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Women's Final Four

Tampa opens doors to women's basketball fans

Members of LSU’s women’s basketball team prepare to board the Yacht Starship Friday night for a dinner cruise with the three other teams competing for the national championship in Tampa: Connecticut, Tennessee and Stanford.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Members of LSU’s women’s basketball team prepare to board the Yacht Starship Friday night for a dinner cruise with the three other teams competing for the national championship in Tampa: Connecticut, Tennessee and Stanford.

TAMPA

Stanford University women's basketball coach Tara VanDerveer has taken her teams to 20 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.

She's also an avid piano player, a fact noted by staff at the Westin Harbour Island hotel. So employees put a the hotel's baby grand piano in a meeting room just for her.

"If she gets stressed out," said hotel sales director Cricket Wagner, "she can go down and play."

When Renaissance Tampa International Hotel employees created a balloon archway for Louisiana State University players, sales director Betsy Worth knew immediately to raise it.

It was 6-feet-1. She's 6-feet-1. Three LSU players are taller.

"It's the little details that are vital," legendary college basketball coach John Wooden once wrote in an autobiography. "Little things make big things happen."

These are some of the little things businesses are doing to welcome people to a very big thing for Tampa: the NCAA Women's Final Four tournament.

Sunday and Tuesday, sold-out crowds of 21,655 will cram into the St. Pete Times Forum to watch Stanford, LSU, UConn and Tennessee vie for the title. The NCAA says four or five thousand more will be in town for the event, while 6,500 coaches are here as part of the annual Women's Basketball Coaches Association convention.

More than 16,000 of Hillsborough County's 20,000 available hotel rooms are booked. Many will be occupied by players and fans wearing conspicuously winter complexions.

They are being greeted by temperatures in the low 80s.

"It's nice and warm down south," said Jean Preissel, 68, of New Britain, Conn.

For those associated with women's basketball, the Final Four is a chance to combine their passion with a vacation. You can be a rabid fan and relaxed tourist at the same time. You can watch student-athletes battle on the court while you're in shorts and sandals off it.

Take Preissel's husband, Norman, 72, who worked for 20 years as the UConn men and women's basketball scorekeeper. It was a job where he could never relax or even root for his team. Now he can, though his wife has to remind him it's okay, she said.

Take Denikwa James, 37, a former Morgan State University player who coaches a Baltimore high school. Weeks of yelling out plays and instruction is over. The only screaming she'll be doing is for LSU, her adopted team.

"I'm looking for an LSU shirt right now," she said as she walked from shop to shop.

Take Andrea Cavallo, 49, of Dana Point, Calif. She played in high school. Along with her friend, Sheryl Goldfeder, 52, Cavallo can be a kid at the Final Four, seeking autographs from coaching icons like Pat Summitt and Geno Auriemma.

Decked out in team banners, colors and a center stage for bands, Channelside Bay Plaza has become a fan's playground.

"If you haven't been down," said Travis Claytor, Tampa Bay & Company spokesman, "downtown Tampa and the Channelside area has pretty much transformed."

"WELCOME TO … SUMMITT­VILLE. GO VOLS," say the windows at Splitsville.

Across the courtyard, Stump's Supper Club's marquee reads, "LET'S GO UCONN HUSKIES."

There didn't appear to be any spirited cheers or jeers between the fans Friday, but that could change today when most get to town. On Friday, they were too content to enjoy the weather and walk around.

"It's clean and neat and people are just lovely," said Sandy Peters, 56, of Vermont.

Justin George can be reached

at jgeorge@sptimes.com

or (813) 226-3368.

Events and activities

4-Kay Run — 8 a.m. today, St. Pete Times Forum West Plaza. Proceeds benefit the Kay Yow/Women's Basketball Coaches Association Cancer Fund. Registration 7 a.m. to 7:45 a.m. $25 registration fee.

Bounce By the Bay — 9:30 a.m. today, St. Pete Times Forum West Plaza. Free basketball rally for elementary and middle school children. Pre-registration required. Check in at 8:30 a.m.

YES Clinics — 9 a.m. to noon today, University of South Florida Sun Dome, Jefferson High School and Hillsborough High School. People ages 10 to 16 can get sport instruction from NCAA coaches and student-athletes. Clinics include a parents' session on sportsmanship, wellness and injury prevention.

NCAA Hoop City 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today through Monday, Tampa Convention Center. Fans can participate in competitions and basketball clinics. Past and present NCAA coaches and players will sign autographs. Adults $8; kids, military, seniors and students $6. hoop-city.com.

Super Saturday team practices and autograph sessions —11 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. today, St. Pete Times Forum. Watch practices and get autographs. Free.

WBCA High School All-America Game —4:30 p.m. today, USF Sun Dome. Watch the best women's high school basketball players from around the country. $15 tickets. wbca.org.

Traffic

Streets will be closed and traffic will be heavy around the St. Pete Times Forum today through Tuesday because of Women's Final Four events.

Between 6:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. today, northbound Bayshore Boulevard from Rome Avenue to Platt Street and Platt Street/Channelside Drive from Bayshore to Jefferson Street will be closed during the 4Kay Run presented by the Hartford. The detour for Platt is Plant Avenue to Kennedy Boulevard.

Between 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. today, Channelside Drive from Florida Avenue to St. Pete Times Forum Drive and St. Pete Times Forum Drive from Channelside Drive to Franklin Street will be closed during the Bounce by the Bay children's event. Franklin Street between Platt/Channelside to the Wyndham Harbor Island Hotel also will be closed. Harbour Island residents should use the Beneficial Bridge during the event.

HARTline has extended its hours of operation for In-Town Trolley and Streetcar routes between until April 8. For more information, go to hartline.org.

Sources: City of Tampa, HARTline.

2008 NCAA Women's Final Four

Tampa opens doors to women's basketball fans 04/04/08 [Last modified: Friday, April 4, 2008 11:55pm]
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