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Basketball odyssey: 3 tourneys, 12 games, 11 hours


It is closing in on 11 p.m. Wednesday at the Thomas & Mack Center and Buster Bronco, the Boise State mascot, is starting to morph into Secretariat, “The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson” mascot.

I am starting to lose it.

After the timeout, San Diego State’s James Rahon dribbles all the way to the baseline, totally mucking up a fast break. Upon running out of room, Rahon spins in the air and chucks the basketball into the back row of the media section, to where that Marty Fletcher guy — hey, I thought The Mtn. went off the air — is talking with his hands, with his back to the play.

“AAARRGH! Doesn’t anybody run the offense any more?”

And then I totally lose it.

This is my 12th college basketball tournament game in 11 hours. March Mayhem. Mountain West, Pac-12, Western Athletic Conference women: Three tournaments, 12 games, three arenas up and down Tropicana Avenue, I have watched them all. Or at least parts of them all.

I need a T.O., baby. A full 60. Or even one of those 75-second jobs during the NCAA Tournament, where they show ads for Buffalo Wild Wings and what’s going to be on “60 Minutes.”

Like Capt. James T. Kirk, I have boldly gone where no man has gone before.

Actually, I feel more like Capt. James A. Lovell, the Apollo 13 commander. Somebody has stirred those oxygen tanks, my heat shield has blown off. Or one of those other space travel calamities.

One of the Thomas & Mack Red Coats applies a cold compress to my head. He knows. He assures me it will be OK.

A guy identifying himself only as Tyrone Shoelaces has found my heat shield and my Mountain West parking pass in the Excalibur self-parking lot.

Orleans Arena, 11:52 a.m.

I am walking the long corridor from the casino to the arena under the banners of the WAC schools: Denver, Idaho, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State, San Jose State, Seattle, Utah State, Texas State, UTSA — that’s right, at 8:30 p.m. the airport security folks will be squaring off against the Lady Techsters.

Where thousands of Gonzaga fans had walked two nights earlier before the West Coast Conference championship game against Matthew Dellavedova and Saint Mary’s, I now walk alone.

The San Jose State women are leading Idaho 9-5 at the first media timeout. Nobody from Seattle, New Mexico State or Idaho — the only three WAC members not leaving for greener pastures next season — has indicated they, too, plan to bolt. Not wanting to jinx it for the WAC, I head for the MGM.

MGM Grand Garden, 1:08 p.m.

BAM! No. 0 on Arizona State, Carrick Felix, has just laid out No. 24 on Stanford, Josh Huestis, with a forearm shiver not 20 feet from where Juan Manuel Marquez laid out Manny Pacquiao with that right hand Dec. 8.

Unlike the Pac Man, Huestis gets up. On the next possession, he knocks down a long 3-pointer. Tough guy, that Huestis.

This game has a good flow to it. People wearing tasselled loafers on Ghertner Row — instead of Gucci Row, I have decided to name the expensive floor seats at the Grand Garden in honor of Scott Ghertner, the MGM’s longtime publicity chief — are cheering wildly though three of the Sun Devils and one Cardinal are wearing what appear to be Olivia Newton-John leg warmers under their basketball trunks.

Thomas & Mack Center, 2:27 p.m.

UNLV has just defeated Air Force, which does not wear leg warmers under its basketball shorts and, in fact, is the only team I will see all day that wears basketball shoes and socks that match. I am following Mike Fitzgerald and one of his Falcon teammates from the postgame news conference through the bowels of Cox Pavilion and the T&M because I figure they know where they are going, and I want to say hello to my buddy who is one of the Air Force assistant coaches. Dave Rice and a couple of his Rebels are headed the other way through the catacombs when Rice says hello to me by name.

And this is where I think that though the Rebels’ second-year coach has had his ups and downs, he sure is a nice guy.

Thomas & Mack Center, 2:44 p.m.

I will stay at the Colorado State vs. Fresno State Mountain West quarterfinal only until Pierce Hornung, the battering Ram of the backboards, gets his first rebound. It comes at 2:43 p.m. It would be the first of his nine rebounds. Then, on the other end, Hornung scores on a layup. It would be his first and only basket.

As I get up to leave, Larry Eustachy, the CSU coach dressed all in black like Johnny Cash, is stomping his foot and singing the “Folsom Prison Blues” because he thinks a blocking foul on Colton Iverson, his big guy, should have been charging.

On the other end, the whistle blows. An illegal screen on Iverson is called holding on the Fresno guy. This is why Larry Eustachy and other coaches stomp their feet.

Stuck in traffic on Tropicana Ave., 2:59 p.m.

Back in the truck, it occurs to me that between the T&M and the Orleans Arena there are two adult bookstores, one strip joint/gentleman’s club, a massage parlor, a bar called Ocean’s 11 and an In-N-Out Burger. This is pretty much everything you could ever need in the event of a blowout.

MGM Grand Garden, 3:29 p.m.

It is a second and change before halftime when No. 23 on Colorado, a guy with a feathered 1970s haircut named Sabatino Chen — who looks the spitting image of Henry Steele, Robby Benson’s character in the old basketball movie “One on One” — takes the ball out of bounds in front of me. He throws it to No. 25, Spencer Dinwiddie, who sinks a halfcourt shot.

Across the way, the First Brother-In-Law — Oregon State coach Craig Robinson, Michelle Obama’s brother — looks fit to be sequestered.

Orleans Arena, 3:57 p.m.

I watch the dying seconds of Utah State’s 78-65 victory over the Denver women. Because the next game doesn’t start for an hour, there is time for a sandwich or some more media hospitality room pretzels.

On one of the medium screens in Brendan’s Irish Pub, Bucknell and Lafayette are playing defense against each other in the Patriot League finals. Normally, this is something that would interest me. Not today.

I order the jambalaya pasta at Big Al’s Oyster Bar. The waitress asks if she can bring me anything else. “Yes,” I say. “Bring me Matthew Dellavedova’s jump shot.” She doesn’t get it. She must have been off Monday night.

Orleans Arena, 5:51 p.m.

The New Mexico State women are warming up to play Seattle U, which will be without Elgin Baylor, when I notice three of the Aggies’ assistant coaches are wearing high heels — very high heels, like Eva Longoria’s — and one is on the court, throwing bounce passes to Aggies players.

This would not have been tolerated in the community center where I shot baskets as a youth where a big sign said “No Heels Allowed On Court.”

The game tips a few minutes later. Amazingly, New Mexico State, Seattle and Idaho still have not left the WAC, and those NMSU assistants have not toppled over.

MGM Grand Garden, 6:59 p.m.

It’s halftime of the Utah-Southern California game and I am following a slender giant whose long and decrepit legs appear to cross in the middle, like an “X,” around the knees. This is the great Bill Walton, whose gait after all the knee surgeries resembles that of an old racehorse.

A lot of people from Ghertner Row follow much more quickly behind Walton, to ask if they can have their picture taken with him.

Bill Walton has to use the restroom. But he stops and stoops for every one of those cellphone photo requests because, like Dave Rice, Bill Walton is a very nice guy.

Thomas & Mack Center, 7:18 p.m.

Wyoming and New Mexico are getting ready for the second half when the Wyoming pep band plays a rousing edition of “Ragtime Cowboy Joe” on its pep band instruments.

This is a pretty awesome fight song. But not nearly as awesome as “Fight On!” the USC fight song.

As for cheerleaders, suffice it to say that SC’s still are a No. 1 seed. Any bracket. Any region. Especially the Mideast, where it snows a lot.

Orleans Arena, 8:39 p.m.

The Lady Techsters from Ruston, La., have taken a 28-15 lead on the airport security folks from UTSA.

New Mexico State, Seattle and Idaho still are in the WAC.

MGM Grand Garden, 9:21 p.m.

Washington is playing Washington State in a first-round game that Keith Jackson, the old ABC broadcaster, truly would love; the Wazzu coaches are flashing placards from the bench to the Wazzu players that say “E-4” or “E-5” or some other letter with some other number.

A few minutes later, when I’m searching for my truck in the maze-like MGM self-parking garage, I wish I had taken the Wazzu assistants with me: I can’t remember if I’m parked in E-4 or E-5, or in some other letter with some other number.

Thomas & Mack Center, 10:47 p.m.

I’ve just spotted Craig Ferguson’s horse and after the timeout, James Rahon is having his dribbling fit right in front of me, and then he’s spinning in the air, and then he’s throwing the ball into the second row of the media section, where that Marty Fletcher guy — whoever he is — is talking with his hands with his back to the play.

In a little while, the Aztecs will have won, and a couple of media types close to me will have groaned, because a garbage-time 3-pointer by one of the Broncos — which looks good from our angle, and which, had it dropped, would have enabled Boise to cover — clangs off the front of the rim. It does not drop.

Unlike me.

At 11:20 p.m., it’s finally over. Basketball Jones leaves the building; he’s headed for home, for the cool side of the pillow. The media types who lost their bets on the garbage time 3-pointer that clanged off the rim head the other way on Tropicana, toward the Ocean’s 11 bar and/or the Tropical Massage parlor.

Cool side of the pillow, 3:08 a.m.

I awake with a start, in a cold sweat. In my nightmare, the Big Sky has moved its postseason tournament to an outdoor court in the Slots-A-Fun parking lot. I get caught in traffic and miss the Northern Colorado vs. Montana State game.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski