Gators’ trip to MSG memorable

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It wasn’t at the top of the bucket list, but it was on there: watch a sporting event at Madison Square Garden.

Scratch that off with the latest version of March Madness when my family drove to New Jersey, spent the night and took the train to midtown to watch my beloved Gators.

I haven’t always been a college basketball fan. I didn’t go to a single game in Alligator Alley while a student at the University of Florida. I still haven’t been to the O’Connell Center, the current basketball venue in Gainesville which opened shortly after I graduated.

But like so many Southerners who think we invented college football — I know we didn’t; we just own it lately — I didn’t miss a home football game, even though we went 0-10-1 my senior year.

It would be another 14 years when the basketball bug bit me. My husband, Henry, graduated from Michigan State, so, of course, he loved basketball.

We met in Panama City, Fla., during Lon Kruger’s fourth year in Gainesville. And we watched on television Florida’s dramatic victory over UConn in the Elite 8 to send us to our first Final Four in 1994.

Despite that, I felt like it would be safe to marry Henry. I mean, how often do Michigan State and Florida play one another in any sport?

Haha! Not only did my Gators lose to Michigan State in the Citrus Bowl in 2000, we lost to Sparty in the NCAA national championship game that same year.

Our marriage survived, and, of course, my Gators gained the upper hand with back-to-back NCAA championships in 2006-07 and a national championship in football in 2006 and 2008.

(We remain the only university to hold national championships in football and basketball simultaneously.)

Our two teams last met last year when State beat us in a relatively meaningless game in the Breslin Center in East Lansing; Sparty heads to the O’Dome this fall.

Meanwhile, this last season that concluded with North Carolina knocking off Gonzaga had my Gators going further than anyone predicted.

With a buzzer-beater in a game that pundits claim was the best of the tournament, Florida beat Wisconsin on March 24 in the Sweet 16 round in Madison Square Garden.

The next day, with me barely able to speak from screaming the night before (apologies to my neighbors), my family headed to Jersey.

When we entered the famed Garden on March 26, I looked around in awe, as we made our way to the nosebleed seats.

It really wasn’t a bad seat even though the players were the size of stinkbugs from my perch.

For the most part, it was enjoyable as my Gators led at halftime. But we couldn’t buy a bucket in the second half, and our season came to an end.

But at least I put a swoosh on my bucket list.

Cherie Hicks is a feature writer in the Mirror’s Life Department.

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