So, what time are you leaving?
You are planning on coming, right?
In case you didn’t realize, the Fresno State men’s basketball team plays San Diego State on Saturday afternoon for the Mountain West Conference championship and the league’s automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.
The Bulldogs win, and they’re in. Couldn’t be simpler.
It’s a 398-mile drive from Fresno to the Thomas & Mack Center, according to my friends at Google Maps. That should take about 6 hours, depending on how long you stop at The Mad Greek in Baker for souvlaki and iced tea. (Best iced tea between Fresno and Vegas, or so says noted authority Robert Kuwada.)
So if Bulldogs fans like yourself leave home at 8 a.m. – I’m allowing an extra hour for wet roads or the line at the Hard Rock sports book – you’ll get here just in time for 3 p.m. tip or midway through the first half. Just like you do at Save Mart Center.
That is, when you bother to show up at all.
During my years in Fresno there are two things I’ve learned about Bulldogs fans, in particular the casual stock that makes up the large majority:
▪ No. 1: Most of you don’t do things until the last possible moment. (See all the late arrivals at Bulldog Stadium and SMC, plus long lines at the walk-up window before big games.)
▪ No. 2: Most of you only care when there’s a palpable buzz, when there’s a chance you’re missing out on something big.
Well, waking up early on a Saturday, hopping in the car and driving to Vegas is pretty darned last-minute. And the NCAA Tournament is as big and buzzy as college basketball gets, especially when your squad hasn’t been there in 15 years.
So I’m asking again: What time are you leaving?
“I hope they do come out for us,” senior guard Julien Lewis said. “I seen the San Diego State fans out there. Now it’s like, ‘Yeah, we’ve got to have Fresno’s side packed. We’ve got to have it rowdy in here.’
“But even if they don’t come out, I feel like they’re supporting us by yelling at the screen.”
Nothing wrong with yelling at the TV. It’s just a lot more effective in person. The lower bowl of the arena was more than half empty for both semifinal games. A little crowd support would go a long way.
Am I expecting thousands of cars with red and white Bulldogs flags fluttering from their antennas to form a Road Warrior-esque convoy over Tehachapi Pass?
Sorry, even my imagination isn’t that vivid.
Maybe such a scene was possible in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s. Now? You’d get better odds betting green in roulette.
Over the years I’ve heard so many stories about how well Fresno State fans travel. Maybe that used to be true, but today it’s largely a myth.
Disagree? Here’s your chance to prove me wrong.
I’ll credit some Bulldogs fans, maybe a hundred or so, for getting a jump on things. There were definitely more of you in the house for Friday night’s 64-56 rather ugly victory over Colorado State in the semifinals than the previous evening against UNLV.
Still, there could always be more. Especially against an Aztecs squad that plays defense like a pack of wolves on speed.
Meaning your boys need all the help they can get. Meaning they can use every last set of your lungs against the MW’s dominant program over the past decade.
Playing their third game in three days – and second in 15 hours – the Bulldogs are likely to be a little pooped Saturday.
An extra infusion of fan energy would come in real handy Saturday afternoon.
“Even though when you’re on the court you bring your own energy, I feel at some point the crowd does pick you up,” MW Player of the Year Marvelle Harris said. “We could use that.”
I realize 398 miles is a long way to drive, much of it scrub desert. It would be much easier to crack open a beer and a bag of Doritos and plop on the couch. But don’t tell me those calories would be guilt-free.
Fresno State hasn’t played a basketball game this important since 2001. Why would any card-carrying Bulldogs fan miss a chance to be a part of history? Don’t even use the price of gas as an excuse.
At this point, there’s only one question that matters: What time are you leaving?