I guess the pursuit of roundball perfection just isn’t as interesting as used to be.
Maybe it was a first half that reminded me of when the ladies lined up with six players, or that for all his ponderings downplaying his, his team and his program’s greatness — this was UConn’s seventh national title and fourth undefeated run –Geno Auriemma just can’t get over himself. Perhaps it’s true, that the unprecedented exploits of Maya Moore and Tina Charles are bad for the women’s game. Or that unbeaten only works for the The Wizard of Westwood’s UCLA teams and the New England Patriots (oops, sorry Bill and Tom).
Whatever the case, ESPN averaged 3.53 million watchers for its coverage of UConn’s 53-47 triumph over Stanford in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship on April 6, as the Huskies extended their record winning skein to 78 games.
Although that was 32% more than the 2.69 million who watched Connecticut crush Louisville in the 2009 final, the numbers didn’t measure up to the team’s 2002 pursuit of perfection. Back then, Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Swin Cash and crew drew 5.68 million watchers as they closed out a 39-0 season over Stacey Dale’s Oklahoma squad. At that stage, that was ESPN’s biggest basketball audience, male or female, pro or college. (The coronation of the Rebecca Lobo-led 35-0 UConn team in 1995 was chronicled by CBS.)
For those who did tune in on Tuesday night, it wasn’t pretty. UConn and Stanford shot like they were playing in dresses and high heels, with the Cardinal, the last team to beat the Huskies during the 2008 national semifinals, holding a 20-12 advantage at the half.
Then Moore, who fired up a couple of wide-open airballs before the intermission, got it going offensively, both outside and inside. She was joined by Charles on the defensive end, where the player of the year picked up six second-half snuffs, including several on AAU friend Jane Appel. It was sad to see that All-American — hobbled by a still recovering knee and a bum ankle and largely stuck to the floor — barely getting the ball out of her hand before Charles swatted it away. Appel concluded her collegiate career with a Starksian nightmare, an 0-12 performance.
After pushing the lead to 16, UConn began missing free throws and the Cardinal hit some late threes to make it the only game during the streak when the Huskies didn’t win by double-digits.
Auriemma certainly has set an hellacious out-of-conference schedule for his charges next season. Featuring three Final Four clubs and two others that made it to the Elite Eight in the form of the Cardinal, Duke, Florida State, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Baylor (UConn defeated 6′-8″ Brittney Griner’s Bears in the Final Four on Sunday), the Huskies, minus Charles, figure to be hard-pressed to keep their streak alive in the 2010-11 campaign.
But how many people would be compelled to watch should Moore and the Huskies reel off 10 more wins and tie Bill Walton and the 1972-74 Bruins’ college basketball mark of 88 consecutive triumphs? Certainly, that level of perfection at least should draw a record regular-season Nielsen mark for the women’s game.