Saturday at noon, a bus full of students loaded up from the campus parking lot. Decked out in black, red and white, students chanted and cheered right before takeoff.
In a matter of hours, these students would be courtside at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center to witness Omaha’s 81-76 first round win over North Dakota. Unsurprisingly, they played a factor in the victory.
Omaha students, band, cheer and dance all set up on the right base line. Joined by the Red Army, the Maverick faithful filled in following the night’s first game, in which South Dakota State, the number one seed, was upset by Western Illinois. Considering SDSU was kind of the “home team”, the arena’s attendance significantly subsided following game one. Omaha fans filled the void well.
Right from the tip, the Omaha section chanted and sang familiar in-game melodies, often heard at hockey home games. The noise coming from the section was the loudest in the arena, refusing to sit for most of the game.
Omaha cheer and dance brought the energy as well, with well-choreographed, exciting dance routines, more to say than a lot of the other dance team performances throughout the night.
The Maverick fans did a good job of disrupting North Dakota at the free throw line, providing chants and a significant amount of noise, not heard when UNO was at the stripe.
Considering the crowd attendance was essentially reduced by over three quarters following the SDSU loss, Omaha fans were noticeable in a generally bare arena. Now, the hope is that the Omaha men’s team will be the most noticeable as well.
“With the Jacks (SDSU) out, Omaha is presumably the favorite to win the whole thing now,” said UNO junior Morgan Robbins who made the three-hour trek. “Upsets to tend to happen a lot at this tournament, so we’ll see, but they (UNO) probably feel better than they did before SDSU loss.”
The basketball phenomenon has been in full-effect for a while now. The court-storming earlier this season at Baxter after beating SDSU was the largest basketball crowd in Baxter’s short history. Crowds also came to support in games against Purdue-Fort Wayne and North Dakota. The basketball frenzy has reinvigorated old fans, as well as brought in some new ones.
“I didn’t follow basketball too much before this season,” said senior Laura Ervin, “But this season has been so fun and so exciting! I’ve really enjoyed it!”
The Mavericks’ win on Saturday night ensures they will play again on Monday against the winner of South Dakota and Purdue-Fort Wayne. The UNO Office Spirit and Tradition will have another bus trip for the Monday game. Bus leaves at 3 p.m. from UNO and will return at 2 a.m. Price is $20.
The Mavericks are now the highest-ranked team left in the tournament. Winning the tournament would punch the Mavericks’ first-time ticket to the NCAA Tournament.