By Laura Pappano
Baylor Coach Kim Mulkey has a number in mind: 47,492.
That’s how many fans went wild last Sunday in Houston for the men’s Baylor-Duke matchup. After her team upset Duke in a thrilling 51-48 win last night, Mulkey made the point: She wants the same support in San Antonio for her Baylor team as they head to the Final Four.
“It’s good to get back home,” she said in post-game interview with ESPN’s Holley Rowe. “I want everybody in the state to show us the same kind of a fan base we had in Houston for our men. We’re home. Come on, you are going to see the best team in the country in Connecticut if they win the next one – and let’s just go play.”
Mulkey is not the only one who thinks a UConn-Baylor contest is worth coming out – or tuning in – for. The ESPN desk jockeys (who made sure to mention that they don’t watch a much women’s basketball), nonetheless admitted that seeing Brittany Griner & Co. take on UConn is appointment viewing.
And why wouldn’t it be?
Well, because despite thrilling play (the second game last night, Xavier-Stanford was decided at the buzzer as Jeanette Pohlon released the game-winning layup as time expired) there remains an apologetic stance toward women’s basketball. Real sports fans, we hear ad-nauseam, don’t like it.
“Most of us don’t care about the women’s tournament,” wrote Dan Shaughnessy in Sports Illustrated. “Sorry. I know this is not the politically correct stance and I know there are young women all over the nation who rightfully look up to the Huskies as role models, but the fact remains that most red-blooded American fans don’t give a hoot about women’s basketball…”
What’s so funny about the don’t-make-me-watch-women-play stance is that same tired arguments (big one: slower play) might well be applied as an excuse to forgo men’s college play for the NBA. The bottom line is that, having watched my share of men’s and women’s games this month, it’s impossible to say that the men’s games are really more exciting to watch than the women’s.
It’s about the match-ups.
Sure, UConn has been dominant this season, but who doesn’t want to see if Brittney Griner (transformed from punch-throwing heathen to “freshman sensation”) can keep Tina Charles and Maya Moore from the hoop?
UConn will need some serious three-pointers because Griner (and her tenacious young teammates) are tough to beat inside (Griner has an NCAA tournament record 35 blocked shots in four games, 218 for the season – so far).
Don’t show up in San Antonio or tune in because you think you should. I believe women should support women’s sports. But this isn’t about that. This is about compelling play, the David and Goliath contest that doesn’t come along every day, but is – at the core – why we watch sports in the first place.
47,492 is the number to beat.