Becker: Final Four weekend showed off key strengths of women’s basketball
Courtney Becker | Monday, April 8, 2019
Pretending that I’m not disappointed by the outcome of Sunday’s national championship matchup between Notre Dame and Baylor would be pointless. But there were some truly great things to take away from the women’s Final Four weekend as a whole, and I’m choosing to focus on those.
Muffet McGraw shows what it means to be a leader in women’s sports
Before the Final Four even arrived, Think Progress’ Lindsay Gibbs wrote a profile on Irish head coach Muffet McGraw that centered around her recently adopted stance on only hiring women for her assistant coaching positions.
McGraw’s comments drew both praise and criticism — you can probably guess where most of the criticism was coming from — and became a major subject of conversation in Tampa, Florida. When a reporter asked McGraw about stepping up as an advocate for women in sports, she gave a powerful answer that went so viral it was shared by President Barack Obama on Twitter.
While this answer drew more criticism from people who don’t believe gender inequality is still, you know, a thing, it will undoubtedly go down as one of the most powerful moments in women’s basketball history. It was about more than basketball, and it showed the impact sports can have on society. For those who don’t understand why, read the original profile and then watch McGraw’s answer.
For myself, I’ll just say that I was incredibly proud to be Irish this weekend.
Both semifinals deliver — again
According to ESPN’s broadcast Sunday, the 2019 Final Four was the first time the women’s semifinals were both decided by five points or fewer. Baylor defeated Oregon in a 72-67 thriller before Notre Dame took down Connecticut for the second year in a row, 81-76. This came on the heels of a 2018 Final Four that saw both games go into overtime, the first time that had ever happened as well.
Anyone who opted not to watch the women’s Final Four missed out. Both games were exciting and hard-fought, with each roster boasting electric players — Sabrina Ionescu, Kalani Brown, Arike Ogunbowale and Katie Lou Samuelson leap to mind, among others — and both had an insane number of ties and lead changes. Until about the last 20 seconds of each semifinal, it was impossible to predict which team would emerge victorious.
This is all on top of the fact that the Final Four once again featured one of the greatest rivalries in college sports with Notre Dame and UConn facing off for the 50th time in the programs’ history. The rivalry between the two teams and their coaches has been one of the highlights of the sport over the past decade, and as always, it delivered Friday. A game with an unprecedented level of history between the two teams and a fourth-quarter comeback? Yeah, I’d say that’s some pretty compelling basketball.
Sabrina Ionescu announces her return to Oregon
My sincere condolences to the Las Vegas Aces.
Sabrina Ionescu, Oregon’s star point guard who smashed the NCAA triple-double record for both the women’s and men’s sides this season, announced Saturday that she will return to Oregon for her senior season. That is huge for women’s college basketball next season.
Ionescu is beyond exciting to watch as a player. There’s a reason she is the undisputed master of triple doubles in college basketball: she is dominant in every aspect of the game. Watching her play is mesmerizing and terrifying at the same time. She is an absolute nightmare matchup for any team, and because of her decision, Oregon stands a good chance to win it all next season considering the number of weapons on the court around her.
Ionescu might not have been able to pull off a miracle against an insanely talented Baylor team this season, but by deciding to finish up her “unfinished business,” she just gave the women’s college basketball world a massive gift. (Except for all the teams that will have to try to defend against her next year.)
National championship comes down to the wire — again
When the Irish were down by as many as 17, it might have seemed to some like the finals were not nearly as exciting as last year’s. While it turned out that nothing could have topped Ogunbowale’s 3-point buzzer beater from 2018, the national championship certainly came down to an edge-of-your seat battle between the two teams.
Just like the entire NCAAW tournament, this game came down to the final seconds. It featured an awesome comeback and several future WNBA Draft picks battling for 40 minutes to claim the title. For the second year in a row, it was epic.
If this Final Four, and that tournament as a whole, was not enough to convince you that women’s basketball is worth watching, well, that says more about you than the game.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.