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Experts remind us that the women's game is growing

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published April 07. 2014 4:00AM

Nashville, Tenn.

We are the spinners and minstrels of women's basketball here in Connecticut. We think we know more than everybody else. We think we care more than everybody else. We probably do, given that we're awash in the game virtually all year, from UConn through the Sun.

And yet time spent at the Final Four, the annual gathering place for the game's illuminati, reveals how much we don't know at all.

Here's why: We spent too much time lamenting UConn's dominance of the sport. We do. We lament excellence. Too many blowouts. Not enough drama. And it skews the bigger picture.

We assume the dearth of competitive games constitutes a pox on the house rather than homage to Connecticut's overall excellence. It's here at the Final Four we see the game all over again, a game that gets better incrementally, just not having yet reached the apex of Everest, conveniently located in Storrs, Conn.

It's an annual rite at the Final Four now, early Saturday morning, that ESPN is kind of enough to make its analysts available to other members of the media. It's the most informative part of the day. Women's basketball is blessed to have Doris Burke, Rebecca Lobo and Kara Lawson as its caretakers through the visual medium. They wrap puckish senses of humor around strong, informed opinions at appropriate decibel levels.

And so while we watch 40-point games all season and wonder why nobody else is getting any better … others are getting better. The regional finals were good theater, buttressed by big crowds in home gyms. Basketball defined by better skill and pace.

It hasn't always been the case in women's basketball.

• Lobo: "A lot of teams have gotten better. We talk about separation between UConn, Notre Dame and everyone else. But there are still really good teams that made for exciting games. Ten years ago, were players making plays like (Louisville's) Shoni Schimmel at the end of the game, launching from wherever? No. It's better basketball."

• Burke: "I love the caliber of the games and the pace of play. We were five minutes into our regional final (Maryland-Louisville) and I blurted it out on the air, how the pace of this one is fun and (play-by-play voice) Dave (O'Brien) goes, 'you're right, this is good, clean fast paced well-executed basketball.'

"Across the board, you saw that in the regional finals. And you got compelling end game stories. Shoni Schimmel makes four of the craziest, most contested threes she's ever had to make and then misses a wide open three after Jeff (Walz) diagrams the perfect play. There was drama, well-played basketball and well-coached basketball. All the things that go into why we're fans."

• Lawson: "You can have a sporting event without environment that still has great drama. But when you have environment too … The crowd can fool all of us and watching a game can kind of feel bigger than it is. It can fool players and officials. That's what we had and that's a good thing."

Not that the game doesn't have its warts. The deeper inside we go, the harder it becomes to appreciate its improvements amid all the improvements that must be made. Burke and Lobo believe women's basketball, despite the handchecking missives, is too physical.

"A constant source of consternation for the NBA guys when they go to coach women," said Burke, also an NBA and men's college analyst, "is that women, whether you like it or not, cannot finish through contact, cannot execute through contact. Shoot, men's college players can't do it either.

"But we were fairly slow on the uptake to fix this game and make sure we help the offensive player. I do think the area they need to fix next is inside. That's men's and women's. To me, they allow too much contact away from the ball."

Lobo: "I was watching some games in the tournament thinking this was the basketball I watched last year in the tournament. It had gotten really physical again. They need to clean up the stuff away from the ball. It's super physical. Do what they do in the NBA and WNBA. Just call it. Players respond."

Overall, not bad problem to have. And different ones from 10 and 20 years ago. Onward we go. Better every year.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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