Thoughts on a new Division 1 Women’s basketball champion

A’Ja Wilson hoists the trophy. ESPN screenshot

All week I’ve been kicking myself for not going to Dallas for what was a truly historic women’s Final Four.  Sure, our flat screen TV gave me an up close view of Morgan Williams’ buzzer-beating shot that dethroned UConn. But to revel in the excitement of what turned out to be two watershed moments in women’s basketball history would have been amazing. Otherwise, here are my reflections from afar on this year’s Division 1 NCAA tournament.

I don’t subscribe to the “UConn was bad for women’s basketball” philosophy. But you have to admit that watching games in which the outcome is still in doubt in the fourth quarter is a lot of fun. Apparently, lots of others thought so too. According to an NCAA press release, the audience for the final game was 20 percent higher than last year’s and the number of people streaming the game doubled from a year ago.

The Women’s Basketball Coaches Association invited 61 graduating female players to a workshop during their convention last week titled, “So You Want to Be a Coach.”  Obviously, the WBCA is concerned that there aren’t more women coaching college women.  Dawn Staley’s leading USC to the women’s Division I championship is likely to have more of an impact than any workshop could.  Staley has been a pioneer and a game changer since her days as a point guard at the University of Virginia. The fact that she’ll be coaching the U.S. Olympic team in 2020 will also give her the opportunity to be a more public role model and spokesperson, some would say, in the mold of Pat Summitt.

I was initially quite critical, but now I’m thinking that Vic Schaefer’s decision to keep Mississippi State’s  “itty bitty” Morgan William on the bench in the final quarter of the championship game might have made sense. I don’t know the whole story, of course. But if she was completely spent from Friday night’s overtime win over Connecticut and all the subsequent media attention, the change was warranted. Maybe Schaefer deserves kudos for going with his gut — I still don’t think William would have hurt their chances, but I also don’t think USC was  going to be denied their championship.

South Carolina is on top of the women’s basketball world, but the Gamecocks still haven’t beaten UConn. Will they lack “street cred” in the minds of some potential recruits until they do? There are lots of good reasons for playing for Geno Auriemma. But I know I’d rather play for Dawn Staley. She seems to have a great basketball mind, the ability to get her players all on the same page, and the sense to surround herself with winners when it comes to her coaching staff. She also emphasizes the building of relationships in the Pat Summitt mold. I loved seeing her wearing her ball cap, dancing it out, sticking out her tongue, and just generally enjoying the moment after USC’s victory last Sunday.

 Next year’s tournament is in Columbus, Ohio, hosted by Ohio State. A limited number of tickets are already on sale, but you will soon be able to register to be notified when the bulk of them go on sale next fall. No regrets next time!

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