Car accident forces women’s basketball to make quick adjustment at Fiserv Forum

Courtesy+of+Marquette+Athletics

Courtesy of Marquette Athletics

Less than two hours after arriving in Milwaukee from the National Invitation Tournament Season Tip-Off, it became clear deputy athletic director Mike Broeker was not going to get much sleep.

Broeker got a call at about 3:45 a.m. that a car drove into the Al McGuire Center, penetrating the building’s north entrance on 12th Street, driving into the building and rolling down the west bleachers onto the court.

The incident left less than 12 hours to find a new home for the 2 p.m. women’s basketball game against the University of Illinois at Chicago. The unfortunate crash into the Al had a very fortunate consequence for women’s basketball: getting to play a game in an NBA arena.

“It’s just exciting to be able to play where a lot of our idols growing up play,” senior guard Amani Wilborn said. “LeBron (James) of course plays here, so knowing that I was on the same floor was exciting.”

Within minutes of waking up Saturday morning, Bucks president Peter Feigin was on the phone with Broeker about the possibility of using the Bucks’ new $524-million facility, Fiserv Forum.

Broeker said the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Mount Mary University, Milwaukee School of Engineering and Cardinal Stritch University were all receptive, but Marquette focused on Fiserv Forum once it seemed like a realistic option.

By about 9 a.m., the decision on Fiserv Forum was official.

The existing staffing infrastructure made Fiserv Forum an easier transition for Marquette Athletics staff. Fiserv Forum general manager Raj Saha found enough people to work the game with three hours’ notice.

“I wanted to put as little stress on our staff as possible because we’re already going to have to produce the game at another place,” Broeker said. “They have their own staff that could rally around.”

Staffing included fewer concessions available for fans since the listed attendance was 1,062, a fraction of what men’s basketball would expect for a home game. 

“If we ended up at one of these other facilities, the staffing isn’t there at a building like the Fiserv,” Broeker said. “We may have had to do more there than we were capable of doing.”

Head coach Carolyn Kieger did not use the last-second venue change as an excuse.

“We keep telling our team that champions adjust,” Kieger said. “Adversity makes us stronger.”

On the court, the change of scenery did not seem to hurt the Golden Eagles. Marquette trounced UIC 96-32 and at one point had a 67-point lead.

“We won,” Broeker said. “That’s the most important thing.”

Kieger said she was initially concerned about how the team would shoot at Fiserv Forum. There is significantly more space between the hoops and seats behind the basket at Fiserv Forum than at the Al McGuire Center.

“We never came over here and got any shots up (until Saturday),” Kieger said.

Her concerns did not last long.

“When Natisha (Hiedeman) hit the first shot, I figured, OK, I guess we’re good,” Kieger said.

Kieger and the Golden Eagles won’t have time to get too acclimated to the 17,500-seat venue. Wednesday’s game against UWM was originally slated to tip off at the Al McGuire Center but will instead be at the Klotsche Center on UWM’s campus.

Broeker said he is confident the Al can host Friday and Saturday’s NCAA Tournament volleyball games and Sunday’s women’s basketball game against Michigan.