Huskies ready for NIT, but are their fans excited?
A season-low crowd of 2,801 showed up for Tuesday's NIT game, but Washington hopes for a better turnout Friday at home against Northwestern.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Northwestern @ Washington, 7 p.m., ESPNU
It felt like such a simple request. Tony Wroten Jr. picked an opponent clean in the open court Tuesday, threw an assist for a dunk and then waved to the Edmundson Pavilion crowd to get excited.
Forgive Wroten. He's a freshman who thrives off the energy from the crowd. In his first year at Washington, he developed a give-and-take relationship with Husky fans who packed the arena all season.
But this was something unfamiliar and strange.
A season-low 2,801 witnessed top-seeded Washington's 82-72 win over No. 8 Texas-Arlington in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament.
By far, it was the smallest crowd of the season and just a fraction of the 9,481 the Huskies drew in November to watch an exhibition game against Seattle Pacific.
Coach Lorenzo Romar convinced his players to take their NIT appearance seriously, but perhaps a more relevant question was essentially asked by Wroten when he gestured to the crowd.
Will anyone else get excited?
Tuesday's small crowd says no, but UW officials believe mitigating factors may have played a role in fans staying away.
Washington had two days to sell tickets once the NIT pairings were announced Sunday night. School officials also prepared to host a Women's National Invitation Tournament opener for the UW women's team on Wednesday.
The Huskies sold about 2,000 tickets to the men's game before Tuesday morning and were hoping for a large walk-up crowd. But that may have been tempered by poor weather conditions.
Washington hopes for a larger turnout when it hosts No. 4 Northwestern at 7 p.m. Friday.
Several fans have complained about the ticket prices, which range from $20 to $35. Students can purchase tickets for $10.
"The Husky ticket office does research on what's consistent to what we've offered in the past," said Carter Henderson, director of public relations for UW athletics. "They factor in a number of things, whether it be previous NIT appearances, NIT appearances at other schools and then our current ticket costs.
"They've come up with this, what we think is a very fair price."
Washington averaged 9,294 in 17 home games this season, which was second-most in the Pac-12 behind Arizona.
If the Huskies had reached their average attendance, they would have made about $26,000 from Tuesday's game after expenses are subtracted from revenue from parking, tickets sales, concessions and advertising.
The NIT retains television revenue from the games played on the ESPN channels and it's "highly unlikely" host teams lose money, Henderson said.
Still, there's no denying the NIT is a tough sell to Husky fans who had grown accustomed Washington making three straight NCAA men's tournament appearances.
For many UW fans, the season ended Sunday when Washington failed to receive an invitation to the Big Dance.
"There's still a lot to get excited about," said Romar who extolled the benefits of playing in the NIT. "Whenever you can play on television, that's a positive. People watch.
"There's more practice time. You're playing for something. You're with your team longer, which is good for those freshmen and sophomores. And those die-hard Husky fans get to see us again."
Others, however, are still waiting to get excited.
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org