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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

UConn still knows how to draw a crowd

This was not just another day at CFE Arena.

There was a sense of anticipation this weekend as a pair of national champions visited Central Florida. On Tuesday night it was the Louisville men's basketball team rolling past UCF and on Wednesday afternoon it was the time for the UConn women's team to take center stage.

The hope was that the appearance by the Huskies would allow UCF to set a single-game women's basketball attendance record at the arena and despite most of the ticket office personnel in Arizona for the Fiesta Bowl, a record was set with plenty of room to spare as 3,492 showed up.

The loudest roars might have been reserved for when the UConn team come onto the court and Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma also received quite the ovation when he made his grand entrance.

The warm reception was not lost on the UConn players or coaches.

"It was cool," UConn sophomore forward Breanna Stewart said. "It shows that UConn they have a lot of fans across the country and we appreciate them  coming to all of our games because you want to play in front of fans like this and it just makes the game more enjoyable."

UConn coach Geno Auriemma has seen this happen before. When new teams would come into the Big East, a record crowd would be waiting the first time UConn showed up for the first time as a conference foe. The atmosphere reminded Auriemma of the first couple of games at Miami when the Hurricanes joined the Big East.

"We were amazed at how many people were here in Florida (at those Miami games) and it happened again when we played USF in Tampa," Auriemma said. "This is our first time here so I didn't really know what to expect. I thought the crowd was great, the energy was like a home game in some ways . We have a tremendous following, we have a loyal fan base and it is quite unique I think across the country "

It will be a different environment when UConn plays at Memphis on Saturday. The women's game will be played as the second game of a Memphis men's/women's doubleheader as it will follow the Memphis/Cincinnati men's game at the FedEx Forum.

It could be a similar environment as the Jan. 29, 2000 doubleheader at the Miami Arena when the unranked Miami men's basketball team's valiant upset bid ended with Kentucky escaping with a 60-57 victory. Most of the 9,276 fans in attendance left before the Miami/UConn women's game tipped off.

The whole doubleheader thing it is flip a coin, roll the dice whatever you want to say," Auriemma said. "Baylor played Kentucky (earlier this season) in four overtimes and the men's game was held up an hour. I don't know what is going to happen, doubleheaders are tricky. You don't know how it is going to go, the Memphis men's game might go four overtimes and then you are sitting around waiting. That is why you don't get caught up in that stuff. You have to bring a certain energy to the building, you as a player, you as a team. If you spend time on what is happening in the stands you are going to be disappointed. We had the biggest (home) attendance of the year so far against  Cincinnati and I thought we were sluggish. You have to bring it. Whoever wants to stay and watch the game, they stay. Whoever wants to leave, they leave. Hopefully since they haven't seen us in their building, those people don't know who we are they will stay around because they want to see what all the fuss is about."

Auriemma believes a similar men's/women's doubleheader at UConn is highly unlikely.

"I am sure there is some aspect to it that is appealing on some level I just don't see it happening and I don't think there is a need for it (at UConn)." Auriemma said. "There is a men's basketball crowd, there is a women's basketball crowd and then there is a middle group that goes to both games. By playing a doubleheader, a lot of people that would be at a game would be shut out and in today's day and age with what you are trying to do financially, I can't ever see it happening."

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