STORRS, Conn. -- From Rebecca Lobo's junior season of 1994 through Sue Bird's senior year of 2002, the University of Connecticut women's basketball team sold out 20 consecutive NCAA tournament games at Gampel Pavilion.
The top-seeded Huskies' second-round NCAA Albany Regional game against No. 8 Rutgers Monday night will mark the 14th straight non-sellout. The problem isn't that there are a few dozen tickets available in sections here and there, though.
The announced crowd of 3,666 for the doubleheader that saw Rutgers defeat Seton Hall 79-66 and UConn top St. Francis-Brooklyn 89-33 Saturday night was the second-worst for a NCAA tournament game at Gampel Pavilion. The smallest crowd was for the first game here -- 2,585 against Clemson in 1990. A 1989 game against La Salle was played at the Field House and drew 1,535.
"Thirty-six hundred is not indicative of who our program is and where we are and what we've done all of these years to get to this point," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said Sunday. "It's kind of embarrassing. We took great pride in who we are and what we've done and how we've done it all these years and for that to happen ... I'm not pointing fingers at anyone, I just think it's embarrassing.
"It's indicative of all sports. Things are new and fresh and alive and it's, 'Hey, let's go check it out.' After awhile, "Eh, I'll watch it on TV.' I don't think it's any different in baseball, in football, any sport. There comes a point where they go, 'What's the point? They're going to win.' And they'll look for excuses why -- the tickets are expensive, it's what time the game is, it's the parking, it's where I'm sitting, it's everything you can imagine to justify it. Who's to say they're wrong?"
UConn's attendance also ranked 10th of the 16 sites that hosted games on Friday or Saturday. Even South Florida, which averaged around 2,000 fans during the regular season, had 5,560 show up for a doubleheader featuring Louisville and Brigham Young, and USF and LSU at the Sun Dome. The six that did worse than UConn were Kentucky (3,223), Stanford (2,830), Duke (2,712), Arizona State (2,588), North Carolina (2,098), and California (2,079).
The two main criticisms making the rounds for the low turnout around here are the limited time UConn (and the rest of the top 16 seeds) had to sell tickets in advance and the start times of the games.
The Huskies' game with St. Francis Saturday night was the final contest of the day and the only one to start at 9 p.m. Meanwhile, two Pacific time zone teams -- Arizona State and Stanford -- also hosted Saturday. The Tempe and Palo Alto doubleheaders started at 1 p.m. local time.
On Monday, Stanford plays Oklahoma at 3:30 p.m. local time while UConn-Rutgers tips off at 9 p.m.
"I don't know how all these things are actually done," Auriemma said. "I assume the TV networks say ... We have the same deal with SNY. If SNY says Saturday's game is going to be at 2, it's at 2. If they say it's at 4, it's at 4. That's when they can fit it into their slot relative to everything else they have to do. There is no answer. If you're looking for an answer to the question, there is none.
"It makes no sense. It makes no sense to me and to our fans. If somebody said to me before the tournament, 'What's your ideal situation?' I would have said Saturday at 4 and Monday at 7. Or Friday at 7 and Sunday at 2. You look for windows, knowing what our fan base is, to get eight, nine, 10 thousand fans. But I don't make those decisions."
Of course, UConn has not drawn well in subregionals here for a decade. After a crowd of 5,729 showed up for Maya Moore's final home game against Purdue in 2011, Auriemma said he would suggest that the Huskies not host for the next five years.
In five NCAA games at Gampel Pavilion since, the average attendance is 4,408.
UConn hasn't announced a crowd that small for a regular season game since 1993.
And during that streak of NCAA sellouts from 1994-2002, the Huskies also sold out the Big East tournament here four times (1996-97, 2000-01).