CHAMPAIGN — Adrienne GodBold was a freshman the last time a crowd as big as Sunday’s attended an Illinois women’s basketball home game.
And don’t think the Illini senior didn’t notice it.
“It felt good to see a lot of people in the crowd,” GodBold said after 4,175 fans showed up to watch Illinois play Michigan State at the Assembly Hall. “The energy and the vibe throughout the whole arena, it just felt good.”
Free admission on Pack the Hall day — and presumably a surging Illini team that had defeated two ranked opponents since late December — attracted the program’s largest home crowd in almost three years.
On March 22, 2010, an estimated 4,800 fans saw the Illini beat Marquette in a second-round WNIT game in the opener of a men’s and women’s postseason doubleheader. The last regular-season home crowd larger than Sunday’s was 4,571 on Feb. 21, 2010, for a Pack the Hall game against Purdue.
The last time Illinois drew a crowd of this size was on Feb. 21, 2010, when 4,571 were on hand for a Pack the Hall game against Purdue.
Sunday’s turnout forced Assembly Hall attendants to open the B section to fans for the first time this season. For the previous nine home games — none of which drew more than 1,973 fans — all were seated in A, the section closest to the floor.
That caught GodBold’s eye, too.
“Being here four years, my goal as a senior was to at least get fans in the second (seating) area of the arena. So for us to get that, it felt good,” she said.
For first-year Illini coach Matt Bollant, Sunday’s turnout was a start on the kind of fan support he is determined to build. And he was impressed with the response of fans during the game, when the decibel level at times had UI players on the floor straining to hear plays and defenses called out.
“It was loud,” GodBold said. “It was hard for us to keep up on the court, and we had to be louder. Yell out plays and the defense, and talking on screens.”
Said Bollant: “It shows that 4,000 fans in Assembly Hall can bring a pretty good atmosphere. We’ve got to be in the community and keep building this program so we can get 4,000 fans and that can be the norm.”
At least three members of the Illini’s 2013 recruiting class, as well as several recruiting targets, took in Sunday’s game from courtside.
Forward Sarah Livingston of Morton, point guard Kennedy Cattenhead of Bolingbrook and forward Jacqui Grant of Maine South, who attended the game, are part of a six-player class that signed letters of intent with Bollant’s program in November. Livingston also attended the UI’s home game against Bradley on Nov. 15.
“I’ve noticed that they really have improved a lot since last season even,” she said, “so it’s exciting to watch them play.
“I could tell there wasn’t as much chemistry (last season), but I can really tell a difference that the girls are working together now and it seems like they’re having a lot of fun playing.”
Also on hand were a pair of Class of 2014 players who said they are weighing their options — point guard Asia Doss of Detroit Country Day and forward Alexis Gussert of Crystal Falls (Mich.) Forest Park.
— Jeff Huth