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This time, America is paying full attention to Iowa in women’s Final Four
Hawkeyes’ national semifinal Friday against No. 1 South Carolina should produce a whopper of a rating for ESPN
To alter a favored phrase belonging to one of America’s greatest philosophers, to be “The Women” you have to beat “The Women.”
“The Women” are the South Carolina Gamecocks, winners of their last 42 basketball games, including the 2022 national championship contest.
That’s what Iowa has before it Friday night in Dallas. The Hawkeyes are 11.5-point underdogs to the Gamecocks in their national semifinal. How can you be a 30-game winner and be an 11.5-point underdog to anyone? That’s total tribute to South Carolina, not an insult to the Hawkeyes.
Like Iowa, Maryland was a No. 2-seed. It was a 14.5-point underdog in its Elite Eight game against the Gamecocks on Monday before losing, 86-75.
A tight summation: South Carolina leads the nation in scoring margin, scoring defense, rebounding margin, field goal percentage defense, blocked shots per game and bench points per game.
It is a mere seventh in scoring offense and 10th in 3-point percentage defense, so it isn’t without weaknesses. Yes, the tongue just met the cheek.
As much as the Hawkeyes have become national darlings, you may have to turn over a lot of rocks to find a national commentator who picks them to upset the reigning champs. But it’s far better to be an underdog in the Final Four than to not be part of it.
It’s also really good to be in a Final Four in 2023, when more people than ever are interested in it. Iowa-South Carolina almost surely will be the most-viewed national semifinal in women’s basketball history, and perhaps the most-viewed women’s game, period.
This has the Mount Olympus team in the Gamecocks and the Mount Olympus player in Iowa’s Caitlin Clark. By the way, South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston merely was last year’s National Player of the Year.
Who’s in the other semifinal? Who cares? (Seriously, it’s No. 1-seed Virginia Tech and No. 3-seed LSU, and they’re quite good.)
Iowa’s only other women’s Final Four game was an overtime loss to Ohio State on CBS in 1993. It didn’t register as a national event. Women’s basketball still was in its childhood as a Division I sport.
The two women’s semifinals were on a Saturday afternoon, before that evening’s men’s semis. The women’s title game was the next afternoon. That made their thing feel too rushed, but that was where it fit best for CBS.
Thirty years later, the semifinals are on ESPN in Friday prime time with no men’s college games before, after or at the same time. The championship will be Sunday afternoon on ABC, the No. 1 sporting event of the day in America.
Here’s how different things were in 1993: The four regional sites — selected before the season — were Richmond, Va., Missoula, Mont., Nacogdoches, Texas, and Iowa City.
After playing its opening NCAA game at Old Dominion because Carver-Hawkeye Arena was booked with a Guns N’ Roses concert, Iowa played its Mideast regional semifinal and final at home.
You can imagine how that sat with Mideast top-seed Tennessee. You also can imagine how Iowa felt being a No. 2 seed while ranked fourth in the nation while Stanford was the No. 1 seed in the West despite being ranked eighth.
The Hawkeyes truly were one of the four best teams that year. They beat seventh-ranked Auburn, 63-50, in the semifinals and downed second-ranked Tennessee, 72-56, to earn their Final Four berth.
The Thursday night crowd at Carver-Hawkeye Arena for Auburn was 8,376. The Saturday afternoon gathering for Tennessee was 12,343. This year, the 14,382 tickets to the first- and second-round NCAA games at Carver sold out in about the time it takes the Hawkeyes to get the ball from one end of the court to the other.
Eight teams from more than 1,000 miles away gathered in Seattle for two sets of regional semifinals and finals. The Iowa-Louisville game, pitting two teams from a combined 4,178 miles away, drew a crowd of 11,700. Missoula or Nacogdoches, it wasn’t.
Which brings us to Friday. Oh, this will be a big darn deal in Dallas. The women’s Final Four is all grown up and has the nation’s attention.
A team from Iowa has given itself the chance to become legendary. A chance is all you can reasonably want, and so much more.
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