By Shannon Russell
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The women's NCAA Tournament sets up shop Saturday at the University of Cincinnati, but the three-game showcase isn't just for Bearcat fans.
University officials are inviting the entire city.
"It's a chance for everyone in Cincinnati to partake of women's basketball at the next level, and experience the excitement of the tournament," said Stephanie Rousseau, UC assistant athletic director, senior women's administrator and tournament manager.
UC, a West Region host, welcomes No. 2 seed Texas, No. 15 Hampton, No. 7 Arkansas and its own No. 10 Cincinnati for a round of Saturday open practices.
Texas and Hampton begin first-round action Sunday at 12:14 p.m. The UC-Arkansas matchup begins a half-hour after the first game's end, or about 2:45 p.m.
Sunday's winners will meet Tuesday at a time to be determined.
UC has been planning the event since summer, when the NCAA announced 16 predetermined sites for the tournament's first and second rounds - a first in women's tournament history.
First-round sites were formerly announced on Selection Sunday, allowing schools a few short preparation days. The NCAA's early selection allows universities to better promote the tournament and prepare for visiting teams, fans and media.
UC teamed up with local Queen City organizations to get the word out. The Cincinnati Visitors Bureau sent informational letters to all its members, and Rousseau said UC contacted chapters of the YWCA, Girl Scouts, Boys and Girls Clubs and area schools to promote the event.
UC also sent introductory letters to Xavier, Dayton, Miami and Northern Kentucky women's basketball season ticket holders.
"We'd love for them to come out, even if their team isn't here. This is something any women's college basketball fan would enjoy," said Brian McCann, UC associate sports information director.
Ticket sales have been brisk so far. Tickets have been on sale since November, but Selection Sunday triggered an outpouring of requests - mostly online.
McCann said 2,400 all-session tickets were sold by Monday afternoon. The figure doesn't include demands from other schools, which are due by the end of today. UC has already frozen 200 seats for each school.
UC adopted the NCAA's minimum ticket prices: $15 for adults (for all three games) and $10 for students. McCann said the university purposely chose the cheapest fares because "we want families and kids to come out and see the games."
In comparison, it's $105 for one all-session pass at the men's NCAA Tournament in Salt Lake City to see the UC men play.
Hoops fans are also invited to the women's teams' free open practices Saturday, beginning at noon. Texas is first, followed by Hampton, Arkansas and UC.
The tournament comes on the heels of the UC women's record-breaking attendance season. In 16 home games, the Bearcats (23-7, 11-3 Conference USA) attracted a school-best 20,121 fans and posted a record 1,258 spectators a game.
UC anticipates between 7,000 and 8,000 fans per session.
Xavier's Cintas Center hosted first- and second-round tournament games in 2001, drawing 6,802 spectators in its first round games and 6,548 second-round fans.
The tournament's financial windfall was less a priority than the tournament's excitement and the elite basketball talent, said Mike Bobinski, XU associate vice president and director of athletics.
The NCAA got the lion's share of the profits. Gross ticket revenue from Cintas Center's first- and second round games was about $96,000. Operating expenses consumed nearly $20,000. Xavier netted a 15 percent 'honorarium' of the remaining profits.
UC will receive a similar honorarium.
Xavier didn't submit a bid for this year's tournament.
"There was some uncertainty in our situation because it was a transition year with new coaches," Bobinski said. "I can see why UC put a bid in - they were expected to be strong, and they've had a very successful year."
There are other tournament changes this year, including comprehensive television broadcasts. All 63 tournament games will be shown on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN Full Court from March 22 through the April 8 championship.
The Bearcats were twice televised on ESPN2 this year.
Want to check out the NCAA women's basketball tournament competition? Come to Saturday's free open practices at the University of Cincinnati's Shoemaker Center.
Where: Shoemaker Center
What: One-hour practices for four NCAA Tournament West Region teams
Texas - Noon
Hampton - 1:05 p.m.
Arkansas - 2:10 p.m.
Cincinnati - 3:15 p.m.
COMPLETE NCAA TOURNAMENT COVERAGE
Special NCAA hoops section; Bracket contest
It's more than a Bearcats game
No. 24 Arkansas thinking big
UC out to prove naysayers wrong
Varsity Village gets $10M from Fifth Third
Xavier now the hunted
No. 1 ranking increases ante for UK to win it all
Norse win on putback
March Madness could be delayed by war
Pressure and expectations smother winning coaches
Ohio State suspends Williams
BYU's no-Sunday stance could cause NCAA shuffle
Little Mo leads underdog Bulldogs vs. Sooners
Blue Devils to stick with perimeter lineup
Gators need answers quickly
Bobby Knight's son applies for Wright State job
Spirit of Valvano lifts Whittenburg
Tigers learn of bid while on 12-hour bus ride
Asheville gets a whiff of the bigtime
OTHER COLLEGE HOOPS HEADLINES
NIT: Iowa 62, Valparaiso 60
UCLA fires Lavin