It had been a long time since the NCAA Tournament and Fort Worth had made a serious connection. Suffice to say they made up for lost time last week.
With Fort Worth hosting first- and second-round games for the first time since 1970 at the old Daniel Meyer Coliseum at TCU, folks flocked to town. Dickies Arena was packed to its 13,000-seat capacity for all six of the contests (four Thursday and two Saturday).
“The crowds were sold out and fantastic for all three sessions. We had big contingents in from Baylor, Kansas and North Carolina,” said Fort Worth Sports Commission Executive Director Jason Sands.
And they saw exciting basketball action that included some legendary programs. After blowout victories on Thursday, North Carolina and Kansas had to hold on for wins Saturday to advance to the Sweet 16 this coming weekend.
Also, in Saturday’s first game, fans witnessed a near-comeback for the ages as defending national champion Baylor overcame a 25-point second-half deficit to tie North Carolina and force overtime before the Tar Heels pulled away again for a 93-86 upset victory. The comeback, albeit short of a victory, tied the largest rally in NCAA Tournament history.
The second contest Saturday saw Kansas hold off upset-minded Creighton 79-72. It was Creighton’s second straight thriller at Dickies after posting a 72-69 overtime win over San Diego State to highlight Thursday action.
Sands said it wasn’t just the fans who were happy with the atmosphere.
Sands said NCAA officials were “extremely happy” with the city, the arena and the overall execution of the event by Dickies, the sports commission and host school TCU. “We heard a lot of great things from the teams as well,” he said. “One outlet reported that Carolina said it was one of the nicest arenas they had ever played in and they were hopeful the tournament would be coming back.”
Final numbers were still being tabulated Monday, but Sands said it was anticipated that around 6,000 hotel rooms were booked for the event. Also, fans and visitors took advantage of festivities at the nearby Fort Worth Stockyards all weekend long, he said.
And while they didn’t get to play in Fort Worth themselves, the TCU Horned Frogs represented their fans and the city well by defeating Seton Hall 69-42 last Friday in the opening round of the South Region in San Diego. It was the Frogs’ first NCAA Tournament victory since 1987, when their coach Jamie Dixon played for the team.
Sunday night, in a valiant effort, the Frogs almost pulled off one of the tournament’s biggest upsets. They had Arizona – the No. 1 seed in the region and the No. 2 team in the nation – on the ropes before the game went to overtime and the Wildcats pulled away for an 85-80 victory.