Baylor's 84-62 thrashing of Michigan State in the NCAA women's Championship Game Tuesday was astounding in so many ways.
There was Sophie Young's effortless brilliance, the all-American from St. Vincent, West Indies, scoring 26 points, 18 in the second half, and grabbing nine rebounds to cap a season in which she was in double figures in every game and posted 17 double doubles. This is a 21-year-old who didn't play basketball until she was 15.
There was Emily Niemann coming off the bench early to nail five of seven first-half 3-pointers -- some of them from NBA range -- to lead the Bears, who had started the game with three quick turnovers, to a 19-point lead. There were the Spartans, a No. 1 seed and the comeback kids of this Tournament, unable to mount one of their furious rallies like the one that had toppled Tennessee in the semifinal Sunday, getting no closer than nine and looking overmatched all night.
But none of that was more astounding than this: Before the Tournament, I picked Baylor.
I came closer than usual to picking the men's champion this year, but who knew I'd pick the women's winner? I certainly didn't. It took an at-first puzzling reminder from reader Jim Murphy, who wrote after the semifinals, "You said that if Illinois wins it'll be your first winner in a lot of years. Didn't you also pick Baylor for the women?"
Shucks no, I wrote back, you have me confused with some smart person, but he sent this excerpt from the March 14 column:
"For all I know Tennessee or UConn will win and make it nine of the last 11 championships divided between those two schools. But the competition is tougher all the time. More teams have a chance to win. UConn is only a 3 seed. Duke dropped down to a 2. Michigan State, Baylor, Minnesota and Ohio State are all seeded in the top three without having been dominant Tournament teams in the last decade.
"My pick to win it all, coming to you directly from thin air: Baylor."
Not bad for a guy.
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Hey, ladies! Enough with "Lady" [PERMALINK]
One last thought on the women's Tournament: I wish women's athletic programs that haven't done so already would get rid of that obnoxious word "Lady" in their nicknames.
It comes from a time when female athletes were considered so odd that they just couldn't be labeled the same way as the men. The men's teams at Baylor were called the Bears, for example, so the women's teams had to be the Lady Bears, because who ever heard of a female bear, right?
The Lady Bears name persists. It's all over the official Web site.
In the mid-'80s, when I was covering women's basketball at Cal, the sports information director would frequently have to politely inform opponents of the team's correct nickname when she saw "Lady Bears" on their posters and schedules. "We're not the Lady Bears," she'd say, "we're the Golden Bears."
I figured then that within a few years this antiquated, condescending practice would be a quaint memory, like those sleeved jerseys that were all the rage in Old Dominion's heyday. But two decades down the road, three of the Final Four teams still use "Lady" -- and who uses that word "lady"?
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What game is the hoops Hall watching? [PERMALINK]
The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced its enshrinement class of 2005 this week, and the announcement has led to a tricky procedural question:
What are they smoking?
Here's the class: Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun, former LSU women's coach Sue Gunter, Brazilian player Hortencia de Fatima Marcari, a star in the international game, and former NBA and ABA coach Hubie Brown.
Fine, sure, I guess, but do you notice anything missing from that list? How about some players from the NBA? Dominique Wilkins, eligible for the first time, is the most obvious snub. Adrian Dantley, Joe Dumars, Dennis Johnson, Bernard King, Maurice Cheeks and Chet Walker were also finalists.
The Hall of Fame, which is in Springfield, Mass., basketball's birthplace, covers all of basketball, not just the NBA, but all the NBA is is the best basketball league in the world. You'd think that in any given year, in a year when five people are deemed worthy of enshrinement, there ought to be an NBA player.
When Dominique Wilkins is on the ballot an NBA player getting in should be, pardon the expression, a flying slam dunk.
John Hollinger points out on ESPN.com that since 1997, there have been 19 players elected to the Hall of Fame, and only nine of them played in the NBA. Does that make sense to you?
Imagine if the baseball Hall of Fame had more players from the Japanese major leagues, Latin American winter leagues and Cuba than American and National leaguers. Picture a football Hall of Fame dominated by Arena League and NFL Europe players.
Wilkins, aside from having been one of the game's most exciting players, is the ninth leading scorer in NBA history, right between Oscar Robertson and John Havlicek. He's 11th on the all-time list in points per game, tucked cozily between Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabaar.
He wasn't known for his rebounding but he pulled down 7,000 of them, about seven a game for most of his career. And don't forget, it's the basketball Hall of Fame, not just the NBA, so college counts. In three years at Georgia, Wilkins averaged 21.6 points and 7.5 rebounds a game.
Gail Goodrich is in the Hall of Fame. Nothing against Goodrich: I grew up watching him and even had his poster on my wall for a while as a kid. But there just isn't a world where Gail Goodrich is a Hall of Famer and Dominique Wilkins is not. The Hall of Fame without the Human Highlight Film is a joke.
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Jesus is a Reds fan [PERMALINK]
If you've been wondering which baseball team has been anointed by God, the answer is the Cincinnati Reds. At least that's the gospel according to a Cincinnati sportstalk radio host named Bill Cunningham.
I wish I'd known this before I made my National League picks. But reader Michael Vines only hipped me to the good news on Tuesday.
When the Reds opened their season at home against the New York Mets Monday, Cunningham led into the game broadcast with a fire-and-brimstone sermon extolling the virtues of God, U.S. troops, Pope John Paul II and the Cincinnati Reds. You can hear it yourself at mlb.com, where you can listen to either team's radio broadcast of every game all year if you're inclined to pay $14.95.
The first Reds broadcast of the season starts with Cunningham talking over "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." That ridiculous cliché, more than the whacked-out nature of the sermon -- which at one point has the Reds looking down from heaven -- is a clue the whole thing might be a joke. But if it is, I don't get it. A transcript:
"Whether it's Vietnam, whether it's the Persian Gulf War or whether it's Iraq, whenever American soldiers are marching around the globe: God almighty -- God, who called home John Paul the Great -- will determine once again the path and the mark, a great American victory overseas in the Persian Gulf area now, in 2005.
"As God is my witness, as sure as there is a pope in heaven today, as sure as the mighty Ohio River flows in between Ohio and Kentucky, as surely as the Furman brothers sitting next to me now, circumcised, as sure as I'm sitting here, once again, God will say, 'It is time for the Reds to march.' From the Civil War to World War I to World II to Vietnam to the Persian Gulf War, and to Mosul and to Fallujah, one baseball team has been called by God to look down from heaven above, and to represent him.
"It's not about football, Andy. It's not about basketball, Randy. It's not about swimming. It's not about field hockey. It's not about bowling. It's not about tennis. It's about one sport that God almighty has determined to represent America, and that sport is baseball.
"And the one team, the one team that is best represented is the oldest and the best franchise. Whether it's G.I. Joe or the Doughboys. No matter what it is. Say it loud, Furman brothers, the Reds are No. 1. God bless America, and God bless the Cincinnati Reds on 700, WLW."
Reds fans can take comfort that God's on their side, but would it be blasphemous to ask why He can't do something about the pitching?
This column has been corrected since it was originally published.
Previous column: North Carolina wins it all
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