Sade Morris and her teammates looked outside more than an hour before game time and saw people lined up at the Allen Fieldhouse ticket windows.
“We’d never seen that before,” said Morris, a Kansas University junior basketball player. “We were excited.”
KU officials had been expecting a crowd of around 3,500 for Wednesday night’s WNIT semifinal against Illinois State.
Instead, an announced throng of 8,360 showed up — the fifth largest women’s basketball attendance in school history — and they provided enough of a boost to help the Jayhawks hold off the Redbirds, 75-72, and advance to Saturday’s championship game.
“I was completely shocked,” Morris said when she heard the crowd count. “And, oh my god, the students came. We were thrilled.”
Even though students are admitted free to all KU women’s basketball games with a valid ID, they usually stay away in droves. Not Wednesday night. Students nearly packed the lower level of each end zone.
The Jayhawks needed all the vocal support they could get as the Redbirds shaved the Jayhawks’ 17-point early second half lead to just two points with 3 1/2 minutes remaining.
Kansas (22-13) held on by making free throws down the stretch, notably 7-of-8 by sophomore Nicollette Smith with less than a minute remaining.
Kansas will meet South Florida for the WNIT title at 1 p.m. Saturday in Allen Fieldhouse.
Tickets for that game are available at kuathletics.com or by calling 864-3141. The prices are $10 for adults and $8 for youth. Students again will be admitted free with their ID.