If the Shockers keep this up, they’re going to spoil their fans forever.
Sweet 16? No problem.
Elite Eight? Sure thing.
It was pretty easy being a member of the Wichita State fan section Thursday night in the Staples Center as the Shockers put La Salle away 72-58 and earned the right to play Saturday for a spot in the Final Four.
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“Win and survive – that’s what this tournament is all about,” said Rick Totten, a fan dressed in black-and-gold-striped overalls so outrageous that he spent much of the game dancing on the fan cam.
Sure, there were moments of tension – like the couple of times La Salle got within 10 points of the Shockers. But on any other day, that would be a comfortable lead, many fans admitted, even as several chewed their fingernails and twisted their hair nervously. (Lynn Marshall, we’re looking at you.)
As the clock ran down on the final few seconds of the game, the fan section broke into an a cappella rendition of “You Don’t Want to Go to War.”
“Elite Eight! Yes!” shouted WSU President John Bardo, pumping his fists as he exited the court ahead of the team.
Lynn Marshall finally smiled, the tension draining from her frame, and hugged her friend Diane Fletcher. A fan behind her waved a sign in the air that he had been waving so enthusiastically it had split in half. It read “Happy Ron Baker Day.”
Members of the pep band, given a reprieve from a trip back to Wichita, began to chant: “We’re staying in L.A. We’re staying in L.A.”
“I hear the beach feels good,” said baritone sax player Jeremy Thomas. “We’re going to find out tomorrow.”
Thursday’s fan section, more than six times the size of the one that traveled with the Shockers to Salt Lake City, was filled with a roster of Wichita and WSU big wigs, from Congressman Mike Pompeo to local Realtor Cindy Carnahan.
It included boosters, current students, alumni and several Californians who once lived in Wichita or went to WSU.
They crammed into the section behind the WSU bench and cheered and chanted as though they were watching history in the making.
And they might have been.
Among the fans in Thursday’s crowd was Manny Zafiros, who was a backup point guard on the 1965 WSU team that made it to the Final Four.
The game was bringing back a surge of memories – and digging up new emotion.
Zafiros, who lives in Bradenton, Fla., with his family, brought them all to the game. And his goal between now and Saturday, he said, is to get more of his 1965 teammates to Los Angeles to fill the stands.
“Going to the Final Four was the highlight of my life,” he said. “It’s still with me and will be the rest of my life.”
Totten, a farmer from Oxford who grew up listening to Shocker basketball on the radio and has season tickets, even though he lives 40 miles from town, said he thought all day the Shockers were going to win – but he wasn’t comfortable admitting it until about the four-minute mark.
But he was more than willing to admit his hopes for Saturday.
“This is just one more step in the process,” he said. “One more game, and we’re in the Final Four. What more could you ask for from a team picked fourth in our conference?”