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This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Welcome, Big Dancers

    Mar. 18, 2004 -- The NCAA basketball championship had been staged in Buffalo in 2000, and the event went over so well that the college organization gave the city a chance at an encore four years later. So eight teams came to town to see which two could reach the regionals.

   Day One of the event was March 18. In the afternoon, St. Joseph's beat Liberty and Texas Tech downed Charlotte. In one game of the nightcap, DePaul took two overtimes to edge Dayton. In the other, everyone had the chance to see the eventual national champions in action. Connecticut thumped Vermont in its opener. Gene Warner of the News described the scene this way:

   They've come from all directions: basketball junkies from California, Bobby Knight loyalists from Texas, hoops fanatics from Connecticut, fundamentalists rooting on Liberty University and rabid fans here to cheer on their teams from Chicago, Philadelphia, Charlotte and points in between.

   They've all descended on Buffalo, one of the eight capitals of the college basketball world this weekend, as the NCAA men's basketball tournament returns here for the subregional first and second rounds, being played today and Saturday.

   "We're on the national stage," Christopher D. Ross, a co-chairman of the local organizing committee, said inside HSBC Arena on Wednesday. "This place is going to rock, and the city is going to rock for several days."

   No one knows for sure, but a consensus puts the number of visitors at between 5,000 and 10,000. Visitors from outside Western New York will come largely from three groups: fans tied to one of the eight teams, basketball addicts coming here as a pilgrimage, and people with Western New York ties returning for a long weekend or reunion.

--- Budd Bailey

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