If UConn women's basketball is bad for the game, how come record crowds home and away, record TV ratings, recognition for women's hoops?
And is it bad that the streaking Huskies continue to win and win and win while other programs chase to no avail?
By ARNIE LESHIN
Bad for the game? Puleeze! That's untrue, nonsense, ridiculous, a bad statement to make, and whoever is foolish enough to point to this had better check out the true facts because the University of Connecticut women's basketball is "good" for the game.
Let's start with Gino Auriemma signing his first contract at a Dunkin Donuts in Storrs, Conn. He was taking over a program coming off a 10-17 season, playing in a gymnasium fit for a high school game with little fan support, being a head coach for the first time, and learning how to recruit.
Now flash forward to what the South Philadelphian (born in Italy) has accomplished since the early 80s.
Not only does he now have 100 straight wins to break his former record, but he has won 11 national championship, five in a row, a record 38 victories on the road, has not lost in 75 American Athletic Conference games, thirteen former players now in the WNBA, All-Americas every year, domination on the Olympic team, and the beat just goes on.
Bad for the game?
His Huskies pack their home court every time. Tickets have been scalped, which is unprecedented for the women's game.
How about when they take to the road and bring in record crowds, as at highly ranked Maryland, Florida State, Notre Dame, South Carolina, Ohio State, and play as if the crowd against them means little as they rock and roll, do their thing, and disappoint the other team, sometimes even embarrassing it.
At places like Kansas State, Nebraska and FSU this season, the fans rose to respectively applaud UConn. Why, well it's a program that is disliked only because it wins and wins and wins some more. Otherwise, its teams just play the game, never taunting, never arguing with the officials, never showing disrespect for the visiting team's fans.
Bad for the game?
Really, then how come its recent home game against six-ranked South Carolina on ESPN, had the highest overnight rating for any college basketball this season, men or women? Oh, and it was the highest-rated women's college basketball game since 2010 when, yes, the Huskies played at Notre Dame.
Now, let's take women's hoops in comparison with the men's. With the men, it's come and go in these times (see Kentucky), and if you find that your school has done some excellent recruiting, how long can you support a program where freshmen enter the NBA draft. Or sophomores. Juniors. It's like now you see them, now you don't.
Not so with the women. Take UConn. You see a freshman grow into a senior and graduate with honors. Sure, the WNBA can't afford to shell out what the NBA does, but so what, instead of becoming wealthy or playing in South America or Europe or the NBA Development League, why not get an education, have fun on campus, make a few bucks in the WNBA and then some.
Bad for the game?
Why, because you get to see a team develop without losing players? Because it's a women's game? Because the men are better than the women?
In what way are Gino's Huskies bad for the game, bad for any one? A former Louisville All-America said she never could win against UConn, but enjoyed playing against such elite players. She added it's a program that has put women's basketball into the spotlight.
Why does this program dominate the other schools? Well, Auriemma is not only a great recruiter, but players come to him. Some sign up after their sophomore seasons in high school. Some when they are juniors. He doesn't bring on everybody, only the ones who he feels fit into his system.
He has put together a success story despite injuries, a lack of depth, lack of size, and sometimes even inexperience.
Like All-America guard, Moriah Jefferson, he now has another freshman small like her, with 5-foot-5 spark Chrystal Dangerfield coming in off the bench to run the offense. His lone senior, Sonya Chung, arrived as a freshman who was All-State in New York, but hadn't really turned it around until now.
Gabby Williams is a 5-11 junior who was good in high school, but nothing special. But Auriemma saw her versatility and now she's on track for All-America honors. She does it all, scores, rebounds, passes, defends and provides leadership.
There's sophomore Napheesa Collier, who at 6-2, out leaps taller players. Against South Carolina, she and Williams outscored the Gamecocks by themselves and came close to also doing this on the boards. SC had two stellar players at 6-6 and 6-5, but UConn was quicker, smarter and no doubt well coached. The shorter Williams took down 16 rebounds.
There have been times when Auriemma's team wasn't playing like he wanted it to, and in disgust he would call a time out. Then his team would respond with runs, big runs, as in the 31-31 second quarter tie at No. 2 Maryland when after a time out, the Huskies scored 16 unanswered points in a row to grab a 47-31 lead as the sold out arena went quite.
Notice how UConn often gets down court and just works the ball around until a player takes a backdoor pass to score or another has a shot from the outside?
They don't take bad shots. They don't get into foul trouble. They don't get upset after a poor play. They play like a family with each one rooting for the other. They feature a solid transition game, play sticky defense, look for one another, and play so that Auriemma doesn't get upset and call a quick time out.
Bad for the game?
Well, this was the season where the Huskies, after graduating the top three players in the land, Brianna Stewart, Morgan Tuck and Jefferson, were destined to fall short in putting together another championship run. That was the word passed around by all the teams that UConn left frustrated through these years.
How disappointed they all are.
And at almost every game, especially those at home, you can see former Huskies Brianna Stewart, Maya Moore, Tina Charles, Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Morgan Tuck, Stephanie Dolson, seated behind the UConn bench. In truth, they never leave the program. Another former Husky, Rebecca Lobo, does the television commentary, and Kara Walters analyzes
As for this current edition, left behind were former reserves like Williams, Collier, Chung to team with 6-3 sophomore sharpshooter Katie Lou Samuelson and 6-foot savvy junior Kia Nurse.
Off the bench comes Dangerfield and 6-5 junior Natalie Butler, a transfer from Georgetown. Not many reserves? Well, the last two titles came when Auriemma went only seven deep.
Bad for the game?
Silly to say, for you must give credit to what this surprising team has pieced together in continuing one of the most remarkable feats in the history of sports. It rings out the news that greatness transcends gender.
Here was yet another group of Huskies so proud of what they wore, that they have now won 25 straight games despite the doubters. They opened at No. 6 FSU and won a close game. Next, No. 2 Baylor came to Storrs and left with a 14-point defeat as little Dangerfield scored 19 points.
From there, it was a 18-point win at No. 3 Notre Dame, the one at Maryland, the rout at home over No. 9 Washington, the 26-point win at No. 18 Kansas State, as well as versus good programs like Dayton and Temple, and romping over No.18 South Florida, the second best team in the AAC, by 55 points. This adds up to wins against nine ranked schools.
Bad for the game?
Listen, Auriemma attempted to maybe take some pressure off of this bunch, give the other programs chomping at the bit a break, a by putting together a very difficult schedule, just like his lengthy, tough practices. He said he figured they would take some lumps, lose a few times, and now he's flabbergasted by what they have accomplished.
Now if this surprising run is a stunner to many other schools who have fear of yet another championship, well then don't look ahead to next season.
Gracing the roster will be six of the Huskies' top seven players. Incoming is 6-6 transfer Azura Stevens and 6-2 transfer Batouly Camera. Joining them will be 6-2 Megan Wilson, the number one high school player in the country who signed up after her sophomore campaign, plus some other talented recruits.
Bad for the game?
Insane. Do you tell these recruits not to play UConn ball because it's, you know, bad for the game because it is so very good?
Senseless. This program is spoken highly of by other coaches, men and women's. People pack the house to get a look at it. On the road, these people leave shaking their collective heads. The Huskies, year in and year out, have brought attention to the women's game like never before.
Say what you want, but puleeze "bad for the game" doesn't make sense. Just imagine if there was no UConn. Think of empty seats, poor TV ratings, much less interest in the national championship, not much space on the sports pages, and just boring.
Say it because it's true.
And how long could this streak exist? Well, if these Huskies roll through the AAC tournament as expected, they would enter the NCAA tournament with 107 in a row. Then they would need six more wins to hoist another trophy in early April in Dallas. Oh, and from 1953-58, NAIA school Wayland Baptist won 131 in a row. But that's getting ahead of the current program making history.
Going through the early and present times of other sports, question arise.
As in. were the Green Bay Packers bad for the game? The Dallas Cowboys? The New York Yankees? The Boston Celtics? The Los Angeles Lakers? The Montreal Canadiens? Babe Ruth? Willie Mays? Jack Nicholas? Arnold Palmer? Tiger Woods? Wayne Gregzsky? Wilt Chamberlain? Michael Jordan?
Is LeBron James bad for the game? Stephen Curry? Are the Chicago Cubs? The Golden State Warriors? The Cleveland Cavaliers?
They all lace up their playing shoes the same way, all put their uniforms on the same way, compete, sometimes winning, sometimes losing, and no way could they be bad for the game.
And the UConn women's basketball program is special, nothing else like it, and that's not bad in a sports-minded nation like the USA.
Again, no way is this bad for the game. Chill out and give credit where credit is due.