March Madness descends on San Francisco

Big names, major upsets and overall success at Chase Center

College basketball. It’s a mood, alright.

The cheerleaders. The bands. The guy waiting for the bathroom with a rubber pig on his head.

Those sights, sounds and much more were on full display this week at San Francisco’s Chase Center, where NCAA March Madness came to town featuring the men’s Sweet 16 and Elite Eight rounds of play. It was the first time San Francisco had hosted the tournament since 1939. And it was worth the wait.

You had your Arizona Razorbacks in town (hence the rubber hog hats). The Gonzaga Bulldogs. The Red Raiders of Texas Tech. And the Duke Blue Devils.

Hanging over the proceedings like a pregnant cloud, was the spectre of Mike Krzyzewski’s pending retirement. We all knew it going in. When Duke’s run ends in this tournament, so will Coach K’s career, during which he amassed five national titles, 12 Final Fours, 15 ACC tournament championships and 13 ACC regular season titles. Don’t forget the three gold medals, either. The man was simply unspellable, unsayable and, most of the time, unbeatable.

The other big story line came with Gonzaga, the nation’s No. 1 team and odds-on favorite to win the national title. Bay Area hoop heads know this story well, as the Zags have played Batman to St. Mary’s Robin for years. Would this be the year that head coach Mark Few finally broke through to win the whole thing?

Umm … no. Arkansas saw to that right away, winning the first game of the Sweet 16 in stunning fashion, 74–68. A spirited crowd wearing bright red stood and cheered lustily for their Hogs most of the game, motivating their little piggies into the Elite Eight. As the final buzzer sounded, you could see Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman (who once coached the Warriors!) running around the court like a madman, firing up the fan base and looking generally unhinged.

See? Madness.

In Thursday’s nightcap, Coach K’s Blue Devils outlasted an incredibly game Texas Tech team, which gave Duke everything it had and then some. Cool and calm down the stretch, the No. 2-ranked Dukies made the shots when they counted, resulting in a 78–73 win and a Saturday date with Arkansas in the Elite Eight, right here in San Francisco.

You couldn’t have asked for better games. Or a better venue. Chase Center is starting to feel like home to our local basketball community. Bringing in the best tournament in the country helped that along. Big moments and big games create lasting memories. If you were here for these games, you’ll be telling your grandkids someday.

This is what Warriors owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber had in mind when they conceived of an 18,000-seat, state-of-the-art facility in downtown San Francisco. They wanted it a little closer to the Bay Bridge, originally. But the resulting spot, in The City’s growing Mission Bay neighborhood, feels right. It’s an area of growth and rebirth.

It must’ve been a shock for fans visiting from all around the country to see San Francisco in such a state. Considering the national narrative — homelessness, drugs, crime — they were probably expecting apocalypse. Instead? Warm. Sunny. Beautiful. Bustling. It was just plain lovely all around the outdoor plazas and restaurants that surround Chase Center.

San Francisco wore its best dress to the dance.

Send your tips, quips and quotes to asaracevic@sfexaminer.com.

No. 4-seeded Arkansas knocked off the nation’s No. 1-ranked team, Gonzaga, 74–68, in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament played at San Francisco’s Chase Center. (Christopher Victorio/Special to The Examiner).

No. 4-seeded Arkansas knocked off the nation’s No. 1-ranked team, Gonzaga, 74–68, in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament played at San Francisco’s Chase Center. (Christopher Victorio/Special to The Examiner).

Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski happily reacts on the sideline after a foul is made on Duke during the last minute of play against Texas Tech at Chase Center. (Christopher Victorio/Special to The Examiner)

Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski happily reacts on the sideline after a foul is made on Duke during the last minute of play against Texas Tech at Chase Center. (Christopher Victorio/Special to The Examiner)

Duke center Mark Williams (15) points to the bench as time winds down with Duke in the lead against Texas Tech at Chase Center to advance to the Elite Eight round of the NCAA men’s tournament. (Christopher Victorio/Special to The Examiner)

Duke center Mark Williams (15) points to the bench as time winds down with Duke in the lead against Texas Tech at Chase Center to advance to the Elite Eight round of the NCAA men’s tournament. (Christopher Victorio/Special to The Examiner)

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