The show belongs to UConn
TAMPA – If not for the sunshine blitzing my hotel room and the sad acceptance that the 80 degree temperatures were exposing a pair of rather dry, white legs, I could have sworn I was in Connecticut this morning (Sunday).
I took a brisk walk (okay, brisk might be stretching it) to the Shell station down the street to pick up a paper since my hotel only offers the Wall Street Journal and I am not interested in my stock options right now. I craved the sports page.
The Tampa Tribune ran a nice special section on the Women’s Final Four and the page screamed, “A Giant Among Giants”, with a huge Husky logo and picture of Geno cutting down a net. The whole front page is UConn, the two stories about the Huskies dominance and some kid named `Stewie’.
We know how big UConn is in Connecticut. Loved, revered, held in awe. On a first-name basis with announcers and fans alike. It’s Stewie and Moriah and Kaleena, last names unnecessary. Heroes don’t need last names.
Understand the behemoth UConn is all over. Not universally loved, not by a long shot. Heck you feel the undercurrent that most teams woud like to organize a safari with UConn as the big game target. UConn is the third helping when two was more than enough. The 10th beer when six was plenty.
Respect? Don’t confuse it with we’ve just had and heard enough. They all aspire to be what the Huskies have created but to do that they have get rid of the Huskies. They are tired of UConn, UConn, UConn. Now you won’t heard it put that way. Players and coaches all say the right things. But Maryland coach Brenda Frese isn’t afraid to say what a lot of others have thought.
“I mean, aren’t we tired of it. I think everybody’s rooting for us,” said Frese. “I think we’re ready for some new stories. And our sport needs it, to be quite honest.”
Part of that thought is arguable. For college teams, competitive balance is surely a goal. I mean UConn beating teams by an average of 42 points a game gets old even with UConn fans. Even UConn attendance is down for a variety of reasons but one is certainly blowout city after blowout city after blowout city. Calculators to figure out winning margins isn’t always entertaining.
New champions and parity is a goal even Geno will tell you that. He would like closer games. On the other hand UConn’s dominance and Geno have brought attention to the women’s game never seen before. When Geno talks people listen. Big people like ESPN, like the rest of the basketball world.
Look at the firestorm last week over his comments about how bad the men’s game has become. There was a time when a women’s college coach talked and only most of their players listened and sometimes mom. Geno’s record and position makes him a must listen. And his devil may care attitude makes him a great listen whether you agree or not.
UConn demands notice and it doesn’t change when the show is on the road even in the Final Four. At Saturday’s shoot around / practice, a good portion of the lower deck of the arena was full. They were shouting for Stewie and Kiah and Moriah and Kaleena.
Maryland practiced last with a decidedly smaller fan base and last I checked my GPS Maryland was a lot closer than Connecticut. Crowds were better for Notre Dame and South Carolina but there was a focal point and it was the Huskies. There were even several bodies with Tennessee shirts sitting and watching, curious, but I’m willing to bet rooting for healthy Husky collapse. Hey, old rivalries die hard.
The WBCA All-American team was introduced and three wore UConn uniforms – Stewie, Kaleena and Moriah. Morgan Tuck belongs there but they won’t put four UConn players on the team. The Wade Trophy, women’s basketball ‘s version of the Heisman Trophy was awarded.
This one went to Stewie. You getting a UConn flavor to all of this? Later on the Associated Press Player of the Year Award was given out with a trophy that was bigger than Moriah Jefferson. It went to Stewie for the second year in a row with cheering teammates in the first row along Geno and the coaching gang on hand.
Rebecca Lobo and Kara Lawson had a little sit down in the morning with the media and so much of the conversation centered around the elephant in the room – UConn.
South Carolina and Notre Dame and Maryland had their time but there was an overwhelming sense that this was UConn’s party. This wasn’t Storrs but it didn’t have to be. Nine national championships and a dominance like this it’s your party wherever you go.
Those who want to get rid of the party, those who want to move the center of the women’s basketball universe away from the little state in the northeast United States can do it one way – kick UConn off the mountain.
Until that happens the universe doesn’t totally shift if UConn loses here although it might surprise people. UConn is going to dominate the surroundings as much as it does the play on the court.
Tampa is feeling a lot like Storrs right now. UConn is big all over. You know that in Connecticut. You ought to see it and feel it in Tampa. And I don’t know who the fans are rooting for but I’m wondering if Brenda Frese is right because there are a lot UConn shirts walking around here.
Excuse me now why I go to the pool.