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Flood of fans fills St. Pete Times Forum

A long-sleeved shirt, but no umbrella

When the sky opened in downtown Tampa on Sunday afternoon, some Final Four fans were luckier than others.

Some huddled in covered stairwells at the St. Pete Times Forum, where the NCAA Women's Basketball tournament would take place. Others charged across Channelside Drive, looking for refuge, hopping puddles and dodging cars.

Then there was the family from Colorado who found themselves conveniently close to a tropical-themed bar called the Hut, where people started drinking before noon.

"We were under a palm tree when the lightning started," said Stacy Smith, enjoying a Corona. "We decided a beer was better."

After last year's frosty Final Four in Cleveland, Smith got excited packing for the warm weather in Tampa.

"I packed one long-sleeved shirt, just in case," Smith said. "I think I should've packed an umbrella."

Have red shirt, will travel cross country

Lightning crackled and thunder roared. Crews covered electronic equipment on stage at the Forum. Popcorn vendors moved under tents. Even people at the covered bar picked up their drinks and moved.

Mari Ju stood under a roof, hood over her head, and photographed the scene for her high school newspaper.

A curtain of rain separated the 15-year-old from her mom, who was across the courtyard getting tickets at will call. They traveled from Palo Alto, Calif., with a group of Stanford fans. Mari has some friends on the team.

"They've worked really hard," she said about the players. She was pleasantly surprised by how many red Stanford shirts she's seen in Tampa, given the travel distance and time.

Cool tattoo, Coach

The rain stopped for a while, allowing Don Smith to sit on a bench and smoke a cigar he bought in Ybor City.

He and Gail Matthews use the Final Four as an excuse to leave Massachusetts for a vacation every spring. So far this year, the UConn fans have seen the sunset over Clearwater and the bar scene in Ybor. They want to head back to Pinellas to visit a winery they heard about.

The Final Four is also a tradition for 10-year-old Nick Walker and his two moms, from Pennsylvania. Nick spent some time in Hoop City, an interactive exhibit at the Tampa Convention Center where kids could shoot hoops and meet players.

He got a temporary lizard tattoo. And he made one of his moms, who coaches his team at home, get a basketball on her arm.

Talent, teamwork — and good looks, too

Cheryl and Dave Olender took shelter from the storm under a roof outside the Forum and talked about what they like about women's basketball.

"I like it better than the men's," Dave said. "Old-fashioned basketball. It's a team sport."

"Men's basketball is about showmanship, not as much team. And the better they are, the less likely they are to finish school," Cheryl said. But not the women. "They go to school for four years, and they graduate."

"And," Dave chimed in, "they're better-looking than the men."

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

Flood of fans fills St. Pete Times Forum 04/06/08 [Last modified: Monday, April 7, 2008 8:52am]

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