Last year, Joanne P. McCallie's squad hosted Rutgers and Tennessee in Cameron Indoor Stadium for its two marquee non-conference home games. The year before, Duke welcomed Vanderbilt and Texas and traveled to Rutgers and Tennessee. This year, though, the No. 8 Blue Devils have only one signature home contest before league play: No. 2 Stanford, the team that lost in last year's national championship, comes to Cameron Dec. 16.
But therein lies the rub. The Cameron Crazies have typically come out in full force for two or three women's games in the last four years. Students, however, will be on Winter Break when the Cardinal come to Cameron. And when campus dorms are empty—well, even the student section for men's games tends to be sparse, too.
McCallie is well aware of the likely minimal student attendance (and for the record, student crowds were noticeably down last year). She had no choice, though. The game was a late addition to the schedule, and Dec. 16 was the only date both teams could physically play each other.
"We weren't going to play Stanford any other time," McCallie said. "It was quite a coup."
When McCallie found out Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer was bringing her team to South Carolina Dec. 19, she texted her coaching counterpart and told her to swing by Durham in the process. Duke, after all, was still looking to highlight its home schedule, and a game against the traditional Pac-10 powerhouse would do just that. After a few days of jostling—and a four- or five-hour negotiation session while McCallie was at Debidue Beach for vacation, she said—the game was finally set in stone.
Then came the hardest part: Finding a television station to air it. ESPN usually airs matchups pitting two elite, top-10 teams against each other—but not in December. When Duke first approached the Worldwide Leader for airtime, it said it would place the game on ESPNU. McCallie stalled, telling the network it was a big-time game that deserved a spot on ESPN itself. Finally, the network bought the game for ESPN, making it the first women's game in December in a long time, if not ever, McCallie said.
Still, when the cameras pan over the student section, it might be filled with children or local basketball fans and not the blue-painted and wigged-out Dukies the rest of the country is accustomed to. Senior guard Abby Waner, a long-time favorite of the Cameron Crazies who has moonlighted as a sideline reporter for ESPNU during Duke's football games this year, hadn't even thought of the unfortunate scheduling. As she has all year—and really, for all four years of her career—she pleaded with the student body to treat her team's games with the reverence it places on men's games.
"If you can go home for only Christmas Day and then go stand outside on a sidewalk of concrete, all Christmas break, then at least come into the game," Waner said.
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