Tucson is a basketball town
In a poignant moment in the TV-movie “61*,” about the 1961 Major League home run record chase between Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, a tearful Maris asks, “Why does it got to be that they only got room in their hearts for one guy?”
At Arizona, football and men’s basketball don’t really compete against each other, but if they did, even a Pac-12 official could see the clear winner. On Saturday, while the rest of the sports world was captivated by college football or the MLB postseason, Tucson was all about basketball.
Arizona quickly sold out the annual men’s basketball scrimmage and fans lined up in droves to get the best seats for the instrasquad scrimmage with a dunk competition beforehand.
The three most-viewed games on Pac-12.com since it started streaming last year were the 2012 and 2013 Red-Blue Games and the UA men’s basketball game against Humboldt State.
At the start of the Red-Blue Game, men’s basketball coach Sean Miller reminded the crowd that no other Pac-12 school gets crowds like that for even its biggest games of the season.
It’s true — Arizona has led the Pac-10/12 in attendance every year since the 1984-85 season, according to the UA media guide. From the 1987-88 season to 2005-06 season, McKale was sold out for every game.
“We were very excited about the whole event this afternoon,” Miller said. “It’s a real testament to the incredible support of the crowd. There are some very reputable college basketball programs that, in their best attempt, don’t ever have a crowd like that for a single game, let alone an intrasquad scrimmage. These are the greatest fans in the country for coming out like they did.”
During halftime, former Wildcat and NBA player Damon Stoudamire, now an assistant coach for Arizona, declared that the NBA experiences are nothing like the crowds at McKale.
“It’s definitely true, not many places have fans like us that are just so consistent,” said junior guard Nick Johnson. “They give you praise every single day, no matter what time of the year it is. It’s definitely true and I couldn’t agree more.”
When the football team loses a game at USC, UA fans start tweeting “When does basketball season start?”
Even though it will be Family Weekend, the football team will be lucky to get 50,000 fans in attendance at Saturday’s game.
The UA is trying to entice fans by allowing one fan to tweet what uniforms the team will wear, one fan to lead the Wildcat Walk and the last to run onto the field. Meanwhile, it’s giving ZonaZoo members cash to stay.
The football schedule this season has been hideous, with an easy non-conference schedule, two bye weeks in the first few weeks, only one home game in August, September and October and most of the home games in November, but UA fans still go to basketball when the schedule is unappealing.
Last year’s hoops home schedule included Humboldt State, Chico State, Charleston Southern, UTEP, Long Beach State, NAU, Southern Miss and Oral Roberts but average attendance last year was still 14,157.
Hated in his own time, Maris has come to be regarded as the true MLB single season home run record holder. In about 50 years, will football surpass basketball in popularity here? Probably not.
—Follow James Kelley @JamesKelley520