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Bob Lutz: A second home is nice to have

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, Nov. 26, 2011, at 12:05 a.m.
  • Updated Saturday, Nov. 26, 2011, at 6:48 a.m.

The grumbling from some Wichita State basketball fans about the Shockers playing an annual game downtown at Intrust Bank Arena doesn't make sense to me.

But I don't have to pay to park. My seat is on the floor, along press row, and I don't have to pay for a ticket.

I think the Shockers and the Arena are a perfect match, but for a while this week it appeared there might be a sparse crowd for Friday night's day-after-Thanksgiving matchup against UAB.

Tickets for the game were selling slowly as those grumbling Shocker fans pointed out a litany of reasons for their disinterest.

There were fears that the Arena, which has a capacity of 15,004, might be half full for a Wichita State basketball game, which is usually the hottest ticket in town.

Instead, 11,204 showed up as WSU knocked off the Blazers68-46. It was a boisterous crowd, but it was 3,800 below capacity and well below the 14,112 fans who turned out last season for a game against Tulsa, one of the Shockers' biggest rivals from their days together in the Missouri Valley Conference.

Several factors, no doubt, entered into Friday night's lower turnout, including it being played on the day after a holiday.

Some Shocker fans have been slow to warm to the not-yet two-year-old arena and I just don't get it.

Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall continues to rave about his team playing in Intrust Bank Arena, where the Shockers are now 2-0. He wants a third game next season.

"We had a festive crowd tonight,'' Marshall said. "A loud crowd. I think our fans appreciate good basketball and hopefully we can continue to give them some good basketball here. There's no place like it. We're 2-2 coming in and UAB is 1-2. We're both disappointed with our starts but we still have over 11,000. I wasn't worried about a big crowd showing up because I know this community.''

Marshall did say the independent promoter of the game, Russ Potts, was worried because of lagging ticket sales. Potts, a former politician from Winchester, Pa., who has been promoting sports events since 1982, guaranteed $125,000 to both schools.

That took the onus of selling tickets off the Shockers, but some WSU season ticket holders were upset that the UAB game was not part of their season-ticket package, even though last year a bunch of Shocker season ticket holders were unhappy with the setup.

Wichita State, faced with a Catch-22, did the best it could. The Shockers and those who operate Intrust Bank Arena are still working out the details of how to make this game the best it can be and the independent promoter is the best option.

Hopefully, Potts was able to make enough from the venture to make it worth his while and will be able to deliver a better opponent for the Shockers next season.

"I could have chosen not to play this game but when (Potts) presented the deal he presented it would have been foolish not to play the game from our perspective,'' Marshall said. "We were able to get a home game against a team that's been to four NCAA tournaments (since 2000), that has won games with Mike Anderson and Mike Davis as coaches and was in the NCAA Tournament last year. It would have been foolish not to play this game.''

Plus, Marshall loves putting his team on display at Intrust Bank Arena. He likes the place.

"We want to play a game here every year,'' he said. "It's a great arena. It's loud, it's bright, it's new. It's like an NBA arena.

"Would we have preferred the promoter come to us with North Carolina? Maybe. But we spend a lot of our time on scheduling and when this promoter comes to us and says he has UAB willing to come to Wichita and here's the deal, that's hard to turn down. And if we don't have this venue, we can't do that.''

UAB, though, didn't have much of a night. Outside of 6-foot-10 senior forward Cameron Moore, who had 18 points and nine rebounds, the Blazers were 10 of 36 from the field and zero of 14 from the three-point line.

Wichita State's defense was stifling, forcing 16 turnovers and some horrendous UAB shooting. The Blazers might be taking $125,000 back to Birmingham, but what is the going price for a bunch of bruised egos?

The Shockers didn't exactly break free from an offensive slump that hit them in Puerto Rico last week, shooting 39.6 percent. But they did have a stretch of 18 consecutive made free throws, outrebounded UAB by eight and played their trademark defense, sending the crowd home happy.

At least I hope they were happy, because I think the Shockers belong downtown for one game a year. Hopefully, it will be a game against a name opponent and it will become a festive Wichita State tradition.

Intrust will never replace Koch Arena's charm. That's the place the Shockers will always call home. But it's OK to have a second home, especially one as sparkly as this.

Check sports columnist Bob Lutz's blog at blogs.kansas.com/lutz. Reach him at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com.

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