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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Commentary

Commentary: Basketball deserves top level attendance


Fans made Fertitta Center into an electric atmosphere in the opening game against Oregon, but that has not been the case for all the home games. | Kathryn Lenihan/The Daily Cougar

“Corey Davis Jr. for three!” echoes throughout the brand-new Fertitta Center as senior guard Corey Davis Jr. drills a triple. While energetic, the enthusiasm of the PA announcer is nothing compared to the deafening cacophony of cheers coming from more than 7,000 fans in the jam-packed stadium.

Attendance is often expected to drop off during winter, but the 16-1 Cougars should run onto the hardwood with a sold-out crowd cheering them on every night, not just during premiere games like Oregon or LSU.

The Cougars’ new home has sold out three additional times since selling out opening night Dec. 1 against Oregon, a marquee matchup that included the highly-touted NBA prospect in freshman Bol Bol.

With the support of a full stadium, the Cougars defeated the Ducks 65-61 to grace the inaugural Fertitta Center crowd with a win.

Just two weeks later against St. Louis, the Fertitta Center was half full and resembled that of a team with a losing record, not the then-perfect 9-0 Houston.

“We’ll know we made it when people are coming to see the Cougars and not who we’re playing against,” said head coach Kelvin Sampson.

While selling out four of 10 home games is impressive, Houston’s fans can do better. The men’s basketball team, led by Sampson, is on a tear that can only be compared to the historic 31-2 season featuring NBA Hall-of-Famer and Cougar alumnus Elvin Hayes.

That team made it to the Final Four, and this team has the same potential.

“We’re winning and people are taking pride in this team. It’s been great playing in front of this,” Sampson said. “What we’ve created with this building is a huge connection between our fans and this team, and you can tell it’s growing.”

Another aspect of attendance is making Houston an attractive target for conference expansion.

While football is the main sports attraction for college athletics, having good teams and strong attendance across multiple other sports will make Houston a must have school if conference expansion talks roll back around.

The men’s basketball team made its first appearance in the NCAA tournament in nearly a decade and is a top 20 team in the country.

The baseball team has five conference titles in five years and was a game away from getting into the College World Series.

The football team just made a big head coaching hire, softball has one of the best arms in the country, the track & field team finished No. 3 in the nation last spring, the swim team has won three conference championships back-to-back-to-back and the list goes on and on.

The teams are doing their part, the fans need to keep doing theirs.

Houston’s next home game — ideally with another sold-out crowd — will be at 7 p.m. Jan. 23 against the East Carolina Pirates.

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