New Michigan women’s basketball coach Cheryl Burnett knows
how to please a crowd. When she first arrived to take over the
Southwest Missouri State program in 1987, the average attendance at
a game hovered anywhere between 600 and 1,000 people. By 2002,
Burnett and her team packed the 8,846-seat Hammons Student Center
on a regular basis. Devoted fans even camped out overnight for big
tournament games.

Kate Green
Michigan center Jennifer Smith discusses strategy with coach Cheryl Burnett.

Burnett takes the helm of the Michigan women’s basketball
program with a similar task. At the first two exhibition games, one
could almost count the number of fans sitting in Crisler Arena with
their fingers and toes.

But Burnett isn’t too worried. She has spent the majority
of her efforts gearing up for the team’s official start of
the season — participating in the preseason Women’s
National Invitational Tournament this weekend. Michigan plays at
home in the first round tomorrow against Miami (Ohio).

“We’ve really tried to promote the first game of the
WNIT, almost at the expense of our exhibitions,” Burnett
said. “Granted that we really appreciate the people that came
for the exhibitions, but every speaking engagement has been about

Burnett has been working overtime in the past few months to drum
up interest for the program. For the Miami game, the team’s
marketing director sent out thousands of flyers to alumni and other
Ann Arbor residents asking them to attend. She has a promise from
the Ann Arbor Rotary Club, as well as the Ann Arbor Kiwanis Club
that they will be in attendance tomorrow.

But Burnett says that getting people to the games is only half
the battle.

“It’s going to be our job to have the product on the
floor,” Burnett said. “If they don’t come back,
then I have failed because our product was not good enough. If they
do come back, then we can start building (the fan base) we want to

Michigan is lucky that it was awarded home court advantage for
the WNIT first round, but the timing of the game poses somewhat of
a dilemma for Wolverine sport’s fans. Tip-off is set for 2:00
p.m. tomorrow, and the team will likely still be playing at 3:30
— the kickoff time for the Michigan-Northwestern football

To compensate, Crisler Arena will be showing the Michigan
football game on its video boards immediately after the basketball
game is over.

The attendance at this weekend’s game also has an impact
on where the next round will take place. In the WNIT, the next
round location is determined by the attendance of the two
teams’ last games.

If Michigan draws a large enough crowd for tomorrow’s
game, the second-round game (which will be played either next
Monday or Tuesday) could be in Ann Arbor again. Otherwise, the
Wolverines will have to travel to the hometown of the winner of the
game between Cincinnati and Liberty.

Michigan last tipped off against Miami in 1981, losing to the
Redhawks by one point. Burnett, her team and maybe a large crowd
hope the game will end in their favor this time.









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