Women's hoops aims to set record

BY MATT SINGER
Daily Sports Writer
Published February 17, 2005

The Michigan women’s basketball team is offering substantial prizes — including a year’s worth of Domino’s pizza and 10 footballs signed by football coach Lloyd Carr — to some lucky fans attending tonight’s game against Purdue. The promotion comes in an effort to surpass the program’s all-time attendance record.

And the prizes aren’t even the best part.

If Michigan surpasses its attendance mark of 4,611 — which was set in last year’s matchup against Michigan State — one dollar will be donated to C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital for each fan in attendance.

“What I appreciate so much about the promotion is that it’s a great way for our team, the program and Michigan athletics to give back to the community,” Michigan coach Cheryl Burnett said. “It’s a win-win situation for the hospital — a win-win situation for us. It’s a way to say ‘thank you’ (to the community).”

Since taking the helm of the Michigan program last season, Burnett has sought to spur local interest in women’s basketball. From popular post game autograph sessions to October’s “kids clinic,” the women’s basketball team is already becoming a hit with many families in the Ann Arbor area. And with tonight’s promotion, the Wolverines hope to reel in even more potential fans.

“I think it would be a good opportunity for us and the fans that haven’t seen us play,” senior co-captain Tabitha Pool said.

Michigan’s fan base is committed, but not particularly sizable, as evidenced by the Wolverines’ 8th-place ranking in Big Ten attendance. They average 2,143 fans per game, leaving lots of empty seats in an arena that holds over 13,000. But the sport clearly has growth potential. Three Big Ten schools — Purdue, Penn State and Minnesota — average over 8,000 fans per game. The team hopes that impressive attendance numbers tonight will spark more long-lasting support for the program.

“That’d be really exciting (to set the attendance record),” Pool said. “We go to other gyms, and they have over 5,000 people. We need to have that (at Michigan) for women’s basketball.”

Even with an unprecedented crowd supporting them, the Wolverines will have to bring their A-game to top Purdue (6-6 Big Ten, 13-10 overall). The Boilermakers are led by sophomores Erin Lawless and Katie Gearlds, both outstanding inside-outside threats. The duo combined for 28 points in Michigan’s 60-43 loss in West Lafayette and will have to be contained if the Wolverines (1-11 Big Ten, 5-18 overall) want to come away with an upset victory.

Michigan is unusually well-rested for its matchup with the Boilermakers. The Wolverines have had a whole week to recharge their batteries after suffering a demoralizing 72-39 road loss to No. 2 Ohio State.

“(The week off) really gave us a chance to get ourselves refreshed,” Burnett said. “We had quite a few little nagging injuries that honestly needed some rest.”