SEATTLE – While the first two rounds of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament were played in front of sellout crowds at KeyArena last week, the women’s Sweet 16 is getting a much chillier reception.
Only about 4,500 tickets to tonight’s session were sold as of Friday afternoon, meaning a good portion of the 9,500-seat Bank of America Arena will consist of empty seats.
“Originally we had hoped to sell out, but we’re hoping to get a good walk-up crowd,” said Marie Tuite, the University of Washington’s senior associate athletic director and a member of the tournament committee. “(Seattle) hosted the men’s tournament last weekend, and that could have a little bit of an impact. We’re hoping for a good turnout.”
The most obvious reason for the slow ticket sales is that the four teams involved in the West Region aren’t really from the west region. Purdue, from West Lafayette, Ind., had the shortest trip (about 2,200 miles) of the four teams currently in Seattle. Texas and Louisiana State covered greater distances, while Georgia came from the other end of the country (about 2,700 miles). Fans of all four schools would have had to make rather extreme travel plans to get here.
“If I had my druthers, we’d play closer to home,” Georgia head coach Andy Landers said. “But it isn’t frustrating to be here. We’ve played in almost as many West Regionals as any region. Each year there’s going to be teams that have to travel; that’s just a part of it.”
Georgia and Purdue play at 8:30 tonight, which is even later in their hometowns -11:30 p.m.
“It’s going to be late when we’re playing,” Purdue coach Kristy Curry said, “so I’m a little worried about that.”
Despite the lack of local teams, those who are familiar with Seattle’s tradition of supporting women’s basketball are surprised at the slow sales.
“The support that women’s basketball has gotten (in Seattle) has been incredible, so it’s surprising that the turnout hasn’t been great,” said UW junior basketball player Kristen O’Neill, who attended Friday’s practices along with local hoops aficionados such as Seattle Storm center Lauren Jackson and Meadowdale High School coach Karen Blair. “We have some really great, loyal Husky fans that are proud of the Purple and Gold.
“It would be great to see as many people as possible supporting women’s basketball because they’ll get to see some great basketball.”