The Michigan women’s basketball team has played the first four rounds of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT) at home this year.
And outside the team’s game against Toledo last weekend — for which Rocket fans noticeably outnumbered Michigan fans — playing in the confines of Crisler Arena has been a large part of the Wolverines’ success.
Michigan has won by an average of more than 24 points per game — the latest being a 26-point win Sunday over Syracuse.
“In this tournament (home court advantage) is big,” Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman said. “I don’t know how much home court had to do with the way we performed today, but I think it had a lot to do with the way Michigan performed. They were home, they were comfortable.”
The Wolverines play at home again in the final four of the WNIT on Wednesday against Miami.
The Hurricanes made their first road trip yesterday in the postseason, defeating Providence 73-65.
The host site is determined by a combination of factors, including attendance and crowd atmosphere. And being chosen yet again is undoubtedly a major boost for the Wolverines.
“Crowds are everything for us,” Michigan coach Kevin Borseth said after the game. “From our perspective, I hope we’re building a fanbase because that’s really what this is, postseason play.”
With yesterday’s crowd the best it has been possibly all season, the team hopes that as it gets even deeper into the tournament that the excitement surrounding the program will grow proportionately.
“I’m hoping Wednesday we can really lure a lot people out here,” Borseth said. “It’s going to be a great night obviously, because there’ll be not a lot on TV, not a lot going on. It’s a Wednesday, should be a great day for basketball to fill Crisler. I think our record is 5,500, I think we can get 13 grand. I would love to see that.”
The Wolverines set the record attendance for attendance this year against Penn State on Jan. 31 with 5,926 fans. Crisler’s current capacity is 13,751.
Michigan has had the most success offensively throughout the season when it can get out in the open court and run.
Against a very long and athletic Syracuse team, the Wolverines converted 23 Orange turnovers into 24 points.
“I think we prefer to play at a quicker pace, that’s what we’re better at,” Borseth said. “We had some nice breaks, nice breakouts and got some transition baskets. But I think for the most part we were very smart, I guess. We made good decisions in transition.”
The team’s ability in the open court is a big factor behind its average of 71 points per game in the WNIT — up about 10 points per game from the conference season.
On Wednesday, Michigan may be faced with similar opportunities in the open court, when they take on Miami.
“They like to press,” Borseth said of the Hurricanes. “They’re very pressing, up-tempo, in your face. They press. They come and get you.”
Making history, leading the Big Ten.
The Wolverines (21-13) are just two wins shy of tying the program’s all-time record for wins in a season. Michigan would tie the record if they won the WNIT, which would be the first time the program has won a national tournament.
To do that, the Wolverines will need to win on Wednesday and then beat the winner of California and Illinois State in the WNIT finals.
When the Redbirds defeated Illinois on Sunday, Michigan was left as the last team in the Big Ten still playing.
“We just have this fire in us that wants to prove to everybody else that we can compete with any team in the nation,” junior guard Veronica Hicks said. “We just want to go out there and prove a point, you know, that we’re here to stay.”