Saturday, October 13, 2007

Lady Vols are a hot item

Tennessee won't be playing to an audience in its practice facility for the time being.

Its renovated arena, on the other hand, might be filled like never before.

As of Friday afternoon, women's basketball season ticket sales stood at 11,381. The total represented a nearly 16 percent increase over last season's sales of 9,855.

"For us to be where we are is phenomenal,'' said Jimmy Delaney, the Lady Vols director of promotions and marketing.

The final total could be a Lady Vols record. The only other season with comparable season ticket sales was 1998-99, when sales were in the 11,000 range. With single-game ticket sales starting this week, UT officials haven't had time to document the final tally from that season, which followed a UT run of three consecutive national championships.

Last season's championship, the seventh in program history, has helped drive this season's sales. It's one of many factors, which include everything from the team's makeup to interest in the arena itself.

"It's not the Thompson-Boling Arena you remember," Delaney said. "I think there's a lot of people who want to get in there and see it and be part of that first season."

Delaney said the ticket-sales drive mentioned all of these factors. The Lady Vols also formulated postcards and sent them to single-game ticket purchasers from last season, converting some of those fans into season-ticket buyers.

Delaney thinks the popularity of the men's team has helped create a synergy regarding ticket sales.

"With Tennessee basketball being so hot, it helps us both,'' Delaney said. "Basketball is on people's minds. It might be men or women."

The start of practice Friday added to the interest and highlighted the $16 million Pratt Pavilion. Until construction is complete, the facility will be the sole domain of the basketball teams and their support staffs.

UT coach Pat Summitt put her team through a 2 1/2-hour workout, stressing "daily improvement" as means of keeping the players' attention on the work at hand.

As for the new facility, Summitt said the acoustics required some adjustment, but she quickly added, "Look I'm not complaining. It's fabulous. It hit two or three times: I can't believe this happened."

Notebook: UT All-American Candace Parker was a spectator Friday. A two-week break has been mandated following her play with the U.S. women's national team at an Olympic qualifying tournament in Chile. Parker might not rejoin team practice until next weekend ... Lady Vols assistant coaches Dean Lockwood and Nikki Caldwell attended a New Jersey Nets practice this week. Lockwood said they brought back three offensive sets that will be implemented.

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