Storrs, CT - The last two National Champions in women’s college basketball squared off Thursday night, and the 2015-16 National Championship banner was unveiled at Gampel Pavilion. People at UConn are becoming accustomed to that whole banner thing, having brought the last four National Titles back to what is known as the basketball capital of the world.
Many people outside of the northeast may not have even known no. 3 UConn was hosting no. 2 Baylor Thursday, because the game that saw two of the top three teams in the country take the floor opposite each other was not on national television.
Baylor coach Kim Mulkey was extremely critical of this earlier in the week, after her second-ranked Bears played two top-ten teams in the very early stages of the new season.
“I just think we've failed miserably at women’s basketball not to have Baylor women’s basketball on ESPN this week,” Mulkey said earlier in the week. “We are playing two top-ten teams this week, and neither one were picked up by ESPN. I have a hard time understanding that, I really really do. I have a hard time understanding Ohio State and South Carolina, who are ranked ahead of us, why they weren't on.”
When asked about these comments following her team’s 72-61 loss in Storrs to the Huskies, and the support she has gotten from people, Mulkey said she did not personally receive a phone call from anyone saying they supported her, so she was not sure where the support was coming from.
She followed that with, “We played two tough teams this week, and I wish they were on ESPN,” Mulkey said. “I’ll leave it at that.”
While it is hard to understand how a matchup of this magnitude, and a game that lived up the hype, was not on national television, even Mulkey admitted earlier in the week that she understands Thursday nights are tough nights for college basketball this time of year.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma also eluded to Thursday being a busy television night after his team’s win.
“I don’t know why (it was not on television),” Auriemma said. “I think it’s on the wrong night of the week. That’s all I can say, is that on a Thursday night everyone is reluctant to show basketball because its football night in college, and it’s NFL Thursday night football. So there’s just a lot of things that take up space, and I would've hated for this game to get lost in the shuffle.”
Both coaches left the fact that this huge matchup was not on television there, but both had interesting comments about what early season games against other top teams do for the sport.
“First of all, it’s very rare that coaches agree to play each other this early,” Mulkey said. “That’s hard to do because you've got to agree to go to someone else’s home floor when they're dropping a banner. Coaches don't really want to do that, but you feel like you have to do certain things for your team, and my take on it was play as tough as a non-conference schedule, and go on the road as much as you can.”
Mulkey’s team definitely learned a lot from their time in Connecticut, seeing the lead change seven times before ultimately struggling down the stretch in the fourth. Auriemma said back and forth games like this one are the perfect type of games to put on television to showcase the sport.
“You can’t ask for more attention, and then not play games that are going to get a lot of attention,” Auriemma said. “Nobody wants to watch another 40-point game, so when you get really good games early in the season, it makes people appreciate the game a little more. It makes people excited for what’s next, so it starts season off with a bang, and it gives you an opportunity to prove yourself right away.”
UConn definitely proved they are still the same old Huskies that are still talented enough to be in every game they play, despite losing three players that went one-two-three in this past WNBA Draft.
Looking at this situation another way, Auriemma said at least people are talking about the games and paying attention now more than ever.
“I think coaches are starting to understand that if you want games on television, they need to be compelling games,” Auriemma said. “In order to do that, you need to play compelling games so that television people can put them on.”
UConn and Baylor put on a show Thursday, a show that unfortunately a national audience was unable to see. If these teams meet again, it will be in March or April, when the lights are brightest so that part two of the show can be properly admired across the country.