OUT IN FRONT IN WOMEN’S BASKETBALL
Now might be a good time to get ahead of ourselves.
UCONN won the first American Athletic Conference women’s basketball tournament with three dazzling, very entertaining efforts in which they wasted little time with the opposition. The Huskies never trailed. Cincinnati tied them, briefly, at two, a minute into their quarterfinal game. At halftime it was UCONN by 20. The Huskies scored the first 13 points before Rutgers got on the board in the semis. That was about as close as that game would get. Against Louisville in the championship game UCONN scored the first eight points, and eight points was as close as it would get the rest of the way on the way to a 20 point win. UCONN, at 34-0 and with every number one vote on the AP poll, will be the top overall seed for the NCAA tournament. That’s not really getting ahead of ourselves. Everyone who follows the sport and hasn’t been in a coma the last two months already knew that.
Now, let’s get out in front of things. The selections will be made on Monday and a lot of speculation surrounds Louisville, the number three team in the national rankings, but coach Jeff Walz speculated that if the Cardinals didn’t win the AAC tournament they’d be relegated to a second seed. Louisville hosts one of the regionals. UCONN hosts a sub regional at Gampel and, for geographic and seeding reasons, Louisville would be one of the two most likely landing spots for the Huskies. For UCONN to draw Louisville the Cardinals would have to fall all the way from a number one seed to the fourth number two seed, which isn’t likely. They should be able to avoid having to host the best team in the nation in their own region.
Look for Tennessee, new to the number one seed mix, to draw Louisville. UCONN is likely headed for Nebraska, with Stanford and Notre Dame as the other regional sites. Notre Dame already has a number one seed. Stanford is tenuous as a number one, but is likely to get the nod at home if Baylor doesn’t sneak up.
Now, let’s really get out ahead of the curve, to an area graduating seniors aren’t yet willing to talk about, not with the tournament on the horizon. The Connecticut Sun own the number one pick in the WNBA draft. At lunch in late November Sun coach Anne Donovan put a name on the table. Chiney Ogwumike, the 6-3 Nigerian-American power forward from Stanford.
It would be interesting to revisit the draft with Anne, who seemed to have the blessing of Sun general manager Chris Sienko and team governor Mitch Etess at the time. Ogwumike has kept her stock high but a new player has emerged. After a junior season in the shadows, in which injuries played a role in her diminished profile, UCONN guard Bria Hartley may only be in the shadow of her own teammate, Breanna Stewart, in the Player of the Year competition. Her play has elevated to a spectacular new level as was evidenced last night by a crowd pleasing half court pass to Stewart, over the defense, for a layup, and an even more electrifying high speed bounce pass in the lane, one quarter step ahead of the defense, to a driving Moriah Jefferson for a knockout punch layup that pushed the lead over 20 points five minutes into the second half.
The better the engine, the better the car, and every team needs a great point guard. There’s no arguing Ogwumike alongside Tina Charles would give the Sun a very formidable front court, but if I had a top five pick in the WNBA draft I’d have to think hard to come up with an argument against picking Bria Hartley.
Ahead of the game in the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.