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Monday, October 18, 2021

Column: Occupy women’s basketball

There’s a program on the UC Davis campus that is going under-recognized and it’s getting a bit frustrating.

Women’s basketball — the most consistent major sport in UC Davis’ short Division I history — goes up and down the floor in an all-too-often sparsely crowded Pavilion.

The program, which made its first ever NCAA Tournament appearance last season, is averaging just 513 fans per-home game. By contrast, the UC Davis men’s basketball team (which is currently 1-17 and statistically one of the worst teams in the nation) plays in front of an average crowd of 1,646.

The obvious reality is that men’s basketball is simply more popular.

Most fans prefer to watch powerful dunks, long-range threes and spectacular blocks — all of which are far more prevalent in the men’s game.

But if you haven’t made it to a women’s basketball game this season, you are simply missing out.

While you are not likely to see Hana Asano or Kasey Riecks throw down a two-hand jam, you will see a team that runs a complex and exciting offense and plays an aggressive and tenacious zone defense.

Furthermore, unlike most men’s teams, the UC Davis women’s basketball team will rarely have a player break the 15-point barrier — not because they struggle to score, but because they play as a team.

This group of players is at its best when it has four to six players with eight to 12 points apiece, spreading the scoring around and keeping opponents off-balance.

But even with their impressive team skills, UC Davis garners a smaller crowd than even most women’s teams.

The Aggies typically play in front of an average of over 1,000 fans when playing a road contest, nearly double their average home attendance — and they even draw over 800 fans per-game when they play at a neutral site.

Pacific leads the Big West Conference with an average of over 1,000 fans per home game. But the lack of a rousing home crowd is something the Aggies have had to get used to.

During last season’s NCAA Tournament run the Aggies averaged just 640 attendees per-contest, including a lackluster attendance of 889 when they hosted the first round of the Big West Conference Tournament — a game that was also the last home game for legendary head coach Sandy Simpson.

It took a t-shirt giveaway in Saturday’s game against the Tigers for the Aggies to break the 1,000-fan barrier. The attendance number skyrocketed to over 1,400, by far the best of the season.

“It was an amazing atmosphere in the Pavilion,” said head coach Jennifer Gross after the Aggies defeated Pacific. “That was definitely one of the biggest crowds we’ve had in a long time, and that crowd was a big part of the win today.”

When asked what the Aggies could do to garner that type of atmosphere on a more consistent basis, Gross laughed as she responded: “I guess we’ve got to keep giving away t-shirts.”

But even with the giveaway, the shirts were only enough to keep a portion of the attendees around.

After the shirts were distributed at halftime a considerable number of fans made their way towards the exits — leaving the Pavilion with a noticeably diminished crowd for the second frame.

Still, the Aggies put on a show, holding on to a late lead to finally put things away in the last minute for a dramatic win in a rivalry game.The win moved the team to 7-1 at home this season.

“I hope that the t-shirts brought them here, but the team keeps them here,” said Gross of Saturday’s attendees. “I hope the crowd enjoyed what they saw and they want to come back.”

I hope so too, but with four more home games remaining in the regular season, I fear it won’t be the case.

And it’s a shame that a team with this much success — made up not only of excellent basketball players, but players that love the game and work hard both on and off the floor — is not receiving the attention it deserves.

TREVOR CRAMER can be reached at sports@theaggie.org.

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