- - Monday, April 2, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

If you’re like me, you didn’t watch much women’s basketball this season.

“None” is probably more accurate.

But as someone who appreciates the drama of live sports most when championships are at stake, I tuned into the Final Four over the weekend. Granted, I expected to see Connecticut cap another undefeated season with another national title.

Dynasties are fascinating in any sport, whether it’s the Yankees in baseball, the Patriots in football, the Celtics in basketball, or the Canadiens in hockey. Sustained runs of excellence are even more impressive in college, where eligibility limits star performers to four seasons.

So, it doesn’t matter that Geno Auriemma coaches UConn’s women team, compared to the legendary John Wooden, who coached the UCLA men. Dominance is dominance, regardless of gender. Auriemma was shooting for his 12th national title and seventh perfect season. Wooden captured 11 national titles and recorded four undefeated seasons.

Turns out that the women’s Final Four wasn’t about the Huskies. They were stunned in the semifinals on a buzzer-beating jumper in overtime to finish at 36-1 … after being stunned in last year’s semifinals on a buzzer-beating jumper in overtime to finish at 36-1.

This Final Four was about tight, tense, edge-of-your-seat basketball. And a cold-blooded shooter from Notre Dame, which won its second national championship. After knocking out the Huskies Friday night with a step-back jumper as the horn sounded, Arike Ogunbowale drilled a heavily contested 3-pointer for the game-winner against Mississippi State with one-tenth of a second remaining Sunday night. As she celebrated on the court, she pointed to the vein in the crook of her shooting arm and said “Ice. Ice. Ice.”

“The kid made a heck of a shot,” Bulldogs coach Vic Shaffer said. “I mean, I thought we defended it well right up to the point where the ball went through the net.”

Mississippi State had sent UConn home in last year’s semifinals, but lost to South Carolina in the title game. The Bulldogs reached the finals this season with another overtime victory, beating Louisville.

To recap, the women’s Final Four produced two overtimes, two buzzer-beating game-winners, and countless displays of skill, athleticism and resiliency. The action was compelling and thoroughly enjoyable. Suffice it to say, I’m glad I decided to watch.

There was Bulldogs center Teaira McCowan, often looking like a woman among girls while scoring 21 points and snatching 25 rebounds against Louisville. The 6-foot-7 junior added another 18 points and 17 rebounds in the championship game.

There was Notre Dame sophomore guard Jackie Young, scoring a career-high 32 points in the 91-89 thriller against the Huskies. I learned that Young knows a lot about putting the ball in the basket; she’s Indiana’s all-time leading high school scorer — male or female.

And, of course, there was Ogunbowale. Her off-balance, one-legged, falling-out-of-bounds 3-pointer Sunday was one of the greatest last-second shots in Final Four history. So was the jumper she drilled two night earlier against UConn. “To do that twice in one weekend, the biggest stage in college basketball, it’s crazy,” she said.

She made a fan of Kobe Bryant, who sat behind UConn’s bench while rooting for his favorite women’s team. Ogunbowale wears No. 24 in his honor and said her life was complete Friday when Bryant sent her a congratulatory tweet. Bryant disagreed with her assessment, tweeting back that “finishing the job on Sunday” was necessary for completion.

Ogunbowale also received Twitter love from Dwyane Wade and DeMar DeRozan, because game recognizes game. Fans do, too, even those like myself who routinely ignore one version.

As much as I enjoyed the weekend action, I don’t anticipate much change in my viewing habits. There certainly are worse choices on TV. But women’s basketball is unlikely to earn a larger slice of my free time, no matter how often Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving explain “Why I Watch the WNBA Work” in promotional videos.

“Two words,” Durant says. “Candace Parker.” Curry’s reasons are “style and fun.” For Irving, it’s “their ability to compete.” The women’s game has all of that: great players, enthusiasm, and aggressiveness. I’m sure it’s on display nightly and weekly, not just when the postseason rolls around.

Coaches and players and league officials surely wish women’s basketball drew more men’s basketball fans. You can’t blame them for fighting against norms and perceptions that relegate women to second-class citizens.

With two daughters in my household, I do the same.

No, I don’t watch as much women’s basketball as avid or even casual fans. But the Final Four provided a sweet return on my investment.

There will be no surprise if the WNBA Finals do likewise.

Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

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