Mostly empty seats greeted Big Ten women athletes

Gophers still in play after loss to Ohio State

DSC09106HOFFMAN ESTATES, ILL — Wonder if empty seats will be as noticeable at this week’s Big Ten men’s basketball tournament in Chicago as it was last weekend outside the Windy City at the tournament of their female counterparts.

Located literally in the middle of nowhere, this was the second time the cavernous Sears Centre, which has all the charm of a dead fly, has hosted the women’s tourney since 2013, and the third time overall that it was held outside of Indianapolis (Grand Rapids, 2001).

Attendance was under 6,000 for each of the five days. Sadly, that’s just the way it seems to be when it comes to women’s sports; but it looked bad even for this annual tournament usually held during March’s first weekend.

Personally, this writer considers downtown Indy ideal for the annual women’s tournament unless it can be staged locally. “We’ll keep working for the best venue possible,” pledged U of M Athletics Director Norwood Teague last week during a brief MSR courtside interview.

What they said and did  

Nebraska and Illinois played the final 57 seconds of their contest with two “game balls” after one got lodged between the shot clock and the backboard after a shot attempt.

The “farthest traveler award” goes to Rutgers guard Tyler Scaife’s aunt, who came from her Phoenix, Arizona home to see her niece play last weekend. “This is my first time,” said Pearl, who didn’t want her last name published — she held a “Bighead” likeness of Scaife during her games.

Hopkins graduate Nia Coffey, now a Northwestern sophomore, got into foul trouble but finished with 12 points in a win over Rutgers. “I just had a slow day,” she admitted.

NU Coach Joe McKeown told the MSR that Coffey’s performance was a testament to the 6’-1” forward’s growing maturity. “She got in a little foul trouble but came back in the last five minutes and rebounded the ball, made a big bucket,” he noted.

“I think one thing she’s doing is just learning where her shots are coming from, how to play when defenses are designed to stop you. That I think is the biggest growth I’ve seen in her,” said McKeown.

Coffey, Iowa freshman forward Chase Coley, and Brooklyn Center guard Cayla McMorris (Wisconsin) — three former local prep stars — all saw action last weekend. “It’s been a lot of fun,” said Coley, adding that she has had a lot of nervous moments “every time I get called into the game.”

The closest game occurred when Wisconsin’s Jacki Gulczynski’s last-second attempt fell just short in their two-point loss to Purdue. “It was right off the fingertips,” said Badgers Coach Bobbie Kelsey.

Penn State (6-24) and Wisconsin (9-20), coached by two of the conference’s three Black coaches, both lost on the same opening night. “A lot of these lessons and the growth we saw over the course of the season is something we’ll build,” noted Coquese Washington of her Lady Lions.

“We’ve had a rough season,” said Wisconsin Coach Kelsey. “But at the end, you can see why we were in every game, because these kids play hard.”

Minnesota soph center Amanda Zahui B. added a couple more honors to her season resume:  She was named to the Big Ten all-tourney team. She averaged 23 points, 11 boards and seven blocks in her two games, and set two records —14 total blocks and the second-ever tournament triple-double with 25 points, 11 rebounds and 11 blocked shots against tournament runners-up Ohio State. “I just want to win and have fun,” she said.

Finally, teams such as Rutgers (22-9) and Minnesota (23-9) now must play the proverbial waiting game to see if the NCAA selection group chooses them next Monday. Of Rutgers’ chances, RU Coach C. Vivian Stringer told the MSR after her club’s loss to Northwestern, “I don’t know. I don’t have a clue.”

“We’re certainly a tournament team,” predicted Gopher Coach Marlene Stollings after her team’s defeat to Ohio State.

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.

Find more photos from the Big Ten Tournament below: