My bracket is so blown, but I’m feeling good anyway. Tennessee, a great team – also, my pick, went down Monday night to Notre Dame. The difference was the point guard experience: Skyler Diggins, although only a sophomore, was in command from the get go. She tore through Tennessee’s defense, knowing exactly when to pass or to take the shot herself, nailing three pointers at crucial moments, hammering Tennessee. You could see Tennessee folding before your eyes. At one point Holly Warlick, the assistant coach, and former player, chastised the bench for not cheering, forcing them to stand and cheer what was clearly a losing effort. But the Lady Vols are still young. Their point guard is a freshman, and she was intimidated by the Irish, and by the Vol’s coaching style. Pat Summit, Vol’s coach, was a sullen presence, unhappy from the start, screaming her displeasure.
ESPN always takes the viewer into the locker rooms for brief moments of coaching, and Pat Summit is almost always yelling at her team’s pathetic attempts at understanding, enthusiasm and effort. I can’t imagine playing for someone who constantly tore down my efforts.
The same process occurs in UConn’s locker room, with Geno Auriemma being famous for not talking to some players. As though just a word from him was all these women want or need. And actually, maybe it is all they need. But I think that the women learn to rise above the bickering or pettiness to find success on their own terms. That’s certainly true of Pat Summit’s players, even though she can be so harsh. Look at Nikki Caldwell and Kara Lawson, two great players who understand the game and can articulate their knowledge in terms that anyone can follow, and both of them played for Pat Summit.
This year, UConn is not a shoe-in. I think that UConn’s dominance is bad for women’s basketball, because, ultimately, it’s just boring to see the same team win every time. This year they are a six player team with no real depth on the bench. Maya Moore is not a point guard. She does not control the flow of the game, but dominates by letting the game come to her & then almost never missing an opportunity to score or to defend. She has the most beautiful, flowing grace as she hurls the ball around. Her jump shot is a thing of beauty. She is the best player out there.
Courtney Vandersloot of Gonzaga is, like Skylar Diggins, a dominant point guard. She almost single handedly won every match in the tournament for The Zags. The commentators would watch her and just marvel at her ability to see and make plays. But Gonzaga just didn’t have enough depth to compete with Stanford. The Cardinal is just too deep and too talented. Still, Vandersloot scored 21 points just in the first half of the game. But I think this is Stanford’s year. The Ogumake sisters dominate the boards, controlling rebounds, and Tara Vanderveer, Stanford’s coach, seems always able to see what they need to do. If this isn’t Stanford’s year, Notre Dame or Texas A&M are both extremely competitive. Notre Dame beat Tennessee having never beat them. The two teams had played 20 times and Tennessee had always won. Imagine overcoming that record. The situation for Texas A&M was even more fraught. Baylor had played them three times this year & won every match. In fact, Brittney Griner, the 6′ 8″ star for Baylor was expected to dominate the entire tournament. And she did until Texas A&M took the lead early in the elite eight match-up. Baylor was rattled and could not regain the lead, or even make a serious run at the end to come back.
So Sunday night the final four play. The cast of characters has changed just enough to keep it interesting. The four teams each bring a distinctive style of play and different set of skills and philosophy to the games. I can’t wait.