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PAC-10 TOURNAMENT NOTES

Deal to stay at Staples isn't universally popular

March 10, 2007|Diane Pucin; Ben Bolch | From Times Staff Reports

After six years at Staples Center, the Pacific Life Pac-10 men's basketball tournament will stay for five more.

It was courted by several other cities -- Anaheim, San Jose, Portland and Seattle among them -- according to Mitch Huberman, senior vice president of Fox Sports Enterprises, owner of television rights for the event. "But building equity in the market is crucial to us," he said. "Los Angeles is a great place. Toss in this building and we've seen continued growth in the excitement here. We have the opportunity to create equity by staying in this marketplace."

Several conference coaches, including Arizona's Lute Olson and Oregon's Ernie Kent, expressed a desire to move the tournament. UCLA's Ben Howland suggested the Pac-10 pay attention to the Big East tournament, which has always been at Madison Square Garden in New York. "To me, the Big East is the standard," Howland, who formerly coached in that conference at Pittsburgh, said last week. "You want to create that kind of excitement."

Commissioner Tom Hansen said he heard the calls to move the event. "There have been different opinions on where it should be," he said, 'but you have to build such a big infrastructure to support it. It's a difficult thing trying to move it around and coaches don't always understand that."

-- Diane Pucin

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Even though USC is the closest Pac-10 school to Staples Center, Trojans fans didn't generate much of a home-court edge last year during USC's conference tournament quarterfinal against California.

But renewed interest in USC basketball, sparked by a 22-victory season and a new home court, helped transform Staples Center into something resembling an extension of the Galen Center on Friday night during the Trojans' semifinal against Washington State. USC fans appeared to make up about half the crowd.

USC spokesman Tim Tessalone said the Trojans had sold their usual allotment of 750 tickets but beyond that it was hard to determine how many USC fans had purchased tickets. The Trojans averaged 7,927 fans at the Galen Center for Pac-10 games, an increase of almost 50% over the 5,309 they averaged for conference games during their final season at the Sports Arena.

-- Ben Bolch

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