Ball may be smaller, but the crowds are just as big

By Bob Reagan

What’s all this hoopla about women’s basketball? What’s this “Bring home the record” deal? This campus has gone nuts over women’s b-ball. Damn straight.

Two years ago, I had never seen a collegiate women’s basketball game. Nor had I ever read about women bouncing a ball on Division I hardwood. My only experience with females on a court was in high school when the swimming team would sit in the bleachers after practice and watch our friends miss layup after layup en route to a 26-13 final score. Exciting—not really.

But then my sophomore year in college, a couple of guys I know were going to watch a women’s game at Chick Evans Field House. I went along, not knowing what to expect. That evening I came away quite impressed. Although the Huskies were not yet Top 25 material, I spotted something that led me to believe one day they’d be there.

NIU and head coach Jane Albright started to cook when they knocked off North Carolina State in the NIU/Contel Fastbreak Fest in 1988. From that point on, the Huskies were a hot item.

And now, on the eve of one of the biggest games in the teams’ history, the university is talkin‘ Albright, Hinchee and Dove. They’re talkin’ Foss, Meeks and Weis. They’re talkin‘ Jeske, Mondek and Burkholder. And yes, they’re even talkin’ Lipnisky and Gainer.

And let’s not forget the one who has been here from the beginning—the Chicago product, Carol Owens. A 6-foot-3 center who has given fans quite a thrill over the years, both with her game and personality.

The DeKalb community has responded to this team. It’s evident by the turnout at games. It’s a fact that winning draws numbers. And Thursday, NIU expects to break the state’s women’s collegiate basketball attendance record of 4,294 set earlier this season at DePaul’s Alumni Hall.

Four months ago, I challenged NIU students to attend Huskie football games. I lost $100 in the process. So I’m out of that business. The only thing I’m going to do with this event is challenge anyone to give NIU women’s basketball a try. Those of you who have witnessed it in the past know it’s worth watching.

The foe tomorrow night is DePaul, and it’s safe to say this is the biggest rivalry in town. Neither team wants to lose. The consequence is costly—like close to no chance at receiving an NCAA bid.

Both NIU and the Blue Demons went down to the wire last season. Neither team went to the NCAA. This season, one of them is going to go. Both of them want to go. Who is going to go? It could be the winner of Thursday’s game.

Do these two teams like each other? Let’s just say they tolerate each other. Huskie followers from last year remember the scuffles that plagued Huskie-Blue Demon contests. But it appears the fisticuffs are over, now it’s just play hardball in order to win.

All I hope is that I don’t have to hear the obnoxious cheer, “We are—DePaul.”