In the heart of the athletics zone of the University of Houston campus, Hofheinz Pavilion seems to hover over its hill on Cullen Blvd. Named after the man who got the Astrodome built, it has provided a permanent home to UH basketball since 1969.
While the men's basketball team hasn't quite reclaimed its summit marked by the Phi Slama Jama years of the early 1980's, the arena still provides the cozy atmosphere and thunderous amplification that fans have always enjoyed there. Both attributes are derived from the ceiling, low and flat, with plastering and light fixture installations more akin to a living room than the trussed, dark, obscure roof-undersides found in most newer buildings. It is also of the old mode of building a dirt hill, then digging the arena bowl out of it, so that fans enter from the top of the sections, and there are no broken places where an access tunnel connects from the concourse.
Those sensations of cozyness and amplification are regularly evident in games. While the reasons for UH's struggles with attendance are another story, the intimate atmosphere of the low ceiling rarely leaves the fans feeling lonely, and the student section, often the most densely populated and vocal section, can usually get the effect of triple their numbers the way their sound bounces off the hard planes above and below. When all fans get loud, the roar is reminiscent of an SEC football game.
The students, by C-USA rule, are kept in sections 117 to 119, which takes them from behind the south goal to the free-throw line, counterclockwise. Most chants are basic, from the endless drone inspired by Duke, to "Let's go Cougars" x x xxx (x's being claps) and "Go, Coogs Go" x x x. There are original ones that depend on the band's play, from their position behind the same goal, but those can only be illustrated by sound, or watching a game on TV.
The Cougars often entertain special guests, from the charismatic new UH president and the head football coach, to business and political leaders of Houston and members of the Houston Rockets and Texans. The most common sight among these is Clyde Drexler, former player and coach of the team and current Rockets color commentator. They will usually be found in the courtside seats at the north baseline, in front of the players' tunnel.
The food is catered by Aramark, and is generally edible, though a small three-dollar hotdog doesn't seem worthwhile to college students. Even though the professional stadiums in town are slightly more expensive, a seven-dollar beer definitely takes itself off the menu, especially when Shiner Bock is not a choice. The smell of the popcorn used to fill the arena wonderfully, the way the smell of dirt fills a baseball stadium on a sunny day, but it has been sadly absent the last two-and-a-half seasons.
The Cougars play entertaining basketball, and have generally been improving since Tom Penders arrived. In a reader poll by the Houston Chronicle, University of Houston sports were rated the best entertainment value in the city. This arena is worth at least one visit, and with the Cougars' home record higher than 75% there, the show should go well beginning to end.
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