They all had fun at the Sun

Mohegan

And you thought the UConn women authored the most noteworthy feat over the weekend at Mohegan Sun, cutting a swath through the American Athletic Conference Tournament.

Hah. Not even the Huskies outdid what happened Saturday night elsewhere on the property, a happy mob scene, really, of basketball fans and other patrons making merry.

There's no better example of the tournament's residual effect on Neon Uncasville than Saturday's proceedings at Ballo, the hip Italian eatery. Manager Luke Martin said that Ballo did a record 1,034 "covers" or dinners during the day Saturday, far and away shattering any other day in its existence.

And he was thrilled.

"It was unbelievable," he said. "Our staff did a tremendous job."

Martin said the 1,034 number did not include patrons who partook of merely beverages or takeout orders. Hence, Ballo was even busier. Staffers said a preponderance of patrons appeared to be basketball fans, too, who had just watched the tournament quarterfinals.

The evidence of the tournament's effect on overall casino business is more than anecdotal. And a good reason to believe the tournament will return here next year. A decision won't be made until May during the American's annual meetings. But it would be difficult for Mohegan Sun to have hit a longer home run.

"It means we made the right business decision," Connecticut Sun vice president and general manager Chris Sienko said. "Ultimately, we want more people to come to the property. It's a destination. Not just gaming. It's all the different things to do."

Longtime patrons of the casino said Saturday night on the property was the busiest night they could remember. It was a warm weather day, adding to the typically busy Saturday night, augmented by nearly 8,000 basketball fans.

"It was everything that I thought it would be," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "I hope it was everything all the other teams expected it to be. And I'm not surprised. I can't think of any one thing I was disappointed in.

"This is something we've wanted to do for a long time," he said. "We always talked about it as coaches. We always thought it would be a great experience for fans and players. It's a beautiful venue, the crowds were great (8,034 Monday night) and the people that run it here understand how to run these events."

The Huskies had no official team dinner Saturday night, leaving his players free to enjoy the restaurants and shops on the property. Many of them were seen with their friends and families, quite happy among the masses. It's doubtful they would not have had that same opportunity, say, in downtown Hartford, had the tournament remained at the XL Center.

"We'd love for the tournament to come back," Sienko said. "Ultimately, it's up to the AAC. If they're happy here, and all indications they are, we'd love to have it back. It's great for the property, great for the fans."

AAC associate commissioner Danielle Donehew: "Going into the planning of this, we had high hopes where fans would have a great time and student-athletes would play in a first-class WNBA arena. We accomplished those goals. We had great fan support, the student-athletes seemed to have enjoyed themselves and the coaches have said positive things."

Some teams opted to stay in Mystic because of what they perceived as high room rates at the Mohegan Sun hotel. That's an issue that will be addressed in May. The teams that did stay on property raved about the convenience and, yes, the fun.

The arena will play host to the high school basketball championships March 22 and 23 before the Sun season opens with the first preseason game May 4. Neon Uncasville was never better than this weekend. Which is why the American is a good bet to return.

"I had a huge win (Sunday) night," Auriemma said, alluding to something other than basketball. "I played blackjack for two hours and left with the exact amount I started with."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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