This season, the sweet smell of home cooking has Big Ten women’s basketball home teams feasting on nearly every opponent. Winning nearly 85 percent of its games, the home team has a decided advantage in each game played.
“It makes a difference,” Illinois assistant head coach Renee Reed said. “You look at Big Ten teams and how well they’ve performed at home, and I have to give the crowd some credit for that.”
Big crowds are not foreign to Big Ten games, as five teams reside in the nation’s top 20 in attendance. The students of Purdue lead the way, averaging nearly 7,000 per game, while Minnesota is not far behind with the 9th spot, averaging over 6,500.
“It’s hard to go into Minnesota in front of 6,000 or 7,000 people (at) Purdue,” Reed said. “I think the crowd is a big factor.”
Currently, there are seven Big Ten teams undefeated at home, with Penn State leading the way at 8-0 overall, 3-0 Big Ten. Without a single undefeated team in the league, it will take a team that can prove to win on the road that will take the conference championship.
“I think if you do want to compete, the number one thing you have to do is you have to win,” Indiana head coach Kathi Bennett said. “You have to start building your own tradition and actually build your own court, and part of that is attendance.”
Home court has become such a crucial part of Big Ten basketball that head coaches and athletic directors are trying to brainstorm promotional ideas to get students into the seats.
Schools such as Indiana (9-6) and Michigan (10-5), who have strong turnouts for men’s games, are struggling to build a consistent fan base of students for women’s events. Neither school is averaging more than 2,000 fans per home game at a time when both teams are winning.
“I think people recognize good basketball, and they’re going to come out and watch that,” Bennett said. “Hopefully we’re going to just keep working on getting people into the gym.”
After the success of Jane Albright’s “cram the Kohl Center” last season in which 17,142 fans watched the Badgers fall to Minnesota, Indiana’s head coach has decided to try a “pack the hall” event in an attempt to boost the Hoosiers’ attendance and raise money for a worthy cause.
“I’m very excited to see a lot of fans watching women’s basketball at Indiana,” Bennett said.
In addition to the unique setting in Indiana, Minnesota brags of playing on the strangest floor in the conference. The raised court of Minnesota provides fans the opportunity to practically be next to the players. The atmosphere is nothing less then raucous and has provided the Gophers with an extreme home-court advantage this season.
“Our players are very, very excited to play at home,” Minnesota head coach Pam Borton said. “They love playing at home, and I think when people come in, it is an intimidating factor.”
The intimidation factor looms large for some of the conference’s younger players, as teams like Wisconsin and Iowa have struggled in handling road atmospheres.
“We’ve played at some pretty hostile arenas in the last week and a half,” Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said. “I think the teams it’s going to hurt the most are young teams like ourselves. It’s a learning experience that freshmen have to go through.”
Head coaches around the league are praising the student fans that cheer their teams to victory. After a 73-56 victory over Wisconsin, Illinois head coach Theresa Grentz took the opportunity to thank the crowd of 3,544 over the public address system.
As Big Ten teams continue to count on fan support and hope that fans will become more acclimated to the women’s game, each team will attempt to hold that home-court edge needed in a Big Ten champion.