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Baylor basketball fans making most of NCAA runs despite shortage of tickets

Baylor basketball fans making most of NCAA runs despite shortage of tickets

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Baylor University basketball fans torn between to Sweet 16 squads toss coins into the air and wait for the bounce. Heads they win, tails they win again. Unfortunately for many green-and-gold faithful, the pieces of silver come to rest on their edges.

The Baylor women’s and men’s teams, both nationally ranked, are making their presence felt at NCAA championship tournaments in San Antonio and Indianapolis, respectively, but finding a ticket to either has become tougher than a Moon Ursin moving pick or a chin-high elbow from Mark Vital.

The women and men play Sweet 16 matchups back-to-back, time-wise, on Saturday, though 1,000 miles apart. The Lady Bears face the University of Michigan Wolverines at 2 p.m. Waco time, with ABC airing the game, while the men square off with the Villanova University Wildcats at 4:15 p.m. in a CBS telecast.

Jessica Armstrong, a Lady Bears’ season ticket holder longer than she can remember, said she would love to attend Saturday’s game against the Wolverines live and in-person. Instead she and her husband, Dick Armstrong, a local dentist, will plant themselves in front of a television.

“I did not think we could get tickets, truthfully,” Armstrong said. “Hardly anybody can go.”

She attended the 2010 Final Four in San Antonio, having a great time, though her beloved team was flattened by the University of Connecticut Huskies.

Armstrong said she attended a single Lady Bears game during the regular season and found the experience lacking. More than ever, she understands the importance of bands, noisy fans and raw emotion, she said.

“You can even tell it on TV, no fans in the stands. It’s so sad, but if not having those fans enables them to have a season to play, then it’s worth it,” Armstrong said. “But now I’m ready for a game that’s loud, fun and exciting.”

Fans were not allowed to attend NCAA women’s tournament games during the early rounds, but that changes now that the tournament is down to 16 teams, including Baylor, Texas A&M University and the University of Texas.

Bruce Gietzen, the radio voice of the Lady Bears, said he expects Bear fanatics to arrive at the Alamodome on Saturday ready to roar.

“San Antonio is a fun place to visit, and Baylor fans travel well,” Gietzen said. “They’re expecting the Michigan fans to show up as well.”

The Alamodome, which primarily serves as a football venue, seats about 31,000 when configured for basketball, he said. The NCAA divided the playing area in half to optimize seating and social distancing, meaning Baylor and Michigan will compete in an arena with about 16,000 seats.

But the winnowing does not stop there. The NCAA is limiting occupancy to 17% of capacity, which shakes out to about 2,720 fans, Gietzen said.

“Not a lot, but better than 100 friends and family members,” he said.

Waco Mayor Dillon Meek, a Baylor graduate, said he will join others in watching the men’s and women’s teams from Waco.

“The entire city is electrified over the Baylor Bears, the success of these basketball programs,” Meek said. “I reached out to coach (Kim) Mulkey and coach (Scott) Drew, letting them know we’re cheering them on from here. Their level of success has been achieved through hard work, and they deserve the honors they’re receiving. Citizens are rooting for the Bears any way they can, and the teams are showing citizens that hard work pays off.

“We can’t wait for them to bring home a championship.”

On-campus activities are under consideration, Baylor spokesperson Lori Fogleman said in a statement.

“There’s some discussion about how we can support our teams on campus in a COVID safe environment, but the plans have not been finalized at this time.”

Waco businessman Brian Ginsburg, co-owner of W Promotions and a licensed seller of Baylor merchandise, said staffers brainstormed ideas during a working lunch Thursday, finalizing their options should one team or both win national championships. He said W Promotions will order at least 500 to 1,000 “blanks,” shirts that can be customized to Baylor’s big occasion.

Shirts will come in green, gray and white, and would sell for about $20 apiece, Ginsburg said. The demand for memorabilia was quick when the Lady Bears won the national championship in 2012, their second of three under Mulkey.

“We started printing in the fourth quarter, and people began lining up outside at 2 a.m.,” Ginsburg said. “It was pretty cool.”

He and his wife, Janet, have tickets to the national championship game in San Antonio, if the Lady Bears make it that far.

“Baylor sent out a notice two weeks ago to sponsors, giving them the choice of two tickets to the Sweet 16, Elite Eight or Final Four,” Ginsburg said. “We were put in the championship round. My wife is one of the Lady Bears’ biggest fans. She yells at them, screams at them. She’ll say, ‘She missed a lay-up,’ and I’ll say, ‘Well, they’re still up by 42 points,’ but she’s not hearing that.”

Kyle Citrano, president of the Waco Restaurant Association, said his George’s restaurant on Hewitt Drive will have TVs tuned to Bears’ basketball Saturday and throughout the tournament.

He said other local drinking and dining establishments likely will do likewise.

“We have 35 TVs throughout the restaurant, and a 200-incher on the deck,” Citrano said. “That’s the beauty of having that many TVs. Wherever you sit, you can see one. There is no blind spot. If you request that a particular game be showing on your TV, we will try our best to facilitate that.”

Otherwise, it is all Baylor, all the time, Citrano said.


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