Minnesota women’s basketball senior Corrin Von Wald remembers the days at the Sports Pavilion when she could “sneeze and hit all the fans in the stands” despite transferring to Minnesota only two years ago.
Averaging 7,605 fans per game this season, the Gophers have outgrown the Sports Pavilion and now call Williams Arena home.
Minnesota ranks first in the Big Ten (seventh nationally) in attendance. Just two seasons ago, barely 1,000 fans per game showed their faces.
Thursday’s contest versus the Badgers is the Gophers final chance to play in front of a packed house of their fans, where they are 10-0.
Thursday’s final home game of the season is also the teams’ first match-up since the Badgers disposed of the Gophers 74-64 in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament.
With the chance to win a top-four seed and home-court advantage in the first two rounds of the NCAAs, Minnesota faltered in the tournament to Wisconsin – a team that was struggling just to make it to the Big Dance at all.
Standing at 21-4 and tied for second in the Big Ten, Minnesota stands a good chance of earning the top-four seed that eluded them a season ago but no longer carries the same rewards.
The NCAA has gone from giving top-four seeds home-court advantage last year to opting for predetermined sites this year. Unfortunately for the Gophers, Williams Arena is not one of them, and thus the Gophers aren’t playing for the same advantage they were a season ago.
Because the NCAA awards the teams hosting all predetermined sites home-court advantage
regardless of seeding, the Gophers could potentially face a lower-seeded team on its home court in the first or second round.
“That would have been awesome to get the chance to host,” Whalen said. “But we’ve played on the road, and we’re not worried about that. The better team will win.”
Last season, Wisconsin won the eighth seed in the Midwest bracket while the Gophers could muster only a fifth seed and a date with North Carolina on its home court in the second round, where Minnesota’s season would end.
“That was a big let-down for us,” All-American Lindsay Whalen said. “We don’t want that to happen again.”
If anybody is prepared for the road, it’s the Gophers. They have played eight of their 11 non-conference games and a total of three-fifths of all their games away from Williams Arena.
After starting the Big Ten season with four straight road losses, the Gophers have won their last three on the road and have a winnable game Sunday at Michigan.
“You’ve got to win on the road in the NCAAs just like you have to win on the road in the Big Ten,” Minnesota coach Pam Borton said. “We’ve gotten over that hump now.”
Winners of five straight overall and competing with an outside chance of winning the Big Ten regular season title, the Gophers hope the road on the other side of the hump continues to be this smooth in the month of March.
McCarville earns honor
Sophomore center Janel McCarville won the Big Ten player of the week award for her performances against Iowa and Penn State last week.
Averaging 20 points and seven rebounds on 15-of-16 shooting, McCarville hit 14 consecutive field goals at one point between the two games.
Aaron Blake covers women’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]