Barnes' crew hoping to reignite women's hoops at Arizona
On April 6 at McKale Center the University of Arizona women’s basketball team shattered records. For the first time ever, the UA women’s basketball team sold out the home arena with an announced attendance of 14,644 fans. If you needed confirmation all you had to do was look up at the video board or you could simply look around and listen to the roars after every basket.
The women’s team had gone eight years with no postseason appearances before winning the WNIT with a convincing 56-42 victory over Northwestern earlier this month.
The week prior, coach Adia Barnes thanked fans for hitting an attendance of 5,000 people. Little did she know that a week later she and her team would smash the all-time Arizona Women’s Basketball attendance record, of 8,400.
“Its huge," Barnes said. "It’s huge for momentum. I mean how many places in the country for women’s basketball have fifteen thousand fans? ... I mean you can count them on your hand,” she said.
Arizona is now one of those teams.
The crowd was dynamic. It was full of longtime, dedicated fans who new the girls by name. But it also had newcomers, excited for any Arizona team to be winning. And finally, an overwhelming amount of student support, which is more of rare sighting for Arizona sporting events and is typically reserved for Sean Miller's men's basketball team.
It can be difficult to get students into a game and especially difficult to get them to stay the whole time. However, Barnes’ team somehow rallied the troops and made history.
Forward, Cate Reese explained “The culture not only in the program but for the university is great, and to have people like that backing us. I mean coming into this game I think we were all ready to fight, but having them like, knowing that they were there, backing us was just a great moment for us .”
It is impressive to see a winning team of women be so grateful and overwhelmed by fans. It is no secret that women’s sports tend to lack attendance in comparison to men. However, one thing that can be said about Arizona fans, is if there’s a team winning there will be fans there.
Arizona fans love their sports, and will show up for winning programs.
The entire week ahead of the WNIT title game Barnes posted updates about how many tickets they had sold leading up to the meeting with Northwestern.
Aari McDonald, Arizona's single-season scoring record holder, challenged UA fans to blow past the all-time attendance record. It worked.
With one of the largest turnarounds in school history from winning only six games last year, it makes sense that McDonald had faith in her program and her fans.
The run for the Wildcats and the response from the fans immediately left the team wanting more. UA will return numerous players from this year's team including all of its key pieces, and as Barnes said would be the case prior to the championship the Wildcats will no longer be satisfied with WNIT appearances.
"We still have unfinished business," McDonald said. "OK, we won a WNIT. We want to advance and get to the NCAAs so we definitely have a lot of work to do."
Barnes continued to push the envelope with her requests for attendance each round of the WNIT and that will transition to next season now as simply reaching this point won't be good enough for her players or the program.
"You've have a taste of success you want more," she said. "That's how the process of winning goes. That's how it starts."