ROCK HILL, S.C. -- The Atlantic Coast Conference women's basketball tournament has gone uptown.
After nine years in Fayetteville, N.C., the 15th edition of the tournament has shifted to the Winthrop Coliseum here, and conference officials and the league's coaches hope the move is symbolic of the ACC's progression to the top of women's basketball.
"It's been a great year in the ACC and I'm sure the tournament's going to be more of the same," said Georgia Tech coach Agnus Berenato.
This season, during which two league teams occupied the No. 1 ranking and smashed attendance records in the process, has been a good one for ACC women's basketball.
And by moving the four-day tournament from the 5,500-seat Cumberland County Civic Center, within 90 minutes of three league schools, to this spot, the league appears to be gambling that the game can sell itself.
The lure of a possible third showdown between No. 1 Virginia and No. 4 Maryland, the top two seeds, will have to be the draw, because this town, 30 minutes south of Charlotte, N.C., is at least two hours from any conference school.
Bob Norwood, the tournament's assistant publicity director, said earlier this week that nearly 4,000 tickets had been sold for the tournament's sessions, not including individual game seats.
But the people of Fayetteville sold tickets too. Last year over 13,400 people attended the four sessions there, including a record 4,102 for the championship game.
So, why the move?
"Our teams outgrew Fayetteville," said Dee Todd. "We felt we had been there too long and we looked for alternatives."
Leonard Black, director of the Fayetteville Sports Club, the athletic booster club that ran the tournament there, said simply that familiarity bred contempt -- or at least wanderlust.
"Maybe coming back to the same arena and the same hotels year after year got repetitive for them," said Black yesterday. "It did not for us."
But even though the league moved the tournament, Black said Fayetteville will bid for the tournament when it becomes available.
"We wish them the best and hope to have them back," said Black.
Regardless of the site, this promises to be one of the more exciting tournaments in its history.
Any of the top six seeds have a shot to win the tournament and the automatic bid to the 48-team NCAA tournament, but top-ranked and top-seeded Virginia arrives as the favorite.
The Cavaliers (26-1, 15-1), who will meet Duke, the 61-52 winner of last night's elimination game with Wake Forest, come to Rock Hill riding the crest of their second 13-game winning streak of the season.
Virginia coach Debbie Ryan says her team, attempting to make its third straight Final Four appearance, has put aside its regular season to emphasize a post-season push.
"This is what they've been looking for. They've made it no secret that this is what they've been waiting for -- that is post-season play -- and they've been really good about that promise," said Ryan.
However, the weight of history might be stacked against Virginia, which has come to the tournament four of the previous eight years as the top seed, but has never won as a favorite.
Last season, the Cavaliers, as they do this year, appeared as the nation's No. 1 team, but were bounced by Clemson in the semifinals.
This year's sleeper team could be North Carolina State, the defending tournament champion and this year's sixth seed.
The Wolfpack (16-10, 7-9) upset second seed Maryland and lost to Virginia by two in a controversial finish in the last week of the regular season. However, junior point guard Danyel Parker tore a ligament in her knee in the Maryland game and is lost for the rest of the season.