Mauricio Wheelock, 49, remembers going to basketball games at the University of Houston with his father in the 1980s.
“I’ve lived here all my life and was a huge fan of watching Olajuwon and Drexler play,” Wheelock said.
Wheelock watched NBA greats Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler play for the Cougars and then the Houston Rockets on their way to becoming NBA legends.
Wheelock moved to Houston from Nicaragua with his family at the age of 7. Since then Houston and all of his sports teams have been in his blood.
And in his University of Houston gear, sitting next to his family and friends, he jumped from his seat and cheered every time his team made a skillful play against Auburn as they watched the game at Avenida Houston watch party Saturday night in downtown Houston.
“We just received all of our Final Four tickets,” he said. “Let’s just hope Houston can take the championship home.”
The power was electric despite the crisp, cool night air. Kids ran up and down the sidewalk with red-and-white pom-poms in hand, while adults curled up in their blankets as they yelled at the screen for Auburn to lose every free-throw opportunity they had.
The teams battled throughout the game with an advantage as low as one point and as high as nearly 20.
Fans never doubted Houston would win.
Some attended the watch party not just to cheer on their home team, but to celebrate staying in Houston.
Monique Alexander, 40, also went to Avenida Houston and described the sacrifice she made in moving from Texas State University to UH at the urging of her mother, a student at the University of Houston.
“My mom kept telling me I should come to Houston, so I decided to move,” she said.
Alexander’s mother graduated college in the early 1970s, and while it wasn’t her first choice, she says she’s glad she took her mother’s word for it.
Alexander will volunteer for the Men’s Final Four Fan Fest event at NRG Stadium during Final Four weekend. He plans it to be one of the many ways he shows love to the home team this year in hopes they win.
When it came to March Madness, he said he didn’t fill in a parenthesis because Houston always came first.
“I had UH as number 1, period,” said Alexander. “And when college came around, I’m glad I made that decision and I have no regrets.”
More games were played on big TVs at The Savoy, a Black-owned restaurant in Houston’s historic Third Ward.
Residents have found their seats in both the restaurant and patio to watch the games while sipping cocktails and sharing laughs.
Danielle Devore, 40, graduated from the University of Houston in 2005. Currently living in EaDo, she went to the restaurant to see the first half of the show before heading to downtown Houston for the rest.
She said the school spirit is much stronger than when she attended UH.
“Compared to when I was in school, the school spirit has increased and I appreciate that,” Devore said. “The team wasn’t ‘hot’ then… there was no school spirit.
Ultimately, Houston beat Auburn 81-64, securing another round in the tournament.
Fans cheered and roared in triumph chanting “Sweet 16!” and “Let’s go do it!”
Devore said he has had the University of Houston in his Final Four and hopes they take home the trophy.
“I’m thrilled that the Final Four will be in Houston with a team from Houston,” he said. “It will be a great story and a special moment for the school.”