Orlando gears up for second and third rounds of NCAA Tournament

Orlando gears up for second and third rounds of NCAA Tournament

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Church Street and Downtown Orlando were relatively quiet on Wednesday afternoon, but city officials hope the area will be abuzz with tourists when the NCAA Tournament comes to town on Thursday.

The Amway Center is hosting the second and third round games of the South Region, to be played on Thursday and Saturday.

The No. 1 ranked Florida Gators are among the eight teams playing in Orlando.   The Gators (32-2) are currently riding a school record 26-game winning streak, having defeated Kentucky last Sunday to win the Southeastern Conference Championship and secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

The Gators will face No. 16 Albany on Thursday at 4:10 p.m.   Albany (19-14) enters Thursday's game winners of seven of eight games. The Great Danes knocked off the top two seeds in the America East Tournament as the No. 4 seed and earned an NCAA Tournament bid.

Both the Gators and the Great Danes practiced at the Amway Center on Wednesday.  Though the session was free and open to the public, the crowd was sparse.

"We live here locally," said Carl Hendrix.  "We just came down to attend these sessions, and then we will go right back on home when we are done with it."

"I'm planning on spending some time in the bars, because I'm going to watch a couple of the practices right now," said Larry Taylor.  "Then, I'm going to go and check out the area, see what you've got to offer."

"My wife is with me, so we'll spend quite a bit of money," said Frank Allwood, who is visiting from New Jersey.

Playing at the Amway Center has an extra special meaning for four players for the Florida Gators.  Lexx Edwards, Dillon Graham, Jacob Kurtz, and DeVon Walker all consider Orlando home. 

"I grew up just 15 minutes away," said Kurtz, who grew up in Oviedo and played forward at Hagerty High School.  "I  grew up a Magic fan, and now, I get to play at the arena, it's pretty cool.  Since it's in the NCAA tournament, that makes it pretty special."

Kurtz said his family and his high school coach will be in the crowd watching him play.  

Edwards graduated from Jones High School.  It sounds like he'll have his own personal cheering section. 

"Mom, dad, brother, nephew, aunts, lots of people, uncles.  Essentially, it'll have a home feel to it, like playing in the 'O-Dome,'" said Edwards.

Fans who were decked out in orange and blue welcomed the team to the Amway Center.  Many told us they were hoping to make it feel like a "home away from home" match, even for the guys who didn't grow up here.

"It's always really cool when we have an opportunity to stay in Florida. It's kind of a neutral court, but we know we have a lot of Gators that are going to be out here.  It's going to kind of be like a home game, because I'm sure we're going to have a lot of orange and blue out there," said starting center Patrick Young.  

Fans are hoping the positive energy will have the Gators tipping off on the right foot and keeping their winning streak going to the National Championship game in Dallas.

"It's definitely been a nice ride.  We're still hungry. We're not satisfied with what we've accomplished so far. We want more," said Edwards.  "A national championship would mean the world to me, especially for the seniors.  They've worked hard.  That's what they deserve, the best, to send them on with a national championship."

Locals should be aware that there will be a number of road closures due to the NCAA Tournaments games.  These include:

  • Division Avenue between Church and South streets is already closed and won't reopen until 11 p.m. Saturday
  • Church Street, between Hughey and Division avenues, will be closed from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Thursday and Saturday
  • Church Street between Interstate 4 and Orange Ave. will be closed from 10 a.m. and 2 a.m. on Thursday and Saturday
  • Pine Street and Bob Snow Lane will be closed beneath the I-4 overpass will be closed from 11 a.m. midnight on Thursday and Saturday
  • Hughey Avenue between Central Avenue and South Street will be closed after the games as needed until traffic clears


Away Center Matchups and Times for Thursday, March 20:

No. 8 Colorado vs. No. 9 Pittsburgh, 1:40 p.m. (televised on TBS)
No. 1 Florida vs. No. 16 Albany, 4:10 p.m. (televised on TBS)
No. 5 St. Louis vs. No. 12 N.C. State, 7:20 (televised on TNT)
No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 13 Manhattan, 9:50 p.m. (televised on TNT)

Away Center Matchups and Times for Saturday, March 22:

 No. 1 Florida-No. 16 Albany winner vs. No. 8 Colorado-No. 9 Pittsburgh winner. TBD.
No. 5 St. Louis-No. 12 N.C. State winner vs. No. 4 Louisville-No. 13 Manhattan winner.  TBD.


FOX 35's Mike Synan contributed to this report.

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