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Women's basketball dominates fan enthusiasm at Oakland Sports Bar

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OAKLAND – Enthusiasm for women’s sports continues to grow.

More than 12 million people tuned in to watch the women's college basketball Elite Eight match between LSU and Iowa on Monday afternoon. This energy carries the Final Four weekend.

The Athletic Club Oakland sports bar was packed with fans, even though no Bay Area team made it to the Final Four.

“Enjoy the vibe and cheer on girls and women’s basketball,” Laura Alvarez said of why she came to the bar.

Fans arrived early to ensure they got a seat to see some of the best basketball players in the NCAA right now. And these players are women.

“Caitlin Clark is obviously in this game. “She’s the name people hear most often, right?” said Masha Ashabi. “Paige Bueckers is in this game too. I’m pretty excited about it.”

Clark has scored the most points of any NCAA basketball player in his career. This includes both women and men. Female stars have brought more attention to sports.

“It shows that women’s sports can have just as big a following as men’s sports,” Alvarez said. “That we also perform well and that you can learn a lot from women athletes and players and that they deserve the recognition.”

Alvarez says she has followed women's sports her entire life and grew up playing basketball and soccer. However, because women's sports weren't as in the spotlight as men's sports, she didn't believe it was a possible career path. She says if she had grown up now, things might have been different.

“I think maybe I would have taken it a little more seriously and actually been able to dream bigger athletically and keep going with it,” Alvarez said.

Ashabi believes it is long overdue for so much attention to be given to women's sports, and she hopes the results will lead to further long-term change.

“A few years ago there was a comparison of men's sports facilities to women's sports facilities and that attracted a lot of attention,” Ashabi said. “I think that's a really good representation because it doesn't mean they're working any less hard. Women just don’t have the resources to help just them, but everyone.”

According to ESPN parent company Disney, average ratings for women's NCAA Tournament games are up 127 percent compared to last year's tournament.

Alvarez says she believes the momentum will continue.

“It shows that people are coming to women’s sports,” she said.

The women's NCAA championship game is Sunday.