March Madness is over, and South Carolina reigns supreme.
The prophecy has been fulfilled: the Championship is going home to South Carolina for the second time in program history. Aliyah Edwards (oops…we mean Boston) was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Dawn Staley’s tactics were vindicated. Geno Auriemma looked dead inside on the touchline. All was right in the world.
Delayed not denied. We were told in 2019 that it would happen. 🎉 pic.twitter.com/2D9JBLrnsh— GamecockWBB (@GamecockWBB) April 6, 2022
But how exactly did South Carolina lock up the win? And how should we look back at UConn’s season in the wake of their impressive tournament run? Let’s unpack all of the action on Sunday, starting with the biggest story of the night: the winners.
Defense Wins Games, Rebounding Wins Championships
South Carolina’s dominance in the final can’t be overstated––even if it was a bit untraditional. UConn was the stronger team on paper, at least in terms of field goal rates and blocks. However, they got absolutely outclassed in one key area: rebounding. We’ve already discussed just how lethal South Carolina can be when given the opportunity to rebound and counterattack. And that’s exactly what happened on Friday; despite a relatively off night offensively, they never came close to surrendering their lead.
In a way, this Championship win must feel vindicating to Dawn Staley and the Gamecocks. Pre-tournament worries that their impotent offense would sink them were certainly valid; there’s even an argument to be made that they’re less “exciting” or “fitting” titleholders than teams like Stanford and UConn. But dearly departed legend Pat Summitt said it best: “Offense sells tickets, defense wins games, rebounding wins championships.” And at the end of the day, winning the darned thing is all that matters.
UConn’s Best Worst Season Ever
Leading up to the tournament, it would’ve been easy to say that the Huskies were coming off of their worst season ever. Defeats to unranked teams, a mountain of injuries, the loss of their talisman…for their lofty standards, things were looking bleak. But somehow, someway, they dragged themselves all the way to the Championship game. So maybe a rebrand is necessary: UConn had the best worst season ever.
Save for Paige Bueckers, the team looked utterly gassed on Sunday, which was expected after their tough run-up. But getting to the final after the struggles they’ve had shows just how good they are at full strength––and just how good they could be next season. Bueckers and co. will (hopefully) be healthy come November, and youngsters like Azzi Fudd will have more tournament experience under their belts. If this season was what the Huskies looked like at their weakest, then their Championship drought might be ending sooner than we thought.
A Fruitful Investment
Since the 2021–22 season was the first to feature March Madness branding and promotion, a lot was riding on the amount of attention it would rake in. If the tournament was a ratings failure, naysayers would have the excuse to continue dismissing women’s sports as undeserving of popularity and financial backing. Well, any doubts about the viability of women’s hoops can be put to bed now. Over 4.85 million viewers tuned into ESPN for the final on Sunday, shattering a ratings record set in 2004.
“ESPN’s commitment to women’s basketball has never been stronger, and this year’s viewership numbers are a clear indication of the growing popularity of the sport and the NCAA Women’s Tournament,” Nick Dawson––ESPN’s vice president of programming and acquisitions––stated in a press release on Tuesday. Judging by this year’s success on and off the court, women’s March Madness has been a rather fruitful investment. Now it’s on the NCAA to act upon this growth and give women’s collegiate basketball the attention and funding it deserves. Good thing there’s millions of people watching to make sure they do.