Soon after Warde Manuel took over as athletic director at UConn, he made it known that part of his long-range plans was to make the jewels of the Connecticut athletic program—men's and women's basketball—more available to ALL state residents. While games played in Storrs and Hartford may be easy for fans in Windham and Hartford counties, that's not necessarily the case for fans in “outlying” regions of the state such as Litchfield, New London, Middlesex and, especially, Fairfield counties.
Now, according to published reports, that's all about to change starting this coming coming season.
According to a story in today's Connecticut Post, the Huskies men's and women's team will play one game each at the Webster Bank Arena (WBA) in January. That will certainly sell out the arena twice—and make the Husky basketball a far easier proposition for fans in Western Connecticut, including Fairfield, Litchfield and New Haven counties.
The Webster Bank Arena is no stranger to Connecticut basketball. Home court for the Fairfield Stags, the arena has hosted the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) postseason championship tournament twice—in 2007 (when the facility was known as The Arena at Harbor Yard), and again in 2011.
Bridgeport is a veritable old hand in hosting postseason women's tournaments for the NCAA, having been host site (with Fairfield University serving has host team) for first- and second-round games in 2004, 2008 and 2012, and hosting NCAA Regional tournaments in 2006 and 2012.
UConn head coach Geno Auriemma agrees that playing in Bridgeport makes all the sense in the world.
"My own personal opinion is we can sit where we are and have people come to us or we can take another step and go to where they are," told the Post in May "And I'm a firm believer that's a good way to sell our product. It's a good way to expose who we are and continue to grow our brand."
According to the Hall of Fame coach, playing in the state—but in venues away from Storrs and Hartford is good for Connecticut basketball fans, and good for Connecticut basketball.
“I don't know this city very well,” he said during last year's Regional tournament, “but I found out by coming down here to play that you didn't need a passport to get to Bridgeport from Storrs. WWe've made an awful lot of fans here, [and] they've made our program feel welcome.”
As for the Mohegan Sun Arena, the issue is complicated by the fact that the arena is physically located in a casino. However, the fact that there is no betting on basketball—the only sportsbook in the arena handles thoroughbred racing, harness racing and jai alai—makes it a viable venue to expose UConn basketball in other areas of the state.
The Mohegan Sun is home for the WNBA's Connecticut Sun, and has hosted Jim Calhoun's charity event featuring many former UConn players several times.