At Crisler Arena, it costs less than $3 per game for a women”s basketball season ticket.

Paul Wong
The Daily Grind<br><br>Joe Smith

The price hasn”t gone up since last year, but the quality of the team has.

Maybe the attendance finally will, too if the team gets the respect it deserves.

Two years ago, the Wolverines set school records with 22 victories and 13 conference wins, finishing second in the Big Ten. Michigan cracked the Top 25 for the first time in its history and ended the year ranked No. 25.

But it received no respect. Last year, there was no preseason recognition, and Michigan wasn”t even predicted to finish in the top three in the conference.

Michigan answered with another solid performance on the court, going 19-12 and advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for just the second time in school history. The Wolverines completed the “most successful four-year run for the program,” according to Michigan coach Sue Guevara. But while the season was a year of firsts for the Wolverines including their first victory over a top 10 team in a 69-66 upset of perennial power Louisiana Tech in Michigan”s home opener one discouraging thing remained the same.

The paid attendance for that Louisiana Tech game, a landmark win in the program”s history, was 1,572. Sure, the newly created student section, M Hoopla, rushed the Crisler Arena floor, but it could hardly fill it up.

“You never want to walk into Crisler and see empty seats,” Guevara said. “It”s discouraging. Especially when you go into Columbus and play in front of 10,000 people you can get a high off that.

“The crowd is supposed to be the sixth player. It”s disheartening, (the fans) just don”t understand.”

What the fans may not realize yet is that this year”s Wolverines will be even better. They return eight of their top nine players from last season, who accounted for more than 75 percent of the points and rebounds.

Plus, Guevara added blue-chip recruit Tabitha Pool, who was one of the top players in the nation a year ago. With the inside presence of Jennifer Smith, LeeAnn Bies and Raina Goodlow, combined with the slashing ability of Pool, Purdue coach Kristy Curry says that Michigan has an overpowering inside-outside combination.

It”s a situation that many teams would drool over. As a result, others are finally starting to recognize a growing power in Ann Arbor.

“Several years ago, you didn”t worry about Michigan (on a national level),” said Louisiana Tech coach Leon Barmore, whose Lady Techsters will host Michigan this fall when the Wolverines play nine of their first 10 games on the road. “But you sure do now. Sue”s brought the program a long way. No question that their program is on the up and up and is even going to get better.”

A top 10 caliber team with aspirations for a conference crown and a Sweet Sixteen appearance? I know of another team playing at Crisler which would swap its Nike sneakers for a situation like that.

But will anyone be there to watch history in the making? Michigan finally garnered some respect from the media and coaches around the nation. Now it”s the fans” turn.

Sure, there won”t be any dazzling dunks and high-wire acts, but there will be something that fans should care equally about a winning team out on the floor that can make Michigan proud. And it costs nothing if you”re a student to get in. If you”re anyone else, it costs no more than a Jimmy John”s sandwich.

“It”s 30 dollars for 11 home games you can”t even take a family of four to the movies and have pop and popcorn for that type of money,” Guevara said. “It”s the most affordable entertainment ticket in town and I think they”ll see one of the best basketball teams in the country out on the floor.”

Let”s hope that more of those tickets get sold.

Joe Smith can be reached at josephms@umich.edu.

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