Small crowds for MU women's basketball games get noticed

Saturday, March 8, 2008 | 9:34 p.m. CST; updated 7:25 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — When the Missouri women’s basketball team almost upset No. 11 Oklahoma on Feb. 6 at Mizzou Arena, the home crowd was a factor.

But it wasn’t because the arena was filled with loud, rowdy fans. Instead, the docile crowd of 1,228 fans made little noise in the close contest, which threw the Sooners off their game.

“We’re used to playing in front of packed environments,” Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said after the game. “Maybe it’s a little quiet, a little sterile in here.”

Quiet was a good way to describe Mizzou Arena for almost every Missouri women’s game this season. The Tigers were easily last in the Big 12 Conference in attendance with 1,296 fans per game. Colorado was the only other team to average less than 2,000 fans (1,901). Oklahoma led the conference with 10,254 fans per game, which was almost half of Missouri’s total attendance (20,735).

“Our fans are awesome, they’re into it,” Missouri coach Cindy Stein said. “Do we want more? Absolutely. It would definitely help us in many ways.”

One of the benefits of an increased crowd would be better energy, according to Stein. She said a loud crowd provides a natural adrenaline rush for players, which helps them get up for the game. When that crowd isn’t there, which was the case for most MU home games this season, players have to get that adrenaline rush on their own.

“When you don’t play in front of a loud crowd or a big crowd, you constantly are responsible for yourself and your team’s energy,” Stein said. “It’s much, much easier when you are lifted up naturally by the adrenaline and the crowd energy.”

Missouri freshman forward Shakara Jones agreed.

“Having more fans gives you more momentum, it gives you something to strive for,” Jones said.

But junior guard Alyssa Hollins said the lack of fans in the arena was because of the team’s poor record. The Tigers being last in attendance likely has a lot to do with them being last in the standings.

“You have to attribute that to us as well,” Hollins said. “You have to win games for people to come out.”

Stein wasn’t sure that was the case, though. The Tigers haven’t had a dominant team, but the past two times they went to the NCAA tournament, they averaged 2,241 fans during the 2005-06 season and 2,177 in 2003-04.

“They keep telling us that you win, and you’ll bring them in, and that’s not true either, we’ve done that and they haven’t come,” Stein said.

Assistant coach Allison Guth, who leads the program’s marketing efforts, said that while more wins would help, the team will also work on continuing promotions and focus on creating greater student interest in the program. The team will do more with the Tiger Chips promotion that was used at the end of this season that gave fans the chance to win prizes through random drawings.

But most important is the goal of creating a student fan base. Guth said the Tigers tried to create a group similar to Zou Crew, the student fan group that supports the men’s team, this season, but wasn’t successful.

To change that next year, Guth said the team will do things to encourage former high school athletes to come out to the game as well as appeal to the Greek community on campus.

“We thought about doing a Greek contest when they get to the games with fraternities and sororities competing against each other that would generate some excitement,” Guth said.

HOLLINS HONORED: Hollins was named honorable mention All-Big 12 by the conference on Friday. The junior guard led Missouri in points (16.7 per game), minutes (35.9 per game), steals (1.9 per game) and 3-pointers (2.9 per game). She also set MU’s single-season record for 3-pointers (85) and holds the career record (161).

Hollins ranked fifth in the Big 12 in scoring, eighth in steals, second in 3-point field goal percentage (38.1%), first in 3-pointers made and first in minutes played.

No other Tigers were honored.

Oklahoma junior center Courtney Paris won her second straight Big 12 Player of the Year award and Kansas State coach Deb Patterson won Big 12 Coach of the Year for the second time in her career.

WILSON OUT: Nicole Wilson did not participate in practice on Saturday and her left foot was in a walking boot. She is recovering from a high ankle sprain suffered against Colorado. Stein said the senior center will miss the Big 12 tournament.

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