SPOKANE, Wash. —Diane and Wayne Leader are devout LSU women’s basketball fans, but even for them, getting to Spokane for Saturday night’s NCAA regional semifinal between the Lady Tigers and California took some dedication.
The couple left their home in Central at 6 a.m. Thursday in their RV and drove 2,392 miles, getting here at 2 p.m. Saturday.
“We drive for all the sports,” Wayne Leader said. He recalled the summer of 2009, when the couple drove to the College World Series, up to Alaska and back down to Seattle for LSU football’s season opener at Washington.
Diane Leader said they were prepared to drive only as far as Denver and fly the rest of the way if needed, but the weather was good enough for them to push through.
Lauralie Hogan of Baton Rouge did fly here, though she had to get a little creative with her airline tickets.
“My income tax refund came in (last) Friday, and I had a Southwest ticket to fly to Vegas next month,” Hogan said. “I used it to get up here. I don’t know how I’m going to get back, but I’m not going to worry about it. Nothing could be more fun than this.”
Jeanne Kenney’s parents, Kay and Dr. Robert Kenney, flew in Friday, even though they weren’t sure their daughter would be able to play. Jeanne was cleared to play in Saturday’s game after taking part in a Saturday afternoon shootaround.
The former St. Michael the Archangel star sat out the Lady Tigers’ second-round upset of Penn State on Tuesday after suffering a concussion last Sunday in LSU’s first-round win over Green Bay. She collided with teammate Adrienne Webb, who was not injured, and had to be carried off the court.
Robert Kenney said he and his wife had no advance knowledge that Jeanne would be cleared to play when they decided to make the trip.
“We would have come even if Jeanne didn’t play, just to support the team,” he said.
Being a doctor, Kenney was asked whether he had any insight to his daughter’s condition.
“All I get is, ‘I’m fine, Dad. I’m fine, Dad,’ ” he said.
The road is long
Gonzaga started the NCAA women’s tournament as the home team here, but by now that distinction would have to go to Georgia.
The Lady Bulldogs were sent here for first- and second-round games, arriving in Spokane on March 20. After winning twice to advance to the Spokane Regional, it made no sense for the team to make the 5,000-mile round trip back home for basically a day, so they stayed.
And stayed. And stayed.
“The good news is my kids are eligible for in-state tuition by now,” team spokesman Mike Mobley said.
In his 18 years with the team, it’s the longest continuous road trip Mobley can remember.
Because they’ve missed so much school and already had their spring break, Mobley said Georgia players have been spending about two hours each day in study hall, which includes Skype sessions with professors and academic advisors.
Were you listening, Les?
California players were asked Friday about a video they made about the rise of their program.
Entitled “Started From the Bottom,” the video features Cal players giving their own take on the song of the same title by the rap artist Drake. The video chronicles the rise of a program that just captured a share of its first Pac-12 title this year.
“I was just happy,” Cal center Talia Caldwell said, “we didn’t do a clichéd ‘Harlem Shake’ (video).”
LSU’s football team (including coach Les Miles) recently put out its own Harlem Shake video. Cliché or not, the LSU video is winning in a rout: It’s had over 1.6 million views as of Saturday afternoon, while Cal’s had 4,243.
As is the case with all men’s tournament sites, the NCAA had special courts made for the four women’s regionals here, in Bridgeport, Conn., Oklahoma City and Norfolk, Va.
LSU, which hosted first- and second-round games last week, played on its own court.
Passing the torch
While Gonzaga hosted first- and second-round games at its McCarthey Athletic Center, regional games are being played about a mile away at Spokane Arena. Washington State, its campus about 75 miles south of Spokane, is the host school for the regional.