November 14, 2023 

Sights and sounds from UNI’s first sold-out game

With their fight song ringing in their ears, the Panthers relished a historic program first

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — Once the date was finalized for the home game against the Iowa Hawkeyes, administrators at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) began planning for a big-time event at the McCleod Center.

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“With something big like this, you really want to get in front of it so you don’t have anything pop up at the last second that can really put a damper on things,” Joshua Dinkelman, UNI’s assistant athletic communications director, told The Next.

Coming off their second straight Big Ten tournament championship and the program’s first berth in the National Championship game, the Iowa Hawkeyes quickly sold out all of their home games this season at the 15,000-seat Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, leaving no single-game tickets available.

So, those without season tickets wanting to watch the Hawkeyes, led by phenom guard Caitlin Clark, had been clamoring to secure tickets either on the second-hand market or at away games.

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The Hawkeyes’ first in-state home game of the season was against UNI on Nov. 12 in Cedar Falls, 90 miles north of Iowa City. Despite ticket prices set much higher for this game than other regular season games, all 6,790 available seats in the McCleod Center sold out within hours of going on sale to the public, marking the first sell-out for the UNI women’s program and the first in the McCleod Center since 2015 when the Panther men defeated then-No. 1 North Carolina.

The UNI communications department fielded numerous requests for media credentials, eventually turning down around 20 requests due to space.

“Some of that was requests to bring in more than one person from their organization,” Dinkelman said. “Something as big as that you’re gonna get all of these media requests, and with our facilities, we just couldn’t facilitate everyone.”

The thought of moving the game to the 16,000-seat UNI-Dome where the football team plays lasted for “probably two seconds. And then that got shut down immediately,” Dinkelman said.

For starters, the UNI-Dome is the site of the Iowa high school football playoffs, which went well into the night before the Iowa game. But, most importantly, the Dome is not where the basketball team plays.

“McLeod is the home of our basketball team. And you’re not going to take the basketball team out of their home,” Dinkelman said. “It was a really cool opportunity to play in front of all of those Panther fans. And if you put it in the Dome, I think it gets to be a lot harder. You would have sold a lot more tickets, which is nice, but you’re gonna have to sell a lot more to cover those seats, and you’re gonna get a lot more black and yellow in there, which kind of forces you to play that away game in your home venue.”

Any fears of Iowa fans outnumbering UNI fans on their home court were put to rest as purple-clad Panther fans came out in droves.

The UNI band and student section were on their feet most of the game against Iowa on Nov. 12, 2023, at the McCleod Center in Cedar Falls, Iowa. (Photo credit: Angela Holmes)

Although the top five-ranked Hawkeyes defeated the pre-season Missouri Valley Conference favorites handily, with a final score of 94–53, UNI Head Coach Tanya Warren was appreciative.

“It was a great atmosphere. I want to thank our administration; I thought they did a terrific job,” Warren told reporters after the game. “Panther fans – they showed up and I apologize for the performance. I hope that they will continue to come back. This game in no way defines this team. This team is better than that. We will learn from this game, and if we can get ourselves healthy, we feel like we have a really good team. But it was a great atmosphere on both sides.”

The Panthers’ shooting woes were too much to overcome against the second-ranked Hawkeyes, as they went just 16–64 from the field and 2–19 from beyond the arc.

“I thought we defended fairly well in the first half. But eventually, when you can’t put the ball in the hole, it wears out your defense,” Warren said. “We got good looks. I have no excuses as to why we shot the basketball as poorly as we did other than we’re not ready for this stage yet. We will get ready, but this moment might have been a little bit too big for us.”

Defending one of the country’s most electrifying players is no easy task for any team at any level, either. Clark became Iowa’s all-time leading scorer in the third quarter, on her way to a 24-10-11 triple double.

“Caitlin Clark is the best player in the country. There’s no ifs, ands or buts about that,” Warren said. “You’re not going to stop her; you’re not going to contain her. You’ve just got to make things tough for her.”

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While season ticket sales for UNI women’s basketball skyrocketed this year — possibly snatched up by some Hawkeye fans who wanted to see this game — UNI staff hope Sunday’s experience will bring them back for more games.

“We feel like those people buying those tickets, they’re going to come out and come to other Panther games. And they’re going to like the product that they see.” Dinkelman said. “Obviously, what happened on the court wasn’t exactly what we wanted against Iowa. They’re the No. 2 team in the nation. There’s a reason that they’re that good. I think it was a really good opportunity for our team to go out and play someone of that caliber no matter the outcome.”

And, Caitlin Clark or not, Panther fans are showing their support for their home team so far this season. Attendance at the McCleod Center on Nov. 6 for opening night against Green Bay was 3,964, a significant increase over the 1,652 at last season’s home opener against St. Thomas.

“I think we have a really, really good group of Panther supporters that just come out in general and support women’s basketball,” Dinkelman said.

The University of Northern Iowa (UNI) crowd sings their fight song ahead of the team’s first sell-out game in its history. (Video credit: Angie Holmes/The Next)

Written by Angie Holmes

Angela Holmes is the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) reporter for The Next. Based in the Midwest, she also covers the Big Ten and Big 12.

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