McCarthy Athletic Center will open Saturday

SPOKANE, Wash. -- Gonzaga's new basketball arena will open to the public Saturday.

The 6,000-seat McCarthey Athletic Center is the direct result of the success of the nationally ranked basketball program. Ticket demand at the old 4,000-seat Martin Centre had outstripped capacity for years.

The new $25 million arena begins life with a sellout for its grand opening festivities, which will also feature a first look at the men's and women's basketball teams this season.

The men's team will scrimmage.

"The event is a ticketed event just like all Gonzaga men's basketball games," athletic director Mike Roth said. "This is going to be a special day. You only get to dedicate a building once."

Gonzaga sold out its allotment of season tickets at the new arena, even though they were more expensive than tickets at Martin Centre and required a five-year commitment. The cheapest season ticket is $400, of which half is a contribution the school and to defray construction costs. The most expensive is $3,700.

The arena was built entirely with private funds.

There are 1,500 seats set aside for students, who will sit closest to the floor in an attempt to recreate the loud noise that was so hostile to opposing teams in Martin Centre, popularly known as The Kennel.

Gonzaga won over 90 percent of its games in The Kennel in the past decade and has gone to the NCAA Tournament for six straight years.

All the new seats will have chair backs, and the farthest will be only 30 rows from the floor.

The building is named for benefactors Tom and Phil McCarthey, Gonzaga alumni, board members and media moguls from Salt Lake City.

Saturday is "our chance to publicly thank them and begin the next era of Bulldog basketball in grand style," Roth said.

The Bulldog men open the exhibition season Nov. 5 against Emporia State University. The women play an exhibition Nov. 6 against Lewis-Clark State College.

Gonzaga finished last season with a 28-3 record and were No. 3 in the final AP Top 25 poll. They were upset by Nevada in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The first AP poll for this season will be released Nov. 9.

After the loss to graduation of starters Blake Stepp and Cory Violette, the Bulldogs will be led this year by senior forward-center Ronny Turiaf.

The 6-10 native of Martinique led the Bulldogs in scoring last season, averaging 15.5 points per game. He averaged 6.4 rebounds per game.

Turiaf scored the last basket in The Kennel, a dunk in Gonzaga's 80-64 win over Santa Clara on Feb. 28. Gonzaga posted a 397-104 record there since the first game on Dec. 3, 1965.