ANAHEIM, Calif. - Technically, the NCAA West Regional is being played at a neutral site in a city with almost no college affiliation.

In reality, Arizona Wildcats fans are already painting the town red.

Thousands of UA fans crammed into Anaheim bars and restaurants Wednesday night, counting down the minutes until today's regional semifinal game against Duke. Clad in cardinal and navy and wearing T-shirts - "Dancing: It's what Wildcats do best" - they laughed at the idea of any sort of neutrality.

"I think we're going to have a real home-court advantage against Duke," said Maggie Hart, an Anaheim resident who - along with her husband, Steve - took up a spot at Bar Louie on Wednesday night for a UA alumni function. "They didn't have a real home-court advantage in Tulsa, but they're going to have the support they deserve here."

Southern California has all been Wildcat country. Exactly 18,998 UA graduates live in Southern California, with most - 12,903 - residing in either Los Angeles or Orange counties. The Wildcats figure to have the most fans in attendance today, behind only San Diego State.

Arizona might not hold the talent edge or Las Vegas odds when it comes to today's game against Duke, but it will have numbers.

Ellen's endorsement

The Big Dance took on a new meaning Wednesday when Arizona's two most recognizable Wildcats appeared on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" to bust a move. Wilbur and Wilma Wildcat, the UA mascots, boogeyed on stage with the show's host while she played the cymbals. The show aired in Tucson on Wednesday afternoon.

The "Ellen Effect" is very real. DeGeneres and her fans adopted the New Orleans Saints during the start of the 2010 NFL playoffs, and they won the Super Bowl. Ditto for the Green Bay Packers, who Ellen endorsed this winter.

Wilbur and Wilma were not made available to the media Wednesday, mostly because they're giant, fuzzy animals incapable of speech. Speaking for them, associate athletic director Phoebe Chalk said Ellen's blessing could lead to good things.

"We definitely hope she brings us some good luck," Chalk said. "They talk about how she's 2 for 2; we want her to be 3 for 3."

Arizona courted DeGeneres following Saturday's win over Texas, sending her a care package with red sneakers, T-shirts, a basketball jersey, sweats and a note from Sean Miller.

An "Ellen" production assistant called the UA on Monday, asking if Wilbur and Wilma could fly to Los Angeles immediately to appear on the show. The mascots boarded a flight to Los Angeles at 2 p.m., and arrived at the Burbank studio just before the 4 p.m. taping.

"They made it within a few minutes," Chalk said.


Talk about dedication: Rita Finchum drove all night from Tucson just to watch the Arizona Wildcats practice.

"I figured if I was coming, I needed to be here to see it all," she said. "I had to be here. When else am I going to have a chance to, in person, see my Cats play Duke?"

Wearing a navy UA jacket, block "A" earrings and a 1997 NCAA Championship shirt - "for good luck," she said - Finchum cheered on the UA from midcourt at Honda Center. She was one of about 200 Wildcats die-hards who stretched out in the sparkling arena Wednesday to watch the team run through drills.

Finchum, a longtime Tucsonan, hasn't missed a UA home game in five years. Now, she'll get to watch them on the road.

"You know why I love them all? It's miraculous that they've become a team so quickly and so deeply this year," she said. "And, of course, you've got to love the coach."

Tough ticket

The mere mention of the T-word - tickets - prompted longtime UCLA fan Julie Tobler to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger during the Arizona Wildcats practice on Wednesday.

"Do you have any tickets?," she said. "They're impossible to get."

The NCAA West Regional is a hot ticket, no matter who you're rooting for this weekend. Fans sat outside the Honda Center ticket office for hours Saturday, waiting for any returns., an online ticket resaler, is offering tickets for today's game starting at $450.

714 Tickets president Ron Holt said there's "a lot more demand" because of San Diego State and Arizona.