Rich remembers ‘Cram the Kohl'

Game proved to be a turning point for Minnesota and Wisconsin basketball programs

Three years ago the University of Wisconsin women's basketball team was near the top of the college hoops' world. Heading into its much-hyped matchup with Minnesota on Jan. 20, 2002, the Badgers had won 15 consecutive games and were ranked No. 5 in the nation.

The Gophers came to town for what is now the infamous ‘Cram the Kohl' promotion, when 17,142 fans gave the women's basketball program its first and only sellout at the Kohl Center and establishing a Big Ten single-game attendance record. Minnesota, though, celebrated a 92-85 win that evening and went on to finish 22-8 overall and 11-5 in the Big Ten. The loss to the Gophers, a first in Madison since 1994, was the start of a 6-game losing streak that decimated the Badgers' confidence and eventually set the stage for coach Jane Albright's dismissal following the 2002-03 season.

"It was just one of those games," senior guard Stephanie Rich said. "I don't think we overlooked Minnesota but they were better than I think most people thought that year. They were coming off a strong year before and Lindsay Whalen was just starting to become the player that she is."

When Minnesota and Wisconsin meet Thursday for the 52nd time in the schools' shared history only three players will have been a part of that fateful game: Gopher senior center Janel McCarville and Wisconsin seniors guard Stephanie Rich and forward Ebba Gebisa.

Wisconsin is 27-53 since the Cram matchup; while Minnesota is 69-22.

"It was a turning point for both programs," Rich said. "I don't think it was that one game but you can look at that game and say where Minnesota went up and we went down."

The poster child for the Gophers' rise to prominence – guard Lindsay Whalen – is now in the WNBA and is serving as a student assistant at Minnesota. But McCarville, the other star in Minnesota's revival (the Gophers are No. 12 in the nation this year and played in a Final Four last season) is still helping fill the seats at Williams Arena. Minnesota's average attendance this season is 7,797 per game, fifth in the nation. Last season that tally was 9,703 per game.

Despite falling into a rebuilding cycle, the quickly improving Badgers are 11th in the nation in average attendance (5,882). Rich thinks that with time, Wisconsin could draw crowds to the Kohl Center that rival Minnesota's draw at Williams Arena.

"I think the fans that we have now, if they just keep spreading the word to people," Rich said. "I have a professor this year who had never been to a women's basketball game, now she's coming to every home game. I think we touch people individually throughout the community."

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