Women's basketball teams make a stop in Wichita on the road to the Final Four
Work crews assembled the basketball court this week at Intrust Bank Arena in preparation for this weekend’s NCAA Women’s tournament.
When Intrust Bank Arena hosted NCAA basketball tournament games in 2011 and 2018, it was on the tournament's opening weekend.
This weekend's women's regional tournament has a larger payoff: a trip to the Final Four.
"The biggest difference is obviously what's at stake," said tournament director Brad Pittman, who also was in charge of the 2011 and 2018 Wichita regionals.
"You've had four teams that have already won two games. So there's a lot more at stake."
Louisville, Michigan, Tennessee and South Dakota are the four teams headed to Wichita that hope to play next month at the Final Four in Minneapolis.
Louisville will play Tennessee at 3 p.m. Saturday, followed by Michigan versus South Dakota. The winners play Monday night at 8 for a trip to Minnesota.
All of the games will be broadcast on the ESPN network.
Pittman is a senior associate athletic director at Wichita State University, which is the host school. He said he remembers the 2011 regional, which was played about a year after the arena opened.
"Obviously it was my first go-round with basketball," he said. "It was the arena's first go-round with the basketball event. So that was a challenge."
He said one of the biggest changes since 2011 is the effort to treat the women's tournament the same as the men's event.
"I know there's been a huge focus on equity, and I would say they've made a huge stride in that direction to get to that point," Pittman said.
He said the preparations for this weekend's tournament "reminds me a lot of what we did for the (men's regional) in 2018. There's a ton of similarities."
The 2018 regional featured the University of Kansas, which meant strong ticket sales and sellout crowds for KU's two games.
The women's tournament probably won't sell out the roughly 14,000-arena, but Christine Pileckas said ticket sales are picking up.
"Ticket sales have been really strong now that we've locked in the four teams that are coming to the Wichita region," said Pileckas, the director of booking and marketing at the arena.
"South Dakota, being their first-ever Sweet 16 appearance, is bringing a strong presence. They have bought a few thousand tickets, and it's actually pushed us into the upper level of seating. "So we'll be utilizing the (arena's) upper bowl as well, which is pretty strong for a women's regional."
Pileckas said the arena hopes to sell more than 10,000 tickets for the weekend.
Tickets are $45 for an all-session pass ($30 for youth and seniors), which includes both games Saturday and Monday's championship. Single-session tickets are $25 ($15 for youth and seniors).
There also will be activities outside the arena on Saturday. Fan Fest, which was held in 2018, will be held in and around Naftzger Park. It will run from noon to 8 p.m. and include food trucks, a DJ playing music, tournament games on the park's big screen, basketball hoops and yard games.
Wichita was awarded this weekend's regional in July of 2018. Pittman said the hours of planning since then will pay off this weekend.
"When the ball is tipped off on Saturday, it'll be worth the effort," he said. "It'll be worth it to see the young women that are here and see them compete and see them happy."
- South Dakota, a 10th seed, is the regional's Cinderella team. The Coyotes won the first two NCAA Tournament games in school history this month and are playing in their first Sweet 16. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem is expected to attend Saturday's game.
- Third-seeded Michigan is playing in its second consecutive Sweet 16, but has never advanced beyond that point. The Wolverines feature first-team All-American Naz Hollimon.
- Louisville, the region's top seed, has had the most recent success nationally of the teams in Wichita. The Cardinals played in the 2009 and 2013 title games, losing both. They also made the Final Four in 2018.
- Fourth-seeded Tennessee is a traditional women's basketball power. The Volunteers have won eight championships, the second-highest total in NCAA history. Their last title was in 2008.