UCLA and Oregon had the most fans at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento for the first two rounds of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. And they left Sunday night content with the knowledge their teams had advanced as the final 16 teams in the tournament.
But, those fans certainly did not make up all of the 16,000-plus who attended each of the six games Friday and Sunday.
Thousands of Rhode Island, Kent State, Kansas State, Creighton, Iona, and Cincinnati fans are going home happy for the experience, but sad for the outcomes.
The same can be said for some of the coaches. Smaller schools like Kent State and Rhode Island usually are only in the tournament as conference champions. So, expectations are somewhat tempered by the thought of playing the schools that are larger and have a much longer history of success.
Rhode Island was an 11-seed and upset Creighton in the first round. Head coach Dan Hurley of Rhode Island hardly sounded dismayed following his team's 75-72 loss to Oregon Sunday.
"Couldn't be prouder obviously of these guys, what they've done for the great state of Rhode Island, our amazing fans. This program, these guys to my right took over or came in when we were not in such great shape and then took us to a possession away from getting to the Sweet 16," Hurley said. "The men to my right and the guys in the locker room, couldn't be prouder of them, an amazing season, conference champions, the run we've been on, the heart that we showed today and the high level of play. I thought it was amazing.
Oregon led early during Sunday's game. But, Rhode Island quickly took control and did not trail until the final 38 seconds when Tyler Dorsey hit the game-winning three-pointer. Dorsey hit nine of ten shots and had 27 points.
Oregon will play Michigan in Kansas City on Thursday.
As for UCLA, the Bruins were behind or tied with Cincinnati for most of their second-round game before prevailing 79-67. The Bearcats were favored in their first-round matchup with Kansas State and won fairly easily. On Sunday, they again had their opportunities, but just didn't have enough to defeat a team with at least two future NBA players, if not more.
Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin was asked after his team's loss to describe the season,
"Wild success. Second most wins in the history of the school, three seniors that are unbelievably good kids that have been to four NCAA Tournaments that are all going to walk in late April in our graduation, he said.
"Not only did they win, they won the right way, and we're really proud of the way we win at Cincinnati, graduating players, selfless, doing it the right way with integrity and character. It's what intercollegiate athletics and amateur athletics is all about. To do it at the level that these guys have done it was awesome."
Cincinnati led 33-30 at halftime, and 47-46 in the second half. But the play of UCLA guard Lonzo Ball did them in. Ball found two teammates for scores and hit a three-pointer in consecutive possessions to give the Bruins a 55-47 lead. UCLA would not train again.
The Bruins will play Kentucky in Memphis on Friday.
The women's tournament begins Thursday. University of the Pacific in Stockton is one of the tournament's hosts.