Parity coming to fore
Favorites no longer just holding court
INDIANAPOLIS — Connecticut’s presence in the Final Four wasn’t a surprise. Stanford’s return trip didn’t shock many.
The teams faced off in the championship game last season and have been in the Final Four four consecutive years. But last night, both No. 1 seeds were ousted by a pair of second seeds as Notre Dame defeated UConn, 72-63, and Texas A&M knocked off Stanford, 63-62.
“I think what happened is what happens in a lot of NCAA Tournaments — the team that plays better that night wins. Not the team that everybody puts on the board that’s supposed to win,’’ UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “What people have to understand is nothing is a given. You play really well, you get a chance to win; if you don’t play well, you lose. I don’t care whether you’re a one seed, two seed, best player or not the best player, it doesn’t matter.’’
Parity is a never-ending discussion in women’s college basketball, and last night may offer proof that the gap is slowly closing. Tomorrow night’s championship game will be just the second without a No. 1 seed.
Since 2000, a team seeded fourth or lower has reached the Final Four five times — three No. 4s, a No. 5, and a No. 7. Ten of the last 13 champions were No. 1 seeds, while the other three were second seeds.
Texas A&M and Notre Dame had to beat No. 1 seeds in Baylor and Tennessee to reach the Final Four, and they did it again last night.
Gonzaga, a No. 11 seed, shook up the tournament with upsets over No. 6 Iowa, No. 3 UCLA, and No. 7 Louisville. Stanford ended Gonzaga’s run in the Spokane Regional final, 83-60. Gonzaga was the lowest of three double-digit seeds to reach the second round (also Marist and Temple).
Parity is also hindered by a limited number of elite players, Auriemma said. Since programs tend to keep their players for four years, the development of players is crucial, he said.
“I think the schools that recruit the best freshmen end up having the best seniors — generally, not always,’’ Auriemma said. “You kind of have to spread the players around, which is starting to happen a little bit. It’s not going to change as quickly as some people want because there are just probably not enough great players to go around.’’
Texas A&M coach Gary Blair likes what is happening in women’s basketball. Men’s teams are essentially “renting players’’ who leave for the NBA or to play overseas, Blair said. The money may not be present to tempt women to leave college early, but there are added benefits of staying four years, he said.
“That’s what the beauty of the women’s game is. Our kids are playing four years, they’re graduating. I think I heard a stat that 83 percent of the women’s basketball players nationwide are getting their degrees. That’s pretty dog-gone good.’’
Finding their mark Notre Dame led the Big East and was 11th in the nation with its 77.4-point average this season. The Fighting Irish converted 48 percent of their field goal attempts, second in the conference behind UConn (49.6 percent) and fourth in the nation.
But the Irish struggled offensively against UConn in their first three meetings this season. On Jan. 8, Notre Dame shot 36 percent in a 79-76 home loss. On Feb. 19 in Storrs, Conn., Notre Dame again was held to 36 percent and had its lowest-scoring game of the season in a 78-57 loss. And in the Big East tournament final, UConn held Notre Dame to 34 percent shooting while capturing a 73-64 win.
Last night, Notre Dame shot 51.9 percent from the field and turned the tables on UConn defensively. It was the first time in 263 games that an opponent shot better than 50 percent against the Huskies.
For the record UConn is now 81-16 in the NCAA Tournament and 7-6 in the national semifinals. The Huskies fell to 61-8 when playing as a No. 1 seed . . . Moore ends her career as the all-time leading scorer at UConn with 3,036 points. She is second in rebounds with 1,276.
Monique Walker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.