The 20th Postseason WNIT, which concludes with the championship game set for Saturday, April 1, continues its retrospective look with a review of several tournament highlights. Many of these notable moments involve those years where crowds came sometimes by the tens of thousands to watch their teams make a run to the crown.
Beginning in 1998, the Postseason WNIT has offered an authentic experience where fans can gather, more and more with each passing round, and support a team through a postseason championship run. These are paying customers embracing the excitement of women’s college basketball, and the programs are boosted by increases in season-ticket sales, extended coverage from the media, and coaches getting a meaningful team-bonding experience for the next year and to share with future recruits.
1998: This formula catches fire immediately, as more than 7,000 fans at Baylor watch the semifinal against LSU. Another 10,000 fans in Waco attend the title game against Penn State, and women’s basketball is presented with a fresh, electric format to highlight the next generation of athletes.
2001: The championship game at The Pit in Albuquerque, NM, features Ohio State taking on host New Mexico, with a tournament-record 18,018 fans watching. The game rises to the moment, as Ohio State’s Jamie Lewis hits two late 3-pointers and the Buckeyes pull off a 62-61 victory.
2007: The electricity and community embrace of a WNIT run is put on full display in Laramie, WY, as Wyoming churns its way to the title. Three of the WNIT’s top 10 all-time single-game crowds flock to watch, including the third-best showing of 15,462, and another game that was played while a full blizzard raged outside, requiring the Highway Patrol to escort game officials across I-80 to Laramie.
2009: Once again, a visiting team pulls off an unlikely victory in front of a huge opposing crowd – South Florida travels to Kansas and faces the Jayhawks in front of 16,113 fans, the second-largest turnout in event history. South Florida prevails, 75-71, and Kansas’ Danielle McCray sets the tournament scoring record with 147 total points.
2012: In a season profoundly affected by a tragic accident, host Oklahoma State beats James Madison in front of 6,157 fans, a season-high crowd for the Cowgirls. OSU head coach Kurt Budke and assistant coach Miranda Serna were killed Nov. 17, 2011 when their small plane crashed in Arkansas during a recruiting trip. Budke’s team had gone 0-16 in the Big 12 in his first year, but the program blossomed and won 24 games in 2009-10 and was ranked nationally in the Top 10.
2014: UTEP’s run to the title game generates massive interest in the city of El Paso, evidenced by back-to-back sellout crowds of 12,222 in the semifinal against South Dakota State and the final against Rutgers. Attendance for the quarterfinal versus Washington drew 10,227 fans. The title game sold out in two hours, and it was a thriller as Rutgers’ Tyler Scaife went coast-to-coast for a game-winning layup with 2 seconds remaining.