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Favorable draw lifts attendance at Verizon

- The Washington Times - Monday, March 21, 2011

A hotbed of sorts for college basketball, Washington did rather well for itself hosting second- and third-round NCAA tournament games at Verizon Center.

It drew the third-most fans on average of the eight subregional sites, trailing only Cleveland and Denver through games on Saturday.

Verizon Center, which had the benefit of hosting four teams within driving distance plus some rabid fan bases in Connecticut and Butler, drew 17,706 for Thursday's games and 18,684 for Saturday night's session.

The Saturday session was considered a sellout.

Capitals and Wizards owner Ted Leonsis likened working out of his Verizon Center office Thursday to witnessing a "festival" of NCAA basketball.

"Hours before the second session, there were thousands of people outside chanting, singing their school songs, bands playing," Leonsis told The Times. "Every restaurant was packed. It was a beautiful day, it was perfect."

Walk-up tickets were still available before Thursday's afternoon session, and there was a late-arriving crowd filing in while Butler was on its way to a buzzer-beating victory over Old Dominion.

But by midafternoon the place was generally full and it remained so until well into the final game of the night.

Saturday featured a packed house all night and two games not decided until late.

Most schools brought sizable fan bases to Washington - not surprising for top-seeded Pittsburgh (four-hour drive) or even 14th-seeded Bucknell (3 1/2-hour drive), and not surprising for Butler, which came within a basket of capturing last season's national championship.

It was well worth the trip for Bulldogs fans, who watched their team knock off No. 1 seed Pitt on Saturday night.

Butler's chance to make another Final Four run this season is still alive, and it all started at Verizon Center, which doesn't have any NCAA tournament games scheduled to return through 2013, the latest sites have been assigned.

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