Panthers bounce into Portland - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Panthers bounce into Portland

Panther players get off a charter flight to Portland Monday Panther players get off a charter flight to Portland Monday

PORTLAND, OREGON (KWWL) -- The UNI Panthers basketball team is now in Portland, Oregon ahead of Thursday's NCAA tournament game against Purdue.

On Tuesday's flight to Portland: the 14 players, 5 coaches and 2 trainers with the team along with 30 uni band members, 8 cheerleaders and T.C., the mascot. A few administrators and family members also made the trip. The NCAA pays for up to 75 people from each school to travel to tournament games.

Players, coaches, cheerleaders and fans from eight college basketball teams have descended on Portland for the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament, UNI among them. But for the Panthers, getting here made for a very long day."

As the Panthers arrived at the airport in Waterloo Tuesday morning, the reality of playing in the big dance started to hit.

"It just feels great to start getting prepared for this type of stuff," said Sophomore guard Kwadzo Ahelegbe. "It's exciting for us."

That excitement quickly took a timeout during the long flight to Portland. But while players dozed, coaches broke out the laptops.

"When I heard it was four hours, it gave us a couple more hours to watch a little bit more film," said Assistant coach P.J. Hogan.

While Hogan scouted Purdue, a couple rows back, fellow assistant coach Kyle Green is getting the Panthers ready for round two.

"Now that we're on the way we gotta start looking ahead and saying okay, if we play Washington or if we play Mississippi State we gotta be ready to go because certainly you go into every game anticipating hey, we're gonna win this and move on," said Green.

But first things first, the Panthers need their rest after a long day. And time to begin enjoying what is for most of these guys, their first NCAA Tournament experience.

"I think the guys are probably pretty happy to be off the plane, about a four hour flight," said coach Ben Jacobson. "Time to get something to eat."

"It's a new scene for us. We haven't been out here. This is my first time being in Portland so it's a new scene, a new experience for the whole team," said Ahelegbe.

The Panthers will be the first team on the court for practice at the Rose Garden Wednesday morning. Then it's down to business Thursday as 12th-seeded UNI goes up against 5th-seeded Purdue.

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