I bleed red like a hemophiliac when it comes to Cardinal basketball.
But I had never been to a women’s game.
To me, watching women play basketball is best left to a hungover Sunday and catching Love and Basketball on VH1.
So when my mother invited me to the UL/Villanova women’s game on Saturday, I was humored by the idea and agreed to go if I wasn’t hungover.
As it turns out, I wasn’t hungover, and waiting by the basketball fountain for my family before the game, I was in shock at the number of strangers filing in for the game.
I had no idea that our Louisville team was rated second for attendance in women’s college hoops. In my imaginings, this would be a battle of the best performed solely before my family. But we were joined by hundreds of little boys and girls in jerseys, grown men with UL sweatsuits, older women wearing red caps, and throngs of college girls tapping away on their cell phones.
My family showed up with Diet Pepsi’s for me to hide in my purse and intentions of buying me a $5 18-and-under ticket to save $3 (note: I’m 28-years-old).
After some hustling, I was handed a free ticket hosting a picture of Tia Gibbs wearing a dress. The feminist in me shouted, “Why the hell do they have her dressed like she’s going to prom? This is sexist b-s!” My mom covered my mouth, ushering me inside.
We found enough empty seats in section 104, and took a seat. There was a black curtain blocking off much of the upper deck, to make the arena look more crowded. I noticed all the ribbons and banners for the men’s team championships and final four appearances, and for the first time, I noticed a sole white banner for Angel McCoughtry, whose number was retired after she helped lead our Cardinal women to the Final Four in 2009 and was later drafted first in the WNBA.
The lights were dimmed, and if you have ever been to a men’s game, you might be familiar with the pre-game Rick Pitino get-pumped speech that’s meant to get you all riled up. Well, coach Jeff Walz sends a message to all girls everywhere: “Grace. Tenacity. Poise. Power. Finesse. You have to have character... Drive... And heart. But most of all you gotta be be tough—that is a phenomenal woman—that is Cardinal basketball.”
The crowd was on its feet after this fierce PSA. Me included. And as the girls were introduced, they danced with John Wall finesse, they jumped and bumped chests, they were red-faced from screaming for their teammates.
When they took the court, I noticed that their names were printed below their numbers on the jerseys, and wondered why. I watched them fix their ponytails, rearrange their headbands and sweatbands. Cardboard cutouts of their heads were bouncing around in the not-so student section. I saw that one of the referees was also a woman—something I’d never thought to notice before. And as a woman who loves watching passionate women grab their dreams by the balls, I felt like beating my own chest with pride.
I watched the game with as much interest as I’ve watched any male game. I screamed at them, cheered with them. I had to ask my dad to quit cursing Shoni Schimmel’s name every time she missed a tough shot, and I listened to my mother go on about setting up my brother with crowd favorite, Shelby Harper.
When #22 (Jude Schimmel) was put in, my mom leaned over to say, “that’s Shoni's (#23) sister.” I immediately thought of Kit and Dottie from A League of Their Own, and suddenly that Carol King song was humming in my head, and I wanted Louisville to be a city that doesn’t always just write about its male ballers.
I felt like hugging everyone that showed up to the game and screamed at these girls to play better. But then I read the rolling marque on the court, and realized that in the last 4 years they’ve gone to the Sweet Sixteen 3 times. They have 2 McDonald’s All Americans. In 2009, they almost won it all.
With or without the attention from all of us, these badass women have been building a program that we should be talking about.
I don’t know why it’s taken me this long to get to a game, which we won, of course. We’s the Cards, baby.
Note: On Tuesday, February 7 you can get in to the game for $2 if you have Kroger Plus card, and who doesn’t have a Kroger Plus card?