One of the joys of being a sports fan in a city like Atlanta is that within a two-hour driving radius of the city limits, you have access to four professional sports teams and four colleges/universities that compete at the Div. I level in major sports.
Today I decided to take advantage of my surroundings and make the hour and change trek north to Athens to see the Georgia Bulldogs men's basketball team take on the Vanderbilt Commodores in a good old-fashioned SEC showdown.
This trip was significant on many levels. I've made several trips to Athens for football games, but never for a basketball game; however, the basketball Dawgs have peaked my interest since their hiring of head coach, Mark Fox from the University of Nevada-Reno.
It was also the first time in a year that my girlfriend and I have attended a sporting event together. We had some communication issues last year while in Miami for Super Bowl XLIV and agreed it was probably best that we not attend sporting events together.
That was football, though, and this is basketball—college basketball, where we can both afford to be nonjudgmental.
It's a simple enough sport, and the rules are pretty basic: five guys on each side, one ball and two opposing baskets. No hanky tossing, players shuffling on and off the field and rules that need to be explained. Basically, everything you need for a harmonious game-day experience between a man who just wants to enjoy the game and a woman who want to know about everything that's going on on the field or court.
Getting tickets to the game wasn't a problem. As is the case with most programs trying to generate fan interest and fill seats for a nationally televised game, the UGA Athletic Department was running a promotion on tickets for $8 apiece; granted, they weren't courtside seats, but they were sufficient.
Athens itself is an easy sell for any sports fan. It's just over an hour outside Atlanta with easy access via the world's busiest airport (ATL) and the usual smattering of college town fare—coffee shops, bars and restaurants with budget-conscious student menu items.
I had some work to do when I got into town, so I grabbed a seat at Walker's Coffee & Pub on College Avenue and tapped into their free wireless network. After several hours of caffeine-fueled work by me and the obligatory shopping lap(s) by my girlfriend that, as expected, led to a purchase, it was time to grab some dinner at Eat Hibachi and head to Stegeman Coliseum for the game.
The game itself got off to a slow start partly because I was suffering from a starch and protein-induced coma following my meal of surf and turf hibachi grill. Georgia led by six points at the half after stifling the Vanderbilt offense with its man-to-man defense.
After both teams opened up the second half with a barrage of three-point shots, it was the Commodores' game to be had. Georgia's shooters went cold, and Vandy's ace, John Jenkins, torched them for 21 points in the last 14 minutes. Vanderbilt would go on to outscore Georgia 43-29 in the second half on its way to an SEC road win and overall 19-6, 7-4 SEC record.
The game got a little testy in the final seconds with Georgia head coach Mark Fox engaging in a heated exchange with one of the referees. He was assessed a technical for his outburst, and a few fans started throwing items on the court. The game was over shortly afterwards, and the referees were quickly ushered off the floor by several police officers.
It was the latest example of Georgia blowing a big lead, missing its last 11 shots after giving up the lead at the 9:47 mark.
Stadium/Arena Grade: B+
Like most things UGA Athletics related, Stegeman Coliseum is an excellent venue that will only get better with regards to the atmosphere as the on-court product improves. Fans are seated right on top of the action, and the architecture does a great job reverberating the crowd noise.
If you'd like a lesson in the history of UGA athletics, take a walk around the concourse and check out the display of UGA all-time greats.
Follow me on Twitter: @SportsFanaddict.