High-scoring Illini can draw fans with exciting play

By Alex Roux

At the Illini Pride kickoff rally in late August, Illinois coaches from various teams spoke to the crowd, giving similar rah-rah speeches while thanking the students for supporting them.

Women’s basketball coach Matt Bollant took a different tone.

When he spoke, it was clear that he longed for a better home-court advantage. He challenged the students in attendance to do better. To bring friends to the game and be loud. To create a stronger atmosphere at State Farm Center.

The home of Illinois women’s basketball doesn’t exactly provide the best atmosphere to host a women’s basketball game. With over 16,000 seats, State Farm Center can seem cavernous and empty when less than 2,000 fans are sprinkled in to watch a women’s game. It certainly doesn’t have the home court advantage of schools like Tennessee or UConn, whose women’s crowds pack their large arenas. The days of Theresa Grentz’s Illini teams selling out games at the Assembly Hall in the 1990s are long gone.

The athletic department uses several marketing tools to draw fans to the women’s basketball program. Students get in free and often receive free food and giveaways. Kids have their birthday parties on the floor. The Illinois-Michigan State matchup was free to the public last season, drawing a crowd of 4,175.

But promotions only go so far. To establish a consistent home-court advantage, the team must regularly draw large crowds. An exciting on-court product is the obvious way to gain fan support, and so far this season Bollant’s team has provided just that.

In the Illini’s four home games they have scored at a blistering clip, averaging 92.5 points per contest. Senior Amber Moore has led the way, averaging 18.9 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. Her 27 points and 19 rebounds in a 93-70 victory over Mississippi Valley State has been the highlight of an impressive start to the season.

The Illini currently have four players averaging in double figures in points per game. Bollant has used a dribble-motion type of offense that aims to maximize layups and 3-point attempts. When the Illini are playing well, their defense leads to more opportunities to score. This was especially apparent in a 112-28 blowout of Alcorn State on Nov. 17, when the Illini forced 35 turnovers. The 84-point blowout was the largest margin of victory in program history.

It remains to be seen if the Illini can continue their hot offensive start once the competition heats up. The Illini struggled in their last three games at the Cancun Challenge, dropping two of three while averaging just 60 points per game. North Carolina and Arizona State handled the Illini with ease in convincing victories. Illinois doesn’t get to play Alcorn State every night, and they’ll have to step it up as the schedule continues to get tougher.

In two years, Bollant has revived interest in a program that bottomed out under previous coach Jolette Law. If he can put an exciting product on the floor night after night, his vision of a strong home-court advantage will have a much better chance of coming true. It will take years to fully achieve, but having an exciting team to watch is a good start. It’s hard to take your eyes off a high-scoring team. Lofty point totals will turn heads, and people will attend games out of curiosity. Illinois fans have shown in the past that they will support a winning women’s basketball team.

You know the Field of Dreams saying. I’m sure Coach Bollant knows it, too.

If you build it, they will come.

Alex is a sophomore in AHS. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @aroux94.