After spruce, polish, city glowed as host NCAA TOURNAMENT


Wake Forest, Oklahoma State, UMBC and downtown businesses were the big winners in the NCAA tournament's first visit to Baltimore.

The Demon Deacons and Cowboys came out of the subregional and will meet in a Sweet 16 game Friday.

The Baltimore Arena was converted back for an indoor soccer game last night, while UMBC assessed an effort that began four years ago, one that might get the Retrievers some attention in their attempt to find a better conference for an athletic program that has been in Division I for less than a decade.

The organizers from UMBC couldn't be blamed for the mistakes of an Indiana company that led to misspelled T-shirts for three of the eight teams Thursday, and they couldn't take credit for four days of great weather, but UMBC, the Arena management and tourism and civic officials appeared to do just about everything else right.

The Arena was spruced up as best as possible, but some blue curtains weren't going to make complaints about the age (33 years) and small seating capacity (12,816 for the tournament games) of the facility go away.

What Baltimore lacked in the way of a modern basketball arena, it more than made up for in amenities outside the Arena, where hotels and restaurants were the major beneficiaries of what tourism officials said would be $4 million spent by visitors. For businesses that don't know when baseball again will be played at Camden Yards, it was a much-needed boost.

Oklahoma State and Wake Forest won't want to venture into the swamp outside their hotels in East Rutherford, N.J., next weekend, but Alabama was able to walk to its practices at the Arena, and Crimson Tide coach David Hobbs was among the faces crossing rush-hour traffic Friday afternoon for a stroll at the Inner Harbor.

Two coaches, Minnesota's Clem Haskins and Saint Louis' Charlie Spoonhour, finished news conferences by thanking the city and organizers, and that's not a common occurrence at NCAA tournaments.

"I've only been to Baltimore once before, and I didn't know what to expect," Spoonhour said. "Everyone here was real nice to us. People went out of their way to be cordial to us. Unfortunately, that's not always been the case in my experiences in the NCAA tournament."

Later this summer, UMBC, which expects to make as much as $70,000 as its share of the ticket sales, will make a bid to get a subregional back at the Arena in 1999. Neither Terry Holland, a member of the NCAA basketball committee, nor Bill Hancock, who runs the tournament for the NCAA, voiced any negatives other than the size of the Arena.

UMBC athletic director Charlie Brown, who entrusted the organization of the subregional to Marty Schwartz, one of his assistants, said he hopes that any attention garnered by the Retrievers will help their bid to get out of the Big South Conference, which didn't even have a bid to the tournament this year.

UMBC hasn't applied to the North Atlantic Conference, but Brown has had discussions with officials from the conference, which will add Towson State next year. The NAC's representative, Drexel, lost to Oklahoma State in the first round.

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