The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, April 10, 2019
Tampa in context — Kim Mulkey interview — Must-click women's basketball links
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It all matters
Well, as someone who saw everything unfold this weekend up close in Tampa, let me tell you: it was just as dramatic and remarkable as it looked from afar.
The pathos of that championship game alone — one of the best teams in recent memory in Notre Dame, an absolute steamroller of a Baylor team, Chloe Jackson’s joy, Arike Ogunbowale’s sorrow, Lauren Cox’s injury — was a lot to process emotionally, and I didn’t have time, we had so much writing and editing to do at High Post Hoops.
That was one of the things I found most interesting about Mike Anthony’s column in the Courant. He essentially took himself to task for writing about silly things, and others for asking about them, in press conferences with Geno Auriemma and Muffet McGraw. Read the whole thing, it’s great.
But the pressure he feels — to make sure people fully appreciate the showcase, the basketball itself — I think comes from another source. It’s that he was painfully aware of how briefly the national media spotlight allows women’s basketball to occupy a space of prominence. A silly news cycle with LeBron James is fine, because there will be 364 more chances for other, more serious appraisals of his basketball work.
And so at the risk of disagreeing with Mike, I don’t think the problem is that we should ignore the things that give us further insight into the personalities of the coaches — incidentally, I have heard many, many men’s players and coaches get asked ridiculous questions.
I think the problem is that there aren’t enough Mike Anthonys out there, who covers UConn women’s basketball all the time in his column. I think how you solve a problem like this is by expanding the number and palette of those covering the sport.
Because Sunday night, part of what made it all so compelling was the way Chloe Jackson’s eyes shone as she talked about her game-winner, the grace of Arike Ogunbowale in defeat, Muffet McGraw, philosophical, after coming so close to a repeat.
The basketball, too, was exceptional. But no, women’s basketball shouldn’t have to choose. And Geno Auriemma should get to answer absurd questions, because he’s better at answering questions than anyone I’ve ever covered.
Let women’s basketball get more attention in June, and November, and it won’t feel like we need to squeeze only the most relevant stories out of March and April.
This Week in Women’s Basketball
Gotta say, I’m so proud of my crew at High Post Hoops, have to start there.
Read Erica Ayala (yes, of The IX!) on Arike.
Blake DuDonis broke Nell Fortner to Georgia Tech, his latest scoop, but read what he wrote about Marina Mabrey the night of the title game.
My favorite of the many Russ Steinberg pieces was his Katie Lou Samuelson column out of the Elite Eight.
Here’s my Jessica Shepard column out of the semifinal.
Mitchell Northam had a great Chloe Jackson story in Greensboro.
And my last, biggest, hopefully best WNBA Mock Draft.
Ben Dull goes straight evals on top 36 prospects.
Natalie Weiner captures what makes Oregon so much fun.
Josh Newman talks all the Mabreys.
Customarily excellent Mirin Fader on Napheesa Collier.
Great Ava Wallace on what it meant to have two women coaching in the title game.
Michelle Smith, the master, from the final.
And Jenn Hatfield has the receipts on Baylor’s dominance.
Listening corner: I was in the audience for this Around the Rim from LaChina Robinson. It was fantastic. They always are.
The Cheryl Reeve Show is must-listen, as usual.
Tweet of the week
Five at The IX: Kim Mulkey, Baylor head coach
Let’s give the championship coach a chance to sound off on several subjects.
KIM MULKEY: I’m going to give an opening statement tonight. I may never get this chance again (laughter).
I want to thank the NCAA Women’s Basketball Committee. They got it right. They got it right on geography, as best they could. Geography is always going to play a part. They most importantly got it right on the S-curve.
The City of Tampa, what great memories my basketball team has just going to Tourney Town, signing autographs. The hotel, we’re at the Grand Hyatt, which was way far away, but the Tampa police made me feel like Moses when they were parting the sea. They would stop the traffic and the kids just got a kick out of filming that.
Then lastly, I’m not a hockey fan, I really didn’t grow up watching hockey, but I’m going to watch the Lightning because I drank all their water and all their Coke. You guys replenish that coach’s locker room, and good luck to them in the Stanley Cup.
Notre Dame, do I even need to tell you how good they are? They’re the defending national champions, can score at all positions, play the zone against us. I don’t think people thought we could score against the zone. We scored a lot of points.
Just a great game for women’s basketball. The worst part of the game was Lauren Cox. We controlled that game from the start till the time she went off the floor. We had to regroup. For us to win probably was a miracle in itself when you lose a player of that caliber, not only the talent she has, but she’s our leader, people. She’s our leader.
For her to come back out on that bench, help those teammates, tell them things. NaLyssa Smith, having to go out there and guard a senior post player, you knew they were going to expose her on the defensive end. But she never let it rattle her. She came back. Every time she’d give up a basket, she’d make a basket.
That is my opening statement. I’m done.
REPORTER: You gave your eye makeup a workout after the game was over. Talk about where all that emotion came from.
KIM MULKEY: It starts with Lauren Cox. For two years in a row we’ve had major injury to key players. Kristy Wallace gets hurt and tears her ACL in the last regular season conference game, and it cost us. It cost us an opportunity to get here last year. When she went down and didn’t get up, I know my kids, I knew she was seriously injured.
But from the time I left her on that floor to get to that huddle, I needed to regroup. I needed to regroup. I needed to make them understand, We’re going to still win this basketball game. It will be a little bit tougher now, but we’ve got to battle, and we did.
REPORTER: Specific to the moment 9:26 left in the game, Chloe gets her fourth foul. Your thinking and strategy? What do you think she showed WNBA talent evaluators tonight with the kind of game she had?
KIM MULKEY: Well, I trusted her. I trusted her. I trusted DiDi. There is no tomorrow, so why sit them on the bench? If they foul out, they foul out, then I’m ripped to shreds by y’all and we lose the game because we didn’t sub. I get all that.
But I have to trust my kids. Our best chance of winning the basketball game when we were losing the momentum at that point with Cox gone was to have those kids on the floor.
The WNBA, I can’t answer that. I can’t control what people think. I can only tell you she’s a national champion. I can tell you she’s played that position one year in college. I think she’s been so good playing that position for us. She keeps it simple. She doesn’t try to juke and jive, go one on one, shoot this, shoot that. She keeps the game simple. She gets the ball to people who need the basketball.
REPORTER: We talked yesterday about family. How special was it for you to share this with your family?
KIM MULKEY: I can tell you how special family is. I’m bawling my eyes out. I shake the hands of the Notre Dame staff and players, and I turn around to go talk to Holly Rowe. My phone is put in my face. It’s my son FaceTime-ing me with all his Cardinals teammates. He’s screaming, they’re screaming, I’m screaming at him. Holly is pulling me to go on TV. There’s some things that are more important than an interview. He just needed to talk to his mom.
So the tears kept flowing. I was emotional from Cox’s injury. That kid, if she didn’t get hurt, and she will be back, God works in mysterious ways, would have been the No. 1 probably pick in the draft next year. That kid probably would have been defensive player of the year nationally next year. That’s how good she is. And she will be back, I promise you that. It may take her a year. We’ll rest her, do whatever.
But you write about that because that kid’s going to start winning awards she should have won this year. She got overlooked because she’s on a great team and those stats don’t just, bam, jump out at you.