NCAA Tournament: Big SLC turnout expected from top seeds
If you're looking for tickets, Alex Reynoso can't help you.
That hasn't kept the president of the Utah chapter for Arizona's Alumni Association from getting calls Tuesday from fans looking for tickets to Arizona's second-round game against Belmont in the NCAA men's basketball tournament this week.
"We get a lot of calls," he said. "We tell them they have to go through the athletic department, or wherever they need to go online. We can't really help you."
But if you're a Wildcat who wants a ticket, the athletic department probably is out. It's also likely that Gonzaga and New Mexico fans who want to see their basketball teams will have to find another way to get seats.
The demand simply is too high for three of the West's best traveling fan bases, which will be descending on Salt Lake City this week. The local officials in charge of putting on the NCAA tournament's second- and third-round games at EnergySolutions Arena are anticipating a big turnout, thanks to some pretty fortunate seeding. Fans of the Wildcats, Bulldogs and Lobos are only a day's drive away.
Tickets still were available late Monday through smithstix.com for Thursday's first and second sessions as well as Saturday's sessions or a pass to all six games.
"We're definitely excited about the draw we got," tournament ticketing manager David Cleatus Woodbury said. "We think there are a lot of people coming. We want to sell as many tickets as we can, and that will certainly happen with some of the schools that are traditionally very good at traveling."
The tournament, which the Utah Sports Commission estimates will deliver up to $6 million in economic impact for the state, could be boosted further by a higher out-of-state turnout, especially with three regional powerhouses who could be in Utah for the whole weekend.
All three programs finished in the top two in their respective conference's road attendance figures. The NCAA's standard tournament ticketing allotment is 550 per school and all three athletic departments were expecting to sell out their allotment for the games quickly.
And there are still other local connections, from Jazz great John Stockton's sons playing for Gonzaga, to the Salt Lake City-based McCarthey family, for whom the Bulldogs' home arena is named. Throw in alums scattered along the Wasatch Front from all three schools, and it should add up to a big turnout come Thursday.
"You look at all the different elements, and it's kind of fun for Utah," said Jeff Robbins, president of the Utah Sports Commission. "Those three have a lot of fans here and a lot of interest in particular to fans in Utah. There's a lot of storylines to follow."
Estimating the fan presence might best be represented by how all three schools stormed Las Vegas last week. The Arizona athletics department reported Wildcats games had a 20 percent higher turnout than other games at the Pac-12 Tournament. New Mexico had arguably the loudest fans at the Mountain West Tournament, including the hometown UNLV Rebels. And Gonzaga filled up Orleans Arena for the WCC final with Saint Mary's.
"That place was 60 to 70 percent Gonzaga fans," Woodbury said. "It was nuts. If they travel like that and all the higher seeds make it through the first round, Saturday should be an amazing atmosphere."
Hit the road, Jack
Fans of the top NCAA Tournament seeds coming to Utah this week don't have far to travel. In most cases it's a one-day drive. Distance to Salt Lake City from:
Gonzaga University (Spokane Wash.) • 718 miles/10 hours, 26 minutes
University of Arizona (Tuscon, Ariz.) • 825 miles/12 hours, 12 minutes
University of New Mexico (Albuquerque, N.M.) • 598 miles/9 hours, 51 minutes