HANSEN

Greg Hansen: Not quite the tough ticket it used to be

Changing times, not foes, are reason games at UA fail to sell out
2012-11-30T00:00:00Z 2013-07-19T21:24:45Z Greg Hansen: Not quite the tough ticket it used to beGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
November 30, 2012 12:00 am  • 

A chain of messages from Sean Miller's Twitter account began popping up Monday morning, all with the same content: Plenty of tickets were available for Wednesday's NAU game.

How many messages? Nine. From early Monday morning to 3:30 p.m., Wednesday, Miller appealed to Zona Zoo and to the general public. "Our fans are the heartbeat of McKale," he posted.

And yet 1,500 seats remained vacant as, predictably, Arizona rolled 93-50.

This we-need-you-in-the-house campaign is still a bit odd to those who remember Lute Olson's prescient 1984 warning of "you'd better get your tickets now."

Remarkably, for 19 consecutive seasons, 1987-2006, McKale Center was full. Not almost full. Overflowing. Every night. Every year. NAU visited Tucson nine times across that stretch, and every game was sold out.

Somewhere in the slippery exchange from Olson to his predecessors, UA hoops fans became a bit more discerning. They no longer fill the cheap seats to watch NAU, Robert Morris and Ball State.

Now, in a bit of local basketball heresy, UA basketball fans sometimes grumble about the strength of schedule or, rather, the lack of strength. You'd almost think this was Arizona State or Washington, the Pac-12's long-anointed kings of puffball-scheduling.

Charleston Southern

Long Beach State

UTEP

NAU

Southern Miss

Florida

Oral Roberts

Toss the Gators out of that mix and you'd swear Arizona's nonconference home schedule has been mixed up with Tulsa's.

"It was like preseason (practice)," UA guard Nick Johnson said after the NAU game. "But we're staying with the process, knowing our time is going to come, and when it comes, we've gotta execute."

As with everything Miller has done at Arizona, his nonconference schedule was dutifully sketched. His 10-man rotation, which includes three freshmen and a transfer, was purposely back-loaded. He preferred some break-in mileage to the possibility of breaking down in November against someone from the Top 25.

"We have it coming now," he said Wednesday. "December represents more games against higher competition."

The Legend of Lute has grown, and rightfully so - no basketball coach in America played a more daring schedule from 1986 to 2006 - but sometimes we forget that the Wildcats weren't always playing Duke and Kansas.

Miller's fourth-year home schedule, for example, is eerily similar to Olson's fourth year at McKale, when the Wildcats played Hawaii-Pacific, St. Bonaventure, Texas Tech, Utah and No. 4 Iowa, which is a push to Miller's Dec. 15 game against Florida.

Olson's boldness was measured by his willingness to leave Tucson to play anybody. Sometimes, the McKale season suffered. Did you forget?

In Arizona' s 1994-95 season, its home nonconference schedule was dreadful:

Florida State, 12-15

Houston, 9-19

La Salle, 13-14

Richmond, 8-20

Texas Tech, 20-10

And a season after winning the national championship, 1997-98, Arizona's nonconference home schedule was even worse:

Morgan State, 12-16

UNC-Asheville, 19-9

Coppin State, 21-8

James Madison, 11-16

Kansas State, 17-12

New Mexico, 24-8

All of the UA's marquee games as a defending national champion were played across the map, against Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, Texas and Florida State, which was ranked No. 17 on game day.

It made good TV programming, but there was little drama at McKale.

If you want a dismal home schedule, check out what NAU coach Jack Murphy inherited in his first season. You don't expect the Lumberjacks to be much more than mercenaries in the preseason, but, come on, they haven't yet played in Flagstaff. They opened at Oregon, went to UNLV and still have games at BYU and Colorado.

"Who did this to me? We only have two home games," Murphy said Wednesday, forcing a smile. "I would come here again, we're already scheduled to play at McKale next year, but you need a portion of the nonconference to build togetherness and confidence."

Miller can't possibly know how his team will respond at crunch time because there hasn't been any crunch time. But, unlike battle-scarred NAU, his team's psyche remains healthy as it blends four new players with five veterans.

"It gives us a chance to get through this month without having to learn the hard way," he said.

In Olson's final season as a Final Four threat, 2004-05, Arizona's home schedule was enough to make you put your season tickets on eBay:

San Diego, 16-13

Wright State, 15-15

Wyoming, 15-13

Utah, 29-6

Manhattan, 15-14

Eastern Washington, 8-20

Richmond, 14-15

Average attendance at McKale Center was 14,558, the most ever for a 16-game home schedule. In the pre-Twitter days, Olson didn't have to beseech his fans to fill all the seats for a school's-out, Dec. 21 midweek game against a team with "Jaspers" scripted across its chest.

In 2004-05, the 30-7, Elite Eight Wildcats played No. 1 Wake Forest in New York City and No. 15 Mississippi State in Anaheim. In Tucson, they played the Richmond Spiders, over Christmas break, with premium prices attached to each ticket. The game sold out anyway.

Now, eight years later, in a changing culture, Sean Miller sent a midnight Twitter message thanking the 13,003 who attended Wednesday's NAU game.

He didn't have to say that plenty of tickets remain for Tuesday's game against Southern Miss.

Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or ghansen@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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