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A trio of March Madness fans from the Navajo reservation in Page, Ariz., steered their rental car into a downtown Minneapolis parking ramp early Thursday, bleary from an early flight but eager for some urban exploring and their first Women's NCAA Final Four.

"We're all hoopers, that's why," said Celeste Claw, 27, explaining why she and sisters Myka Taliman, 21, and Miquedah Taliman, 18, drove four hours to Phoenix, spent the night in a hotel and caught an early flight to the Twin Cities.

The three women were among the first fans roaming the downtown streets early Thursday in a biting wind near Target Center, the epicenter of Final Four action that organizers hope will infuse energy into a city emerging from two years of a pandemic and civic unrest after the police murder of George Floyd.

Fan arrivals continued throughout the day in advance of today's two semifinal games at Target Center. The first game tips off at 6 p.m., when South Carolina plays Louisville, followed by Connecticut vs. Stanford at 8:30 p.m. The games will be broadcast on ESPN.

All four teams this week checked into their downtown hotels, where fans are welcome to encourage players as they come and go for practices and games. Official activity options expand today when the free interactive Tourney Town opens at 9 a.m. at the Minneapolis Convention Center, and Party on the Plaza starts at 3 p.m. in front of Target Center.

Claw and the Taliman sisters on Thursday were eager to find breakfast, scoop up game tickets and take in the town. "We live on a reservation, so just being in the city and exploring a new area is exciting," Claw said.

At 9 a.m., as South Carolina players and coach Dawn Staley headed out for the first-of-the-day practice, the Marquette Hotel lobby was quiet but for the Gamecocks. The same was true down the street as the Louisville Cardinals left the Royal Sonesta, and the Stanford hoopsters filed into the bus outside the Westin.

It was noisier a couple blocks down S. 6th Street, where Connecticut fans queued up for check-in at the Embassy Suites. Team boosters had set up a table laden with shiny blue, white and silver pompoms, stickers and signs.

Diane Mead of Orange, Conn., was in the hotel lobby with her friend Tracey Kelly of Stratford, Conn. Both Huskies fans are Final Four veterans who bought their tickets last fall, long before their team made the tournament.

"We were going to come no matter what," Kelly said. "You're always going to see good games."

The two were planning to venture to St. Paul later to see the Minnesota Wild. Also on their agenda: the Mall of America and a stop at the Mary Tyler Moore statue.

"This will be my first hockey game," Mead said, "so [Kelly is] going to have to explain everything."

Across the Embassy Suites lobby and wearing Gamecock gear, Wanda Vincent and Zoe Dommel, both of Columbia, S.C., were going to drop their bags and "maybe go find some good food." They planned to tour Prince's Paisley Park in Chanhassen, watch the Olympic women basketball players practice, shop at the Mall of America and maybe stop at George Floyd Square in south Minneapolis.

"Every area had its issues," Vincent said. "This was the epicenter."

Nearby, retirees and friends Bill Cotter and Bob Daniels of Middletown, Conn., were scanning the lobby. It was the first Women's Final Four for Daniels and the third for Cotter.

"We have never been to Minnesota so we wanted to make sure we got here. Paige made us come," Cotter joked, referring to Hopkins native and Connecticut star guard Paige Bueckers.

Between games, the men had dinner reservations at a steakhouse, hoped to find some Irish bars and visit the Mall of America. They had successfully navigated the skyways to get from their hotel to the Huskies' home base.

"We wanted to see if we would make it," Cotter said. "It was a lot of zig-zagging."

Everyone looked prepared for the fickle Minnesota March weather, wearing parkas and caps. Dommel and Vincent said they enjoyed seeing frozen lakes from the plane as they landed.

But Claw, the Arizonan, was a little disappointed to miss one sight. "I was expecting snow," she said.