storage capability in its wings, including hoops even I can dunk on.
UTA doesn't possess many conference championships in basketball, but the "Movin' Mavs" wheelchair team has seven national titles. I asked someone with the athletic department after the game where the Texas Hall floor would go. He said that it would be used by the wheelchair team. So, there will still be basketball that calls Texas Hall home, albeit in a different form. After answering my question, he was eager to show me a picture of the new floor at College Park Center. These guys really can't wait for February 1.
Perhaps I shouldn't have been so surprised, but the game presentation had more bells and whistles than when I've been to Texas Hall before. A pep band played, led a couple of cheers, but disappointingly truncated "I Believe That We Will Win" to "We Will Win". There was both a dance squad and cheerleaders. But most importantly, UTA now has a mascot to dance to hip-hop music during pre-game warmups.
The first half saw slow starts by both teams, as the scoring wasn't opened until the sixth possession of the game. Neither team gained any separation in the first half, and each side's efficiency was well under a point per possession.
The game promised to be a contrast of styles, and didn't disappoint. UTA is one of the nation's fastest-paced teams at 72.9 possessions a game, while Stephen F. Austin is one of the slowest, at 62.8 a contest. As the second half started, the Mavericks tried to push the pace, but weren't successful enough on their quicker possessions to keep it going. Midway through the second half, the game had another lull. From around the 10-minute mark in a tie game until five minutes were left to play, there were only six points scored, all of them UTA's.
The last five minutes made up for the previous five, and sent Texas Hall out in style. Down 44-38, SFA made a three-point play and then three consecutive #superhoops. The 12 points on four possessions, complemented by only four for UTA in the same time span, gave SFA a 50-48 lead with three minutes left. Antonio Bostic was key for SFA in the run, hitting two of the three from #superhoop range.
UTA's senior leader and leading scorer LaMarcus Reed responded to the run by carrying the team to the finish line, nailing buckets on consecutive possessions with UTA holding on to a one-point lead. His free throws in the final minute put the game beyond reach. The win was UTA's ninth in a row, tying a school record for longest winning streak.
After the game, a closing ceremony of sorts was done for Texas Hall. Speakers included university president James Spaniolo, Willie Brand (not to be confused with former German Chancellor Willy Brandt) and Cross. Brand, the program's all-time leading scorer, is the only player to have his number retired in UTA men's basketball history. After speaking, he kneeled down and kissed the UTA logo at midcourt. Spaniolo and Cross echoed the sentiments delivered in the media: that Texas Hall was unique and had its share of memories, but that there's nothing but enthusiasm in the program about moving to College Park Center.
To end the ceremony, the pep band played the alma mater one last time at the 47-year old building as the players and cheerleaders joined hands. The curtain fell on "The Stage", Semisonic's "Closing Time" came over the speakers, and college basketball said goodbye to its most uncommon venue.
at TEXAS-ARLINGTON 63, STEPHEN F. AUSTIN 54 01/21/2012
STEPHEN F. AUSTIN 9-9 (3-2) -- D. Gatson 2-4 0-1 6; A. Bostic 5-12 2-2 14; D. Haymon 3-5 0-0 7; T. Smith 5-6 0-2 10; H. Bateman 3-8 1-2 7; J. King 2-4 1-3 5; D. Gardner 1-3 0-0 3; J. Parker 1-6 0-0 2; J. Scott 3-5 0-0 6; J. Bright 0-1 0-0 0; M. Delph 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-50 4-9 54. TEXAS-ARLINGTON 13-5 (6-0) -- L. Reed III 4-10 8-8 17; K. Butler 1-1 0-2 2; B. Ingram 0-8 4-4 4; J. Reves 4-6 1-2 9; C. Catlett 3-6 3-4 9; S. White-Miller 2-4 4-4 9; B. Gay 3-5 1-2 8; B. Edwards 1-1 0-0 2; K. Gruszecki 1-3 0-0 3; S. Lagerson 0-0 0-1 0. Totals 19-44 21-27 63.
Three-point goals: SFA 4-15 (A. Bostic 2-5; D. Gardner 1-2; D. Haymon 1-3; H. Bateman 0-1; J. Bright 0-1; J. King 0-1; J. Parker 0-2), UTA 4-13 (L. Reed 1-2; C. Catlett 0-1; B. Gay 1-2; B. Ingram 0-4; S. White-Miller 1-1; K. Gruszecki 1-3); Rebounds: SFA 28 (A. Bostic 8), UTA 26 (K. Butler 5); Assists: SFA 17 (H. Bateman 5), UTA 10 (C. Catlett 3); Total Fouls -- SFA 23, UTA 16; Fouled Out: SFA-A. Bostic; UTA-None.