Friday, March 19, 1999

Fans swarm St. Louis

Red or blue, but no one is indifferent

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        ST. LOUIS, Mo. — After all the headlines and hoopla about the Cinderella team from Oxford, Ohio, Sam Crawford Jr. went to the TWA Dome Thursday afternoon to check out the Miami RedHawks himself.

        And what did the University of Kentucky fan from Madison, Ky., think about All-America Wally Szczerbiak and his Miami University team mates?

        “He's tough,” Mr. Crawford said. “I'm just hoping we can shut down Wally World.”

        The surprising RedHawks face the defending national champion Wildcats about 10:15 p.m. today in the NCAA basketball tournament. The winner advances to the Elite Eight, where it will play the Michigan State-Oklahoma winner on Sunday.

        Thousands of RedHawks and UK fans — decked out in red and blue, respectively — arrived in St. Louis on Thursday via plane, train and automobile. Many attended the teams' practice sessions to catch a glimpse of their favorite players.

        They rocked the domed arena.

        Cries of, “We love you, Wally!” rang out during Miami's workout. Noisy UK fans hooted and hollered when Coach Tubby Smith took his team to the floor.

        Going into tonight's game, it's clear Miami fans are a bit more jittery about the Sweet 16 clash than UK fans. The last time Miami made it to the final 16 teams of the NCAA tournament was in 1978, when it lost to Kentucky, 91-69.

        “I get really nervous just watching Miami on TV,” said Matt Philip, a St. Louis resident and a 1995 Miami graduate. “It's almost too intense to enjoy.”

        UK fans were more relaxed.

        “I think we'll beat Miami by 10 or 15 points,” predicted Robert Scott of Paducah, reclining comfortably in his arena seat during Thursday's practice. “They've got a good team, but we'll win.”

        Mr. Crawford refused to make any promises.

        “Hopefully, history will repeat itself like in 1978,” he said. “But we've gotta stop Wally.”


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