Women’s Final Four already helping N.O.

The upcoming Women’s Final Four is already paying dividends to the city.

The Tulane Cancer Center on Wednesday received a $100,000 research grant from the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, which annually bestows money to a facility in the host city for the event, which will be played in the New Orleans Arena April 7-9.

The grant specifically will go toward research on women’s lung cancer, the leading cause of death by cancer among women.

“They’re doing such important work here,” said Sue Donahoe, executive director of the fund named for the late North Carolina State coach who died of breast cancer in 2009, 22 years after being diagnosed with the disease. “They’re at a critical point in this project and they need funding to get to the next point.

“When Kay put the fund together (two years before her death), she wanted to make sure it makes a difference. This will.”

Along with the grant presentation, Wednesday’s ceremony launched a public awareness campaign for the Women’s Final Four, including the announcement that some 2,600 tickets remain for both the semifinals and championship game.

The NCAA is discounting the tickets, offering them at $66 for the semifinals, $60 for the championship game and $99 for both. A $10 discount is being offered for groups of 10 or more at ncca.com/tickets.

“We’re going to push those tickets,” said Kim Boyle, chairman of the local host committee. “I’m not worried about that.”

This is the third Women’s Final Four in New Orleans, making the city the first three-time host.

The growth of the event, especially since the last time it was played here in 2004, has included Tourney Town, a free entertainment area adjacent to the arena plus the Women’s Final Four Salute Premier, a red carpet event at Mardi Gras World on April 5.

Also, Saturday’s practices in the arena will be open to the public and include autograph sessions with the players.

“This is the ‘Queen of All Events,’ when it comes to women’s sports in America,” said Anucha Brown, who succeeded Donahoe as the NCAA’s vice-president for women’s basketball last year, said. “It’s a tremendous task making it right because so much attention is focused on our game that weekend.”

The field of 64 for the NCAA Women’s Tournament will be announced on March 18. Among the 16 sites for first-and-second round games is the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

While the attention in April will be on basketball, on Wednesday it also was on the research grant.

Dr. Victoria Belancio head of the research team at the Louisiana Cancer Research Center, used a basketball analogy to the work being done.

“Imagine an immaculate court such as will be used for the Final Four,” she said. “And then imagine several basketballs bouncing on that court, but each one leaves in impression.

“Those are the L-1 genetic elements that are disrupting the genome of the lungs. We are trying to understand why these mutations happen and what can be done to prevent them.”

That, Donahoe said, is what Yow wanted her fund, which has now distributed more than $2.5 million, to help accomplish.

“Kay was very clear about the mission of the fund,” she said. “Research to find a cure.”