There wasn’t much difference between the game clock and the shot clock. Moments away from a shot clock violation, Dayton’s Amber Deane had the ball in the left corner behind the three-point line. She faked a pass to throw off her Kentucky defender, leaving her just enough space to get an open look at the basket.
Up until that moment, the Flyers and Wildcats were tied on nine occasions and traded leads just as many times. Not many expected this. The No. 7 Flyers were bigger underdogs than the seeding let on. Not only was Kentucky a No. 2 seed in the tournament, but they had beaten No. 2 South Carolina, No. 7 Louisville, No. 8 Baylor, and No. 14 Mississippi State during the year. Kentucky’s women’s basketball team is rapidly gaining the kind of big-name reputation that its male counterparts enjoy. Dayton was just supposed to be a blip on the Wildcats’ fourth-straight trip to the NCAA Women’s Sweet Sixteen.
Deane made that corner three with 24 seconds left in the game, giving the Flyers a four-point lead. Despite going on to commit 24 turnovers. Despite trailing 64-58 at one point in the second half. Despite going up against a team that had every reason to believe it would advance, the Flyers shot 56.6% from the field — including 61.1% from three-point range — and upset Kentucky 99-94 to advance farther in the tournament than they ever have in school history.
The women’s tournament needs more games like these to enjoy the same kind of exposure the men’s tournament gets. The women’s tournament is set up for as much excitement and drama as the men’s. Teams of both genders are seeded the same way, play in a tournament with the same format, and the women have just as much on the line as the men do. So why don’t the women get as much love? I know what you’re thinking. You’re going to say because it’s women’s basketball. It’s boring and just not as athletic as the men’s game. There are no dazzling dunks or big-time blocks. But consider this from a March 20th column by The Mercury News’ Marcus Thompson II. He states:
“College basketball is just awful…You’ll find better mid-range shooting at a local carnival than watching the NCAA tournament. Neither team topped 60 points in six of the 16 games Thursday. Fifteen teams shot below 40 percent.”
Now if you’re talking about quality of basketball, the skills are there in the women’s game. In the first round of the women’s tournament, all four No. 1 seeds (UConn, Maryland, Notre Dame and South Carolina) shot around 50% from the field. Notre Dame’s and South Carolina’s field goal percentage was in the 60s and UConn shot an unbelievable 70% from the field. And that’s not just all layups. The Huskies were 5-of-13 from three-point range. Women players rebound and share the ball and you might find that the women are more dedicated to playing defense than the men.
So, while the women may not be as exciting to watch, basketball purists may appreciate some of the aspects of the women’s game more. The reason the women’s tournament doesn’t get much attention can’t just be about lack of skill. Some of those girls have some serious game. And it’s not that American fans can’t appreciate amazing athletic feats by women. Think Serena Williams. Brittney Griner. And I know nobody’s going to discount or mess with Ronda Rousey. So, what’s really behind the fact that nobody cares about the women’s tournament?
Because it’s boring, and I’m not talking about the quality of play. I’m talking about the whole tournament.
You don’t have to be a huge basketball fan to love this time of year. There is something electric about the NCAA men’s tournament. There’s the feeling that anything can happen, that the underdog can beat the favored team, that Cinderella teams can go to the ball. But March Madness never includes women’s basketball. When it comes to the women’s tournament, March Madness is more like March Mundane.
As of March 22, there were seven instances in this year’s tournament where lower seeds advanced. This gives me hope. I pray this trend continues. It’s what will bring in viewers and much-needed attention.
Unfortunately, the excitement will probably end here. That’s because at this point, historically speaking, the higher seeds expectedly win the games they’re supposed to, and usually in a blow-out fashion. Yes, there have been upsets (it’s usually No. 11 and 12 seeds winning its first tournament game), but the teams in the Elite Eight and on are usually written in stone long before the tournament starts. And when it comes to Goliaths, at least in women’s basketball, there’s no one bigger than UConn.
Since 2009, the Huskies have won four national championships, with three of those games being won by 20 points or more. Coach Geno Auriemma, who has been at UConn for 30 years, earned his 900th win earlier this season. Heading into the tournament, the Huskies were 32-1. Every year, it’s the same schools. UConn. Baylor. Notre Dame. Louisville and Stanford will have their runs sometimes, but not too many teams in the women’s game can’t sustain a multiple-year run against a team as dominant as the Huskies.
And it seems that the promoters of the women’s tournament or the media (or somebody?) knows that the women’s lack of parity leads to less-than-stellar viewership. The media has tried to make Notre Dame and UConn a big rivalry. But let’s look at the numbers: UConn has won nine championships. Notre Dame has won one. Yes, Notre Dame has won seven of the past 11 meetings but overall, the Huskies are 31-11 against the Fighting Irish. In short, no team can really match what the Huskies have been and what they are now. They specialize in routing and dismantling teams. Watching UConn is like watching a Harlem Globetrotters game. You always know who’s going to win.
And ultimately, that’s not going to gain viewers this time of year. People love the unpredictability of the men’s tournament. It’s fun to guess who the next dark horse will be. And until UConn releases it’s grip on the rest of the field, the women’s game will continue to be a one-horse race. And who wants to watch that?