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Women's Hoops Scoring with Fans

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CHAPEL HILL — In a stunner for top-ranked Tennessee, Duke'sLady Blue Devilsrolled over the Lady Vols. Now, the Duke team will join the top-ranked men's team with a slot in the Final Four.

More than 12,000 fans attended the big game -- a tremendous showing for women's sports that is becoming more common.

Ten thousand fans attended the women's game between Duke andCarolinaat Carmichael this season. The sport has exploded in popularity over the past few years.

While it doesn't draw the huge crowds the men's teams bring in, the men better get used to sharing the spotlight.

It's one of the most exciting moments in women's hoops. Charlotte Smith sinks a 3-point shot at the buzzer and clinches the 1994 national title for the Tar Heels.

Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell says increased media exposure has fueled the game's growing popularity.

"The face value, recognizing the players, knowing who they are, you create fan support," says Hatchell.

Hatchell has seen a lot of changes in women's basketball during her 13 years at Carolina. She credits commitment from colleges who are pouring more money into women's sports.

"As the scholarships are available you have more and more young ladies who are playing," she says. "The more they play, the more skilled, and the more skilled, the better the team."

TheWNBAoffers women opportunities to play after college, and to move into management. Carolina forward Yanick Clay has spent two summers as an intern with the Los Angeles Sparks.

"That's something I really want to pursue because I want to be an executive in the WNBA," says Yanick. "I think it's time for women to be involved in our sport at the top level."

The next challenge for women's hoops is expanding its fan base. Twelve thousand people watched Duke's victory in Greensboro. It is a big showing, but only half the size of the audience at the men's ACC Tournament.

"I'd like to see more guys coming to the games, because they follow men's basketball," says Hatchell. "But I want them to see that our sport is just as athletic and we're just as much fun to watch."

Basketball is also growing in popularity among younger girls, who now have female role models in professional and college sports. Three thousand girls attended Carolina's summer basketball camps last year.


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