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New Haven Register (Connecticut)
STORRS - Gampel Pavilion was a half-filled building when UConn rolled to a 22-point win over UMass-Lowell a few nights ago.
Empty seats were aplenty as a mere 5,507 checked out the Huskies' 97-75 victory on Tuesday. And yet that paltry number nearly doubled the attendance of UConn's fifth home game of the season, and third at Gampel, a year earlier. Or don't you remember the 3,808 that poured in to Gampel to watch the Huskies edge Columbia, in overtime (!), on Nov. 29, 2017?
You could hardly be blamed for etching that one from your memory.
Attendance hasn't been overly impressive so far in Year One of the Dan Hurley Era at UConn. But it is up from where it was at this point last season - somewhat considerably.
Through their first five home games - three at Gampel, two at XL Center - last season, the Huskies had drawn 29,284 fans. This year, they are at 38,614 - a 28.4 percent increase.
And that number will skyrocket even more on Sunday, when UConn (6-1) hosts Arizona (5-2) in what may end up being its most attractive home game of the season. As of Thursday evening, about 1,000 tickets still remained for Sunday's 1 p.m. tip-off at XL Center. So, there's a good chance the Huskies get their first sellout in Hartford since last season's 20-point loss to Villanova on Jan. 20.
It will certainly top the 6,582 that watched the Huskies squeak by Monmouth, in overtime (!!), in their third XL game last season on Dec. 2, 2017.
"When you get sellout crowds and they're enthusiastic and energized when you run through the tunnel, that's a huge, huge boost," Hurley said after practice on Friday. "Teams that play the best at home usually have great crowds at home, and they use that to spur on the energy."
There may be no sport where home teams enjoy a bigger advantage than in basketball - particularly college basketball. The atmosphere and energy created by a big, loud crowd can intimidate an opponent - and there's almost no question it often influences the referees' whistles, as well. The NCAA's new metric for ranking teams, called NET, heavily skews towards home and neutral-site victories.
"It's huge," said Hurley, in his first season at UConn after spending the last six coaching Rhode Island. "There's a reason why teams who do well as a whole do well at home. In the Atlantic 10, Dayton and VCU had great home records because they had great crowds - enthusiastic, locked-in, sold-out. Those teams become very comfortable playing in front of those crowds at home. It becomes energy that you kind of expect on game night. It becomes fun playing at home."
UConn's attendance may be on the uptick, but it's still a far cry from what it was even five years ago - and certainly 10, 15, 20 years ago. The Huskies did sell out their season-opener on Nov. 6 against Morehead State - their first on-campus sellout since March 6, 2016 against UCF - though an array of last-minute giveaways certainly helped. Syracuse fans outnumbered UConn fans at their rivalry game at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 15, and despite the Huskies' invigorating, 83-76 victory, there wasn't a huge navy-blue contingent the following night in a loss to Iowa.
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