John Smallwood: UConn women destroying opponents, and fan interest

Maya Moore and coach Geno Auriemma answer questions a day before UConn's regional final matchup against Florida State.
Maya Moore and coach Geno Auriemma answer questions a day before UConn's regional final matchup against Florida State.
Posted: March 30, 2010

TWO NO. 1 SEEDS were gone before the Elite 8 - including an eight-time NCAA champion in Tennessee and an upstart, one-loss team in Nebraska.

You would think this would be an exciting time for women's collegiate basketball, but it isn't.

This is the "Foregone Conclusion Tournament."

Any fan still interested is now just waiting for the University of Connecticut to officially claim its seventh NCAA championship and finish its second consecutive undefeated season.

This was a done deal in the seconds after the Huskies drubbed Big East rival Louisville, 76-54, to win the 2009 NCAA title.

UConn's effortless run through the regular season and Big East Tournament has given way to an even more dominating waltz through the first three games of the NCAA Tournament - the signature event for women's hoops. The Huskies have won 75 games in a row going into tonight's regional championship game against Florida State, whom they beat back in December, 78-59.

In dispatching Southern, Temple and Iowa State, the Huskies have won by a combined score of 259-111 in this tournament.

In their last four games, including the Big East championship game against 10th-ranked West Virginia, UConn hasn't given up 40 points.

The last time the Huskies gave up 50 points was seven games ago.

I know this is going to rub a lot of women's basketball fans the wrong way, but UConn's dominance is not helping the sport. It's impressive. It's dominance on a level that rivals the old Soviet Union hockey machine.

But it's also boring.

I've made no secret over the years that I am a fan of women's basketball. I've covered nine women's Final Fours since I came to the Daily News in 1994.

I can honestly say that I have not watched more than a combined 4 hours of women's basketball this season.

There has been no reason to.

I know this sport well enough to understand that when a team is as good as Connecticut, there will be no upset; there is no chance for a miracle.

Everyone else has been playing for a distant second place, and I just don't find that interesting.

I've heard a lot of proponents argue that Connecticut's dismantling of women's college basketball is good for the sport.

They argue that no one questions whether John Wooden and UCLA's dominance in the 1960s and 1970s was bad for the men's game.

I would say that they are correct, except for the important fact that women's basketball barely has a fraction of the mass appeal that men's basketball does.

For all the work and effort that these coaches and young women put into their game - as much as any man - the sport still cannot draw more than its niche audience.

There is a large segment of the sports audience that still believes women's basketball is just a step above a joke.

Instead of appreciating Connecticut's superiority, it has been used to reinforce the notion that the sport doesn't measure up.

The NCAA Tournament is supposed to be when college sports put on their best show. Women's basketball has come up particularly small when the lights are shining brightest.

Four of the last five NCAA championship games have been competitive mismatches decided by at least 13 points.

The only entertaining final was in 2006, when Maryland beat Duke in overtime, 78-75.

Coming into this tournament, there were only three teams that were given even a slim hope of somehow derailing Connecticut.

Traditional archrival Tennessee did not appear to be at UConn's level, but the fact that the Lady Vols have not played the Huskies in the last three seasons added some intrigue when they drew a No. 1 seed in the South Region.

That mystery was quickly solved when Baylor easily beat Tennessee, 77-62, in the Sweet 16.

Nebraska was intriguing because the Cornhuskers completed the regular season undefeated at 29-0, but the first crack showed in a 10-point loss to Texas A&M in the Big 12 Tournament, and the season crumbled with a 76-67 loss to Kentucky in the regional quarterfinals.

The final No. 1, Stanford, is legitimately the second best team in the field, but the Cardinal played the Huskies right before Christmas and got dealt their only loss, 80-68, which just happens to be the season's smallest margin of victory for UConn.

In fact, Connecticut has already beaten four of the Elite 8 teams once this season, and all by double-digits.

It's not the Huskies' fault. They are a perfect storm doing what nature intended them to do - destroy whatever gets in their way.

I know why proponents of women's basketball promote UConn as good for the game.

Dominance on this scale may be impressive, but it's also extremely boring.

Send e-mail to

smallwj@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

http://go.philly.com/smallwood.

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