AstraZeneca Hoops For The Cure Classic Preview
Dec. 26, 2000
PHOENIX - Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne was looking for away to draw attention to her women's basketball program.
Then she heard an idea that intrigued her. You're in Arizona. Why don't youplay a game outdoors?
'Nobody liked it except me,' Turner Thorne said, laughing at the memory.
Eventually, she convinced enough other people the idea had merit and now,three years later, it's going to happen. On Wednesday night, Arizona State willplay No. 2 Tennessee at Bank One Ballpark, home of baseball's ArizonaDiamondbacks.
They'll be outdoors, under the stars, in the cool of a desert evening inwhat is believed to be the first college basketball game ever played in theopen air. The crowd will be the largest ever for an Arizona State game andcould be the largest for a women's basketball game west of the MississippiRiver.
Fans also will be contributing to a cause: Some of the proceeds will bedonated to breast cancer research. TV talk-show host Rosie O'Donnell is thegame's honorary spokeswoman.
'Really, there's no downside to it,' Turner Thorne said. 'It's kind of aDavid-and-Goliath situation for us, so we have nothing to lose. We're raisingthe awareness of women's basketball, we're raising money for breast-cancerresearch and it's a fun event.'
Tennessee coach Pat Summitt was drawn to the idea of doing somethingdifferent because, let's face it, the Lady Vols certainly don't need thepublicity. Summitt is one of the game's best-known and most-successful coaches,and her teams have won six national championships.
'If we're playing in an outdoor facility, that's a first for us,' Summittsaid. 'We're always looking for opportunities that are unique and special forour student-athletes and our program, and we certainly felt this would be.'
More than 15,000 tickets have been sold, ensuring that Arizona State willbreak its attendance record of 5,271 and the Pac-10 record of 9,783. Thelargest crowd for a women's game in the western half of the country was 18,018at New Mexico.
The record is 24,597 at Tennessee, against Connecticut in 1998.
For baseball, the park holds around 46,000 fans. It's never before playedhost to basketball since it opened in 1998, but has staged religious rallies,monster-truck contests, women's soccer and - on Thursday - will be the site ofits first football game, the Insight.com Bowl.
Arizona State said it knew of no other college basketball games playedoutdoors.
Whatever the final crowd count, it will be vastly different from what TurnerThorne found when she left Northern Arizona to become Arizona State's coach in1996.
'When I took over, they were in last place in the Pac-10 and they did notsell season tickets,' she said. 'When I played ASU at NAU, we brought 50 fansand we had more fans than they did. We beat them by 20 and we weren't thatgood. That's where we've come from.'
The court will sit along the first base line and curtains will be hung ontwo sides to help make the shooting background a little friendlier. Eveningtemperatures at this time of year dip into the 40s, so space heaters will beused to warm the benches.
If it rains, no problem. The stadium has a movable roof that can be closed.
'It's pretty enclosed, so I don't think we'll have to worry about the windaffecting shots,' Turner Thorne said. 'The depth perception, now that'sanother thing. You've got this little bitty basketball court on this bigbaseball field. I think everybody is going to be working for shots in thepaint.'
Arizona State will face Tennessee (10-0) with what should be Turner Thorne'sbest team so far.
Helped by transfers Amanda Levens (Old Dominion) and Melody Johnson(Colorado), the Sun Devils are 7-3 after finishing 14-15 last season andplaying in the WNIT, their first postseason appearance since 1992.
'Charli has done a great job as you look at her program and what she istrying to do and what ASU is trying to do to promote women's basketball,'Summitt said.
'As a coach, she is full of energy and is going about things in the rightway. Certainly I think her team will reflect her personality.'
By CHUCK SCHOFFNER
AP Sports Writer