WOMEN'S BASKETBALL / NCAA FINAL FOUR NOTES : Attendance Separates Haves From Have-Nots

TIMES STAFF WRITER

That shrill sound emanating from the NCAA women's basketball tournament the last two weeks was the have-nots whining.

There was Stu Haskell, commissioner of the North Atlantic Conference, after hearing that his conference champion, Maine, would have to play top-ranked Connecticut in UConn's gym in the first round.

"It's a mockery," he said. "I can't believe it."

Sure you can, Stu. Hold on a second and we'll explain it to you.

"No way, they can't be serious," said Maine Coach Joanne Palombo, after hearing the news.

Yes, they're serious, Joanne.

Others joined the moaning. How could UConn and Tennessee, both of which were ranked No. 1 this season, be hosts for regional tournaments?

Connecticut and Tennessee, years ago awarded the 1995 East and Mideast regional tournaments, are both in the women's Final Four, which begins here Saturday morning at the Target Center.

Stanford (30-2) plays UConn (33-0) in the opener, followed by Georgia (28-4) and Tennessee (33-2).

The formatting of the men's and women's 64-team basketball tournaments is pretty much the same.

One glaring difference: Attendance for the men's tournament is at near capacity. Not so for the women. So for the time being, while the women's game grows, early-round games and regional tournaments are scheduled where the NCAA can recoup a little money.

Is it fair? Not altogether. Did UConn and Tennessee deserve regionals? Absolutely. Where were they going to put them, Maine?

Get it, Stu? So here's what you do. First, you find someone in your conference who will build, say, a 10,000-18,000-seat arena. Then you have that school recruit big-time players. Then you start playing before five-digit crowds, and then maybe you can have a regional.

*

Speaking of women's attendance, it continues to grow at major programs everywhere except at USC and UCLA.

Tennessee led the nation this season, averaging 10,189 a home game, a jump of about 3,600 over last season, according to Bravo Sports Marketing of Iowa City, which tracks women's attendance.

Tennessee's biggest crowd was 16,632, for its game with Vanderbilt Feb. 12.

Stanford led the Pacific 10, averaging 5,284, and narrowly missed beating the Stanford men's team in attendance.

One of the reasons UCLA and USC were co-hosts of the 1992 Final Four at the Sports Arena was to stimulate attendance in the Southland. It didn't work. Crowds at both schools have been among the Pac-10's lowest.

UCLA averaged 945 and USC averaged 1,301 at the Sports Arena and 757 at the Lyon Center.

So they will try again with intersectional basketball.

At Pauley Pavilion next Dec. 29-30, the schools will play host to something they're calling "The Pac-10-ACC Challenge." On the first night, Maryland will play USC, and Virginia will meet UCLA. USC and UCLA switch opponents the next night.

*

Last December, players for Aki Hill's Oregon State team were called in for interviews by school compliance officers, regarding rumors of possible NCAA infractions.

No one is talking, but word is that the 54-year-old Hill, who just finished her 18th season at OSU, has been asked to retire. Her team just finished a 21-8 season and went two games into the NCAA tournament with no seniors.

But Hill was resented by many in the Pac-10 because four of her five starters were Europeans, including conference player of the year Tanja Kostic of Sweden. This, in an era when there are quotas on American women in European and Japanese pro leagues.

*

Also on the coaching front: USC associate coach Fred Williams, approached by Long Beach State for its vacant head-coaching job, will stay at USC.

Not hard to figure. Besides its already impressive list of recruits coming in next year, USC may be close to landing 6-foot-2 superstar Shalonda Enis of Trinity Valley College in Texas.

*

Speaking of whining, this is the last women's Final Four where you'll hear griping about playing on consecutive days.

This is CBS' last year of televising the Final Four, and the network insisted that the women play on Saturday and Sunday. A year ago, a furious Louisiana Tech coach, Leon Barmore, threatened to take his team home when his team made it to the title game.

Next year marks the first of seven years with ESPN, with ESPN giving the women a day off, like the men. The network will also televise 23 regular-season games, all eight regional semifinal games and all four regional finals.

Best of all, for the NCAA: ESPN will pay $19 million.

*

Women's Basketball Notes

Asked to compare his top-ranked team to Stanford's, Connecticut Coach Geno Auriemma said, "We have seven outstanding players, they have 12. We signed one high school All-American last year, Nykesha Sales. They signed six Nykesha Sales." . . . Future Final Four sites: Charlotte in 1996, Cincinnati in 1997 and Kansas City in 1998.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
68°