Bill Hougland says there’s been a change in his coffee conversations.
The Lawrence resident, who gathers with friends each morning at McDonald’s at Sixth and Michigan streets, said the group has started talking about the Kansas women’s basketball team.
“They’ve gotten better all the way along,” said Hougland, who played basketball at KU from 1950 to 1952 and won an NCAA title in ’52. “From the start of the season to today, they just keep improving and keep playing harder. They just seem to have more intensity than they did earlier in the year.”
The KU women, for the first time in school history, advanced to the WNIT title game with a 75-72 victory over Illinois State on Wednesday.
Saturday’s championship game against South Florida is set for 1 p.m. at Allen Fieldhouse.
KU coach Bonnie Henrickson said she’s noticed that people — from the beauty salon to the grocery — are talking about her team.
Longtime women’s basketball fans are sensing the buzz as well.
“Probably some people didn’t even know what the WNIT was when it came up,” said Marian Wilbur, who follows the team along with her husband, Ray. “And they didn’t realize how far women’s basketball had come either.”
Del Shankel has been attending women’s games regularly for the last 35 years.
He has tickets for himself and two friends for Saturday’s championship game. He’ll be sitting in his customary seat behind KU’s bench.
“I think they play exciting basketball,” Shankel said. “They’re fun to watch. They’re reasonably priced games. I think they really deserve a good crowd.”
The Jayhawks had an announced attendance of 8,360 on Wednesday — the fifth-highest home gathering in team history.
Not only that, the atmosphere inside resembled a KU men’s basketball game. Students waved distractions behind the baskets during Illinois State free throws, and KU fans cheered louder when the Jayhawks needed a defensive stop.
“It was an important game, and I think everybody that went enjoyed the game,” Hougland said.
Even more people are expected to fill the fieldhouse on Saturday.
Wilbur and her husband will be there.
“I wish them all the luck in the world in this last game,” Wilbur said, “because I think they’ve worked hard and they’ve deserved a win.”