On Saturday, the UConn women’s basketball team scored 94 points in the first half of their opening round NCAA Tournament game against St. Francis on their way to a record-breaking 140-52 ultra-blowout.
Naturally, the Huskies’ victory sparked the usual handwringing about whether the program’s dominance is a problem for women’s basketball as a whole. ESPN’s Darren Rovell opined that such one-sidedness is bad for the sport’s growth, while USA Today declared that Saturday’s game “was a loss for women’s college basketball.”
Perhaps there is an argument that having one team stand above the others hurts women’s basketball on balance (though UConn didn’t even win the title last year, and imbalance was hardly fatal for men’s college hoops during John Wooden’s tenure at UCLA, for the NBA during Bill Russell’s time with the Celtics or for baseball during the four consecutive decades during which the Yankees dominated the league). But to raise alarm at the result of a first-round game is unfair and dishonest. It is, by definition, concern-trolling — i.e. “the action or practice of disingenuously expressing concern about an issue in order to undermine or derail genuine discussion.”
Take the aforementioned USA Today article, which blames both UConn coach Geno Auriemma and the entire institution of women’s college basketball for the “embarrassment” of an 88-point blowout.
Auriemma, in unleashing his superior players, exposed what dilutes his accomplishments — the disparity between the best and the rest in women’s basketball is so significant, they could use a mercy rule. Or a coach who knows how to show mercy.
UConn outscored the No. 16 seed 96-10 in the paint while improving its record to 33-0 and, for at least a game, making the women’s tournament look like a farce. Early round games feel beyond inconsequential with teams losing by 88 points — a result embarrassing even on the high school level.
The author writes as if No. 1 vs. No. 16 matchups are supposed to be close. As if the men’s bracket doesn’t routinely feature 40- and 50-point routs (including a 44-point romp in the Final Four just two years ago). As if an 88-point scorching is materially any different from a 40-point one. As if someone who would sit through, say, the Kansas men’s team’s 100-62 spanking of UC Davis last year would run away from a UConn broadcast because the Huskies are too good.
And in blaming Auriemma for Saturday’s final score, the USA Today writer appears ignorant (willfully or otherwise) of the fact that UConn ran down the shot clock throughout the second half and that only reserves saw the floor in the fourth quarter. It begins to seem that his goal wasn’t to craft a thoughtful argument about the implications of a lopsided game but rather to exploit a tired storyline for clicks.
In most cases, the people fretting about UConn’s dominance do not watch women’s basketball and do not particularly care about women’s basketball. If they did, they might find beauty in UConn’s crisp, clinical dismantling of their first-round opponent, and they would certainly look forward to seeing the Huskies face South Carolina in the Elite Eight and maybe one-loss Mississippi State (the team that famously knocked them out last spring) in the final. They might also pay half an eye to other dramatic women’s hoops contests, such as Georgia’s tight win against Mercer or Villanova’s overtime victory over South Dakota State, instead of dwelling on one laugher.
Because in the end, if you are turned off from women’s basketball by a blowout win in the first round of the Tournament, you probably never gave the game a chance to begin with.