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Men's basketball: the hottest ticket in town

SAUL LOEB/Arizona Summer Wildcat
Arizona center Channing Frye goes up for a shot against ASU center Ike Diogu during Arizona's 93-74 victory in early January. The Arizona basketball team lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Seton Hall.
By James Kelley
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, July 28, 2004
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There are a few things in life that one can be certain about: death, taxes and the popularity of men's basketball at the UA.

The Wildcats are the hottest ticket in town, explained assistant coach Josh Pastner.

"I think it is the most popular thing in the state of Arizona; every single game is on live television," Pastner said. "In Tucson, the fan support is terrific. We get tremendous support. We're very fortunate, very lucky for that."

Arizona has led the Pac-10 in attendance since 1984-85 and the 14,545-seat arena has been sold out since 1987-88.

"I think we are one of the top five programs in the country, definitely number one in the west," said Chris Del Conte, associate athletics director.

2004-2005 Men's Basketball Schedule
11/16 San Diego *
11/18 TBD *
11/21 @ Virginia
11/24-26 @ NIT *
12/5 Mississippi State ^
12/11 Utah
12/18 @ Marquette
12/22 Wyoming
12/28-30 Fiesta Bowl Classic Tucson
1/2 Arizona State
1/6 @ California
1/8 @ Stanford
1/13 USC
1/15 UCLA
1/20 @ Oregon
1/22 @ Oregon State
1/27 Washington
1/29 Washington State
2/3 California
2/5 Stanford
2/10 @ USC
2/12 @ UCLA
2/17 Oregon
2/19 Oregon State
2/24 @ Washington
2/26 @ Washington State
3/5 @ Arizona State

* MBNA Preseason NIT, semifinals and finals @ New York
^ Wooden Classic @ Anaheim, Calif.

North Carolina, Duke, Connecticut and Kentucky are the other top-five programs, Del Conte said.

Seats are so coveted that the season tickets are handled on a priority point basis and courtside seats, known as Scholarship Row, cost about as much as out-of-state tuition, room, board and meal money.

Pastner said they "absolutely" use the team's popularity in recruiting.

"It is something we really sell in the recruiting process, no doubt about it," Pastner said.

The student seats were limited to behind the basket and in the upper level after alumni bought the seats when Olson was hired. Normal lower-level seats go for $1,250.

Del Conte said that Arizona is in the top five in terms of the money it makes.

Students are also pretty passionate about the basketball team.

"The student following is great; I know a lot of students who come to school here for the basketball program," Pastner said. "We're just very fortunate to have the support we do; it is not everywhere you get that kind of support."

In 21 years under head coach Lute Olson, the UA has won a national championship, been to four Final Fours, been to seven Elite Eights, been to 11 Sweet 16s and has had 20 straight NCAA tournament berths, the longest current streak in the NCAA - same for its 17consecutive 20-win seasons.

The Wildcats have been ranked in the Associated Press top 25 for 286 consecutive regular season weeks since Nov. 29, 1987. The UA began the 2001-02 season unranked in the preseason poll and after its first two games jumped to No. 8.

Arizona has been ranked No. 1 for 30 weeks, most recently for five in a row in 2002-03. The Wildcats have had 24 players picked in the NBA draft since 1989, tied for No. 1 with the Blue Devils.

After the 1997 national championship, fans rioted on nearby Fourth Avenue. After the Wildcats lost the 2001 championship game, there was another riot on Fourth Avenue.

In October 2002, when the UA was preseason No. 1, a ruckus arose outside the McKale Center after students had lined up to purchase tickets.

Sixteen police officers were called to stifle the uncontrolled mob of 2,000. Temporary barriers that were set up that morning were knocked over and security guards, who were handing out ticket vouchers earlier than they planned, had to stop when the crowd was pushing.

In 2001, the year the UA eliminated the lottery system because of requests by student government officials, sales went off without a hitch. Last year ASUA returned to the lottery system, and the ticket situation remains a hot-button issue for students.

"Tickets are such a hot commodity and that's a very good situation for us; like I said, in the recruiting process, we sell that," Pastner said. "The only person who gets credit for that, for building it up, is Lute Olson."

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