Ladies First

The UA Women's Basketball Team Is Leading The Pac-10. So Why Aren't You At McKale?

IN CASE YOU haven't noticed -- and judging by the sea of empty seats at McKale Center, you haven't -- the Arizona women's basketball team is in first place in the Pac-10. Not tied for first, like the men, but in first place all by their lonesome, with "lonesome" being a painfully appropriate word.

What the hell's wrong with you people?!

Last Thursday, for example, when the Cats scored 96 points in routing Washington and moving into first place in the Pac-10, 99.8 percent of all Tucsonans had something better to do than to show up at McKale, where the prices are low, the parking is plentiful, and the team is in first place.

What else was there to do that night? Oh yeah, the UA men were on TV, playing a game in Seattle that stank so bad, were it not for a ridge in the jet stream, we'd've been able to smell it from here. There was a new episode of Frasier, but that's why God invented the VCR.

And there was probably a substantial percentage of Tucsonans who were watching the WWF Smackdown on UPN which culminated in some giant steroid papa body-slamming one of those silicon mamas into feigned unconsciousness. (Please don't ask me how I know this. Suffice it to say that, in the future, I'll be more careful when I'm programming the VCR.)

But only 2,000 showed up for the women's game, and I think even that number's a bit generous.

Do you realize that in the state of Tennessee, they sell out massive indoor arenas for women's basketball? That's Tennessee, where place names have words like "Holler" and "Bend" in them. Why, in Tennessee, they've got a United States senator who once starred in the movie Curly Sue. That almost makes Jon Kyl look respectable by comparison. Their women's coach is like Ted Bundy's Meaner Sister, and you can't play on their team unless you're 6-foot-3 and your name has the syllable "meek" in it. And still the rednecks show up by the tens of thousands.

Likewise in such diverse places as Connecticut, Iowa and Palo Alto. Heck, in Seattle, they could hold the men's games in a phone booth, but the women draw like mad.

Here in good old enlightened Tucson, the 20-3 women's Wildcat team won't draw 10,000 fans in a month. What possible excuse(s) could one have for not going to a game?

1. You have to save up your money for football season tickets because the Wildcats are going to go 6-6 or 11-1, somehow managing to avoid the Rose Bowl either way.

2. You need your exercise and the proximity of the parking garage to McKale doesn't afford you a long enough walk.

3. You don't want your daughter(s) exposed to the sight of strong, graceful female athletes working as a team to excel in a demanding sport.

4. Lute might find out and think you're cheating on him.

5. (Women's assistant coach) Denise Dove's shockingly blonde hair scares you.

Okay, we all agree on the last one, but you can train yourself not to stare directly into the light which is the back of her head.

Before Coach Joan Bonvicini arrived in Tucson, Arizona women's basketball was...well, no one knows exactly how bad it was because nobody ever saw any of the games. This stands as an alternate proof for the statement that a tree falling in the forest with no one there to hear it makes no sound.

As Lute Olson had done with the men, Bonvicini took a dismal program, shook it up in a hurry and created a consistent winner. Within a few years, the Cats were nationally ranked, knocking off powerhouse Stanford, and making regular trips to the NCAAs. And yet still the fans stayed away in droves, leaving Bonvicini puzzled.

"I didn't expect big crowds right away," says Bonvicini. "I knew we'd have to earn the fans' respect. But we play a good brand of basketball. We play hard and we win. I really don't understand (the small crowds)."

Overall, she's pleased with the marketing campaigns and the efforts being made to create a fun family atmosphere at the games. She also stresses that the women are not in competition with the men for fan loyalty.

"I greatly appreciate what Lute has done with his program and we want to be right up there with them, but there is no competition. We both play Arizona basketball."

Ever the helpful one, I've got a few ideas on how to boost attendance. Try these:

· Announce that a meeting of the Amphi School Board will be held in McKale at the time of a women's game. The issue before the Board will be to issue a proclamation that the kids in the northern (CDO) part of the district are no better in the eyes of the Lord (or the Board) than those in the southern part of the district. To spice it up even further, tell outraged CDO parents to wear red if they hate the idea of official equality for kids in all parts of the district.

· Tell people the UA women's softball team will be there. That always draws a crowd.

· Sneak the words "big box" and "public forum" into the advertising for the next week's game.

· Hold a gem and mineral show at halftime and announce that there will be free parking for RVs and campers with Utah and Nevada plates.

· Use the word "Pokémon" by mistake.

Or, they could just announce that the first-place, nationally ranked Arizona Wildcats will be playing basketball next Thursday in McKale. If you show up and there's plenty of parking available, you'll know of which team we speak. And maybe you'll give it a try.

That's all anybody could ask.

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