SAN DIEGO – The title of “No. 1 seed” in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament comes with its advantages, including the awarding of a favorable location. So Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd thought the reasonable 402 miles that separate McKale Center from Viejas Arena would serve his team well.
He left Friday’s victory over Wright State at the first round site disappointed.
“The environment better be great (on Sunday night against TCU),” Lloyd said Saturday. “And you try to have a great regular season, a conference season to set yourself up to get a good seed. If you get a good seed you’re close to home. And this is supposed to be a great, advantageous fan base for us and yesterday we didn’t feel it.”
Lloyd expressed frustration with the Wildcats fan base as well as the NCAA’s process of operating event attendance. Lloyd touched on everything from ticket prices to when fans were allowed to enter the arena.
The NCAA announced 11,399 fans attended session two.
Unhappy with the attendance in the first few minutes of his team’s victory over Wright State on Friday night specifically, Lloyd challenged the Wildcats faithful.
“Listen, I know we’ve got a great fan base and I know some will take it personal, but they’ve got to be better tomorrow,” Lloyd said. “They’ve got to bring it tomorrow, as fans.”
Arizona played the first game of session two on Friday night. Fans attending both sessions hosted at Viejas Arena had to exit and reenter the arena. Fans had roughly just under an hour between the conclusion of Notre Dame’s win over Alabama and tip off of Arizona’s game with Wright State.
“I don’t know how, why it happens. I’m sure there’s a reason, but when you start a big game like this and the arena is 33 percent full, it’s weird,” Lloyd said after Friday night’s win. “And I just never understood why can’t we have that thing full. And I guess obviously it’s a TV issue or something along those lines. But it’s weird to start those games like that.”
It wasn’t just the Arizona coaching staff that recognized the oddity of Friday night’s attendance. Sophomore guard Dalen Terry said Arizona fans seemed to enter the building all at once.
“It was weird at the beginning of the game when nobody was there, kind of – it was odd,” Terry said. “Like there was nobody there. It wasn’t like there was the other team’s fans. It was like nobody was there. I looked up five seconds later and everybody’s there. It was great. It’s great to be, not in Tucson or wherever we’re at, and I can go to the crowd, lift my hands up and everybody gets loud. I thank our fans for traveling with us.”
Tickets in the upper portions of the arena sold through the NCAA-licensed retailers had a price tag, including fees, of roughly $200 for session two. The lowest price, before fees, for Sunday night’s event currently sits at $150.
“I know maybe you don’t get your blue-collar fan to as many of these games because they can’t afford the tickets,” Lloyd said. “That’s one of the things I was disappointed with the NCAA. You have people paying a lot of money for these tickets. And for them to come in 10, 20 minutes late for a game is crazy. They’ve got to consider the average fan who is paying a lot of money to come to these games.”
The Horned Frogs believe they are ready for an energetic crowd. TCU coach Jamie Dixon is familiar with the passionate Arizona fanbase dating back to his time as an assistant coach at Northern Arizona, and freshman center Eddie Lampkin Jr. noted hostile environments in Big 12 play that have molded this team.
“I expect a packed house, just like when we played at Kansas,” Lampkin Jr. said Saturday. “I don’t even think anybody could match when we played at Kansas or even at Texas. I feel like we’re going to tune them out. Our fans are going to be there, too, and we’re ready to go.”
Reentry will not be an obstacle for fans on Sunday, as the Wildcats are scheduled to play the second game of the only session at Viejas Arena at approximately 6:40, Arizona time. The matchup with TCU follows the game between Notre Dame and Texas Tech.
“Our fans have got to be better,” Lloyd said. “And you know what? The fans that are lucky enough to have tickets to this and financially be able to afford it, they need to get out of the seats tomorrow and bring it. They need to help us advance. That’s my message to them: Don’t sit back and wait; help us.”