Gilson’s Sports Guide: Watch women’s basketball

Connecticut guard Nika Muhl (10), second from right, hugs guard Paige Bueckers (5) after defeating South Carolina in overtime of an NCAA college basketball game in Storrs, Conn., in this Monday, Feb. 8, 2021, file photo. UConn’s star guard became the first freshman ever to win The Associated Press women’s basketball player of the year award Wednesday, March 31, 2021. Photo by David Butler/Pool Photo via AP, File.

If I were to sit here and tell whoever is reading this column that I’ve been a fan of women’s sports since I was a kid, I’d be lying big time. Up until recently, I fell into stride with most people, believing men’s sports were more exciting, required more skill and were more worthy of my time.  

But after spending just the past half-year covering UConn women’s basketball, I can now truthfully say that I’ll undoubtedly continue to watch them for the foreseeable future. Their games are just as exciting, require just as much skill and, while lacking in the highlight dunks, are just as worthy of your time. And if you don’t believe me, let me throw some numbers your way that prove you might now be in the minority. 

According to SkullSparks, UConn women’s basketball ranked third among both men and women’s teams in social media interactions, trailing only Illinois and Michigan MBB with 1,888,590 interactions. Viewership statistics show that ABC reported 1.6 million people tuned into the Sweet 16 matchup between UConn and Iowa, while ESPN said the title game between Stanford and Arizona peaked at 5.3 million viewers.  

Were the men’s numbers better? Sure, but not by much. And even so, how much of that is due to a preference of who to watch versus a sheer matter of circumstance? 

In 2019, Deadline found that ESPN, the host of the women’s tournament final, brought in an average viewership of 730,000 people aged 18-49. Meanwhile, ABC,  who aired this year’s men’s national championship, garners an average of 5.7 million viewers on primetime events. A huge difference. 

Furthermore, the women’s game was shown at 6 p.m., where the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 41.4 percent of people who watch TV do so at that time, compared to 54.8 percent beginning at 9 p.m., when the men’s game tipped off.  

So sure, the men had better numbers, but the women put up historic numbers themselves with fewer opportunities to do so when compared to the men. But enough of the numbers – this column is about why you should watch women’s basketball in the future, not why you should have in the past. So, let’s get into it. 

One of the biggest misconceptions of the women’s game is that it’s predictable. Ever since UConn won four of four national titles with Breanna Stewart and won 111 straight games, people believe that the Huskies will always come out on top and therefore the game isn’t worth watching, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. While the women’s tournament didn’t have as many upsets as the men’s — which, let’s be honest, had borderline too many — it had enough to shut down anyone who believes the outcome always occurs as expected. 

In the last four national championships since 2016, there have been four different champions: South Carolina, Notre Dame, Baylor and now Stanford. For you UConn-centric fans, while the Huskies have made the Final Four each of the past four years, they have seen three different opponents, their lone repeat being Notre Dame in 2018 and 2019.  

And whereas UConn’s trips to the national championship from 2012-2016 all ended in relative blowouts, the last four titles have been decided by an average of four points, with the last two ending in just a one-point game. Anyone who says they don’t watch the sport because it’s too easy to predict clearly hasn’t watched a game in the past five years, because this is the most balanced we’ve seen the league in a long time, with any team able to go the distance. 

As for the game itself, many people’s complaints stem from the lack of athleticism, speed or flare in the women’s game. But with more talented players coming in every year, we are entering the prime time in terms of talent for college basketball. 

Paige Bueckers, Caitlin Clark and Hailey Van Lith represent some of the most exciting and prolific guards in the game. Their ability to score at will from all points of the floor while also being incredibly distributors is next to none. All of them are freshmen. 

Aliyah Boston, Cameron Brink and Charlisse Leger-Walker are some of the best frontcourt players the nation has to offer, using their height and strength to bully around opponents inside on both ends of the floor. Brink and Leger-Walker are freshmen while Boston, a semifinalist for Naismith player of the year in 2020 and finalist in 2021, is just a sophomore. 

For incoming players, UConn’s Azzi Fudd represents the best and most hyped-up prospect since Breanna Stewart. With a smooth jumper, great ball handling and a drive to be the best, she and Paige are sure to form the next great duo in college basketball history. 

So, if none of that sounds interesting to you, go ahead and keep watching the men’s games for some speed and highlight reel dunks. But for those of you who want to see equally great basketball night in and night out as we usher the next greats into the game, I implore you to watch women’s college basketball next season. You won’t regret it. 

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