Duke-Purdue final evidence of parity in the sport
Posted: Sunday March 28, 1999 05:41 PM
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) -- Duke and Purdue have given women's basketball a nice jump start into the new millennium.
Parity long has been a buzzword in the sport, though with Tennessee reaching the national championship game four straight years and winning it three times, it was starting to sound hollow.
The Duke-Purdue final Sunday night produced not only a new champion, but a first-time champion. Georgia coach Andy Landers, among others, finds having new teams in the spotlight to be refreshing.
Landers said programs such as Connecticut and Tennessee have helped women's basketball because of the interest they generated with the media. But it hurts the sport, he said, if the marquee names are the only ones that win.
"You don't want teams, you don't want players, you don't want coaches becoming more popular or bigger than the game," said Landers, whose team lost to Duke in the national semifinals. "You see that in the NBA, and sometimes it turns out not to be a pretty picture.
"So us being able to beat other teams from time to time, I think helps our sport."
That happened this season. Tennessee and Connecticut didn't even make the Final Four, even though Tennessee returned all its stars and Connecticut had the nation's best recruiting class.
Duke defeated Tennessee in the East Regional final and Connecticut lost in the Mideast semifinals to Iowa State, which had won only one NCAA tournament game before this season. Stanford, a two-time national champion, lost to Maine in the first round of this year's tournament and was upset by 16th-seeded Harvard in the first round last year.
"There's a lot of talent and women who can play the game," said Purdue coach Carolyn Peck, who's moving to the WNBA's Orlando Miracle. "That will help evolve the interest in women's basketball even more. There are more than one or two or three teams to watch, and that spreads the excitement."
There are more good teams because more good players are coming up. Thousands of high school girls play on summertime AAU teams, giving them a chance to develop their skills against strong competition and to be seen by the hordes of college coaches who attend those events.
The young players see the increased attention the college game is receiving and they also know that with the advent of the WNBA, they can play beyond college. So they work even harder to get better.
"With that in mind, you are able to feed a lot more than 10 Division I programs," Old Dominion coach Wendy Larry said. "In the '70s, with all due respect, there were probably 10 programs that, year in and year out, would collect the best talent in the high schools and then compete for national titles.
"Now that the talent pool has grown significantly, it's becoming a time of parity."
Louisiana Tech coach Leon Barmore, whose team lost to Purdue in the national semifinals in its 10th Final Four appearance, gets wistful when he thinks about the deepening talent pool.
"I wish I could roll back the clock and be 30 again so I could coach 25 more years," Barmore, 54, said. "Because the next 10, 15, 20 years, it will be unbelievable what you're going to see with women's basketball."
While the top programs continue to get their pick of the high school All-Americans -- doesn't that still happen in men's basketball with Duke and Kentucky? -- plenty of talent remains to fill rosters at places like Iowa State, Colorado State and Oregon.
"Girls on all these teams, they are tying their shoes on tight and saying: I can whip you, and they believe that," Barmore said. "That's good for the game. That's good for the fans.
"There's not as much intimidation going on. Our uniform is not going to walk out there and beat anybody. Tennessee's uniform is not going to continue to go out there and beat everybody. This game is getting really good."
Copyright © 1999 CNN/SI. A Time Warner Company.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.