Wichita State's players aren't worried about moving their home-court advantage six miles. They figure their crowd will travel just fine to Intrust Bank Arena in downtown.
"The fans will make it a home court," senior Gabe Blair said. "Rock the octagon. It's like eight sides in here, so I say rock the octagon."
Monday afternoon, the Shockers (8-2) practiced at Intrust Bank Arena, their home for tonight's game against Tulsa (5-5). WSU moved the game downtown as a mandated test run for the NCAA women's tournament in March, and for the chance to do something special. WSU wanted the distinction of playing the first basketball game in Intrust Bank Arena, which opened Jan. 9. As of Monday afternoon, around 13,500 tickets were sold. The arena seats 15,004 for basketball.
Tulsa makes the perfect opponent. They played 119 times — most as Missouri Valley Conference members before Tulsa left the conference in 1996. Only Bradley and Drake are more frequent WSU opponents. Tulsa trumps both with its proximity and the intensity of the rivalry.
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WSU wants to make downtown basketball work.
"I think this will bring out a festive group," WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. "I hope to do it every year. I hope it is a great home-court advantage. I hope people find it to be a nice experience."
Above and around the court, it looked similar to a practice before the MVC Tournament in St. Louis or an NCAA Tournament game. The ribbon board and scoreboards featured the school logos. Instead of Koch Arena's round intimacy and black seats, Intrust Bank Arena's maroon chairbacks stretched up in all directions. Luxury boxes — not a part of Koch Arena's basketball-only landscape — dominate one side. Beer signs are prominent.
On the court, practice looked like it does almost every day. Junior center Garrett Stutz quoted the movie "Hoosiers" by observing that the goals are 10-feet tall. Shooting might take some adjustment because of the open space behind the baskets.
"Koch's floor is a little more bouncy," he said. "Other than that, it's very similar."
The Shockers are trying to close out their pre-Christmas schedule on a four-game win streak. They should be riding high after Saturday's 70-69 win over LSU, a game Stutz decided with a three-pointer in the final seconds.
Tulsa is in a different position. Injuries and inexperience are dragging down the Golden Hurricane.
Former walk-on Shane Heirman is expected to start at point guard. Starter Jordan Clarkson sprained his ankle in a loss to Princeton on Dec. 12. He did not play in Thursday's win over Weber State and is not listed on the depth chart for tonight. Sophomore guard Donte Medder is out for the season with a knee injury.
"I like my team when we're healthy," Tulsa coach Doug Wojcik said. "We've got to get our feet under us again."
With the injuries, senior Justin Hurtt takes on more burden. He is the player WSU's defense will focus on. He scored 36 points against Weber State, making 10 of 26 shots and 3 of 11 three-pointers.
"He's become a great player for us," Wojcik said. "He can do a lot of things."