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Tickets still available in Hartford

Thousands of tickets remained unsold yesterday for the first- and second-round NCAA women's basketball tournament games starting tomorrow at the Hartford Civic Center.

Just more than 6,000 tickets had been purchased by yesterday afternoon for tomorrow's four first-round games and Tuesday's two second-round games, University of Connecticut and Civic Center officials said. The arena can seat up to 14,836 for each game.

Hartford is hosting eight teams in two brackets, including No. 4 UConn as the top seed in the Fresno Regional, and defending national champion Maryland, which is seeded second in the Dayton bracket.

"Our goal is to sell every seat, so in that respect we're a little disappointed," said Martin Brooks, senior vice president and general manager of Madison Square Garden, Connecticut, which manages the Civic Center. "But it's a respectable number, and hopefully over the next couple of days, we'll sell more tickets."

Hartford has sold more tickets than any of the other seven subregional sites across the nation, Brooks said.

"Five [thousand] to 7,000 is normal for advance sales," said Rick Nixon, the associate director for the tournament.

A winter storm that dropped several inches of snow on the area created travel problems for the Terrapins and Maryland-Baltimore County.

"We chartered a flight and we can't get out right now, because we have ice coming down," said Natalia Ciccone, a spokeswoman for Maryland. The team rescheduled the flight for this morning.

The UMBC team bus broke down in the middle of the storm on the New Jersey Turnpike, said team spokesman Mike Lurie. The team stayed at a rest stop while it waited for a replacement. Lurie said the team was hoping to make Hartford by late last night.

Tomorrow's session features the Dayton bracket with No. 7-seed Ole Miss playing No. 10 TCU at noon, and No. 2-seed Maryland taking on No. 15 Harvard at 2 p.m.

The four teams in the Fresno bracket begin play at 7 p.m. with No. 8 seed New Mexico facing No. 9 Wisconsin-Green Bay, followed by No. 1 Connecticut and No. 16 UMBC.

LSU focused on game
Yesterday's short practice before LSU's first NCAA Tournament game was a welcome respite from a week of controversy after head coach Pokey Chatman abruptly resigned amid allegations of improper conduct with a former player.

"Obviously, our program has been through a lot in the last week," said assistant coach Bob Starkey, who is leading the team in the tournament. The Lady Tigers (26-7) are the No. 3 seed in the Fresno Regional and play No. 14 North Carolina-Asheville (21-11) tonight in Austin, Texas.

"Before we left, our team got together and we made a decision once we got on the plane, our focus was going to be completely about who we're playing. We're not worried about anything that happened in the past," he said.

"It's been easy for me to focus on basketball," junior guard Erica White said. "We've practiced. We've practiced well and I'm sure we'll be able to carry that over into the game."

While Sylvia Fowles, LSU's leading scorer and rebounder, repeatedly referred to Chatman as a "second mom," she suggested the Lady Tigers wouldn't miss a beat with Starkey.

"A lot of people talk about Coach Chatman and the emotion she brings . . ." Fowles said. "Even though [Starkey] always worked behind the scenes, he always managed to get things done."

Give them Paris
Shaq-like. Ask Southeast Missouri State about Oklahoma's Courtney Paris, and that's one of the images used to describe the Sooners center who averages 23.6 points and 16.2 rebounds.

"I've never seen anybody quite like her," Redhawks coach John Ishee said. "She's very much like Shaquille O'Neal. She's got great footwork and quickness for someone who has that kind of size."

The Sooners (26-4), the No. 3 seed in the Dayton Regional, play No. 14 Southeast Missouri State (24-7) today in Austin, Texas.

Paris, the 6-foot-4-inch daughter of former San Francisco 49ers All-Pro Bubba Paris, has dominated the Big 12 since she arrived.

She was a consensus All-American as a freshman, when she became the first player in NCAA history with 700 points, 500 rebounds, and 100 blocks in a season. And there's been no sophomore jinx. She's only 15 rebounds from doing it again.

She needs only 5 points today to reach 1,500 points and 1,000 rebounds in her career, and reach those totals faster than any player in NCAA history.