The Wildcats are aiming big at the gate, and the ‘basketball city’ is ready to help

Adia Barnes thinks Arizona can break the Pac-12 record for women’s basketball attendance, a formula she says will require “one or two sell-outs and several more games drawing around 10,000 people.”

Is it really doable? The Wildcats have sold about 6,000 season tickets and are coming off a year in which they averaged 7,822 fans per game, the second-highest total in Pac-12 history.

The conference report seems almost out of reach; Oregon had an average of 10,852 two years ago when it fell 31-2 behind superstar guard Sabrina Ionescu. But don’t discount Barnes, who thinks big, dreams big and has Arizona’s most talented roster since the 1990s, and maybe ever.

To understand what it even means to dream of averaging 10,000 fans per game in women’s college basketball, remember that women’s Pac-12 teams last year collectively averaged just 2,875. . Nationally, the only team to average 10,000 or more was powerhouse South Carolina (12,268).

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And remember, the UA women’s team has only sold out one game in history: a win in the 2019 WNIT Championship game against Northwestern. Attendance: 14,644.

What makes this discussion a little hard to believe is that as recently as 2018, the Wildcats went 2-16 in the conference and 6-24 overall. But winning changes everything, right? I’m not saying UA women’s basketball fans are strictly fans of winning — that they’d flee the McKale Center if the Wildcats were to suffer a losing season — but there’s a story in Tucson and everywhere.

After making the McKale Center one of the country’s hotspots in the Fred Snowden years of the 1970s, McKale became something of a ghost town in the early ’80s when Snowden lost touch.

Average men’s attendance fell to 6,224 in the 1982-83 season – coach Ben Lindsey’s side went 4-24 – and it took Lute Olson five years to win until he averaged 100% capacity in the 1987-88 Final Four season.

It’s not ridiculous to compare Barnes’ rise to that of Olson in the 1980s, and who would have guessed that the day Barnes was hired in April 2016?

Nobody. Maybe not even Barnes herself.

A fan holds up a sign thanking the Wildcats women’s basketball team after their final regular season game of the 2021-22 season.

Mamta Popat, Arizona Daily Star

Arizona led the Pac-12 in men’s basketball attendance for 37 straight years, replacing Oregon State, of all teams, which enjoyed a historic streak of basketball excellence in the early 80s. And there doesn’t seem to be a Pac-12 men’s team with any chance of breaking Arizona’s 37-year streak.

Utah? The Utes drew 13,000 or more players for eight seasons in the 1990s, but once Rick Majerus stepped down as coach, Utah seemed to become a football school overnight. Now the Utes are struggling not just to win, but to even shoot 8,000 on a good night at the Huntsman Center.

UCLA? The Bruins have drawn just 19 out of more than 13,000 attendances since the arena opened in the 1960s and have never averaged more than 12,700 attendances.

Oregon? Matthew Knight Arena, which opened in 2011, lacks the “it” factor that the old Mac Court had. It is an off-campus facility with a capacity of 12,364 people. The Ducks have sold out just 19 games in 11 seasons. Maybe that’s what you expect from a football city.

Tucson remains the only true “basketball city” in the Pac-12.

Here’s how you know you live in a basketball city: Only eight schools averaged more than 20,000 combined attendance for men’s and women’s college basketball last season.

However, the above list of eight schools is a bit misleading as Kentucky, Arkansas, and Syracuse men’s teams all averaged at least 19,000 fans per game. Their women’s basketball programs struggled to fill even 20% of the schools’ huge arenas.

This would suggest that the state of Iowa, South Carolina, Arizona, Louisville and Iowa are the big five of local interest.

Given Barnes’ aggressive nature, his oft-repeated desire to fill McKale Center, this year could be the year Arizona rises to No. 1 in college basketball with the highest combined basketball attendance. men’s and women’s ball.

It would take an average female crowd of around 10,000 fans per game at the McKale Center, and there’s reason to think that’s possible. First, women’s Pac-12 games are played on Friday nights and Sunday afternoons, meaning there’s almost no conflict with a televised men’s UA road game. Second, tickets to women’s games at the McKale Center are significantly cheaper than men’s games.

Remaining season tickets in the lower and mid sections cost between $80 and $95 for a 15-game schedule. Tickets for a game cost between $10 and $12. By comparison, a ticket to Tuesday’s men’s exhibition game against Western Oregon starts at $27.

Is Tucson a basketball city? Absolutely. Can he be No. 1 in all of college basketball, for both men and women? It’s on the radar.

Contact sports columnist Greg Hansen at 520-573-4362 or [email protected]. On Twitter: @ghansen711

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