Last Saturday morning, I was scrolling through the ESPN app when I came across the score of the UConn-Mississippi State women’s basketball game. I thought it had to be an error: The Huskies were leading 32-4 at the end of the first quarter.
A quick Twitter search confirmed that yes, it was indeed the correct score of a game that UConn won 98-38, a 60-point rout. While the Huskies are above and beyond the best team in women’s college hoops, this wasn’t just any game; it was a regional semifinal of the NCAA tournament, and Mississippi State had a 28-7 record going in. You don’t just demolish teams in the Sweet 16 like they’re a sixth-grade rec-squad.
Three days later, UConn took some slight mercy on Texas — only beating them by 21 points to advance to the Final Four that begins this weekend — and the Huskies are well on their way to winning an unprecedented fourth consecutive national championship.
But people are unhappy about it, saying that UConn’s success is hurting the women’s game, that their dominance is turning people off.
Here are the facts: The Huskies have won 73 consecutive games, and that’s nothing compared to the historic 90-game win streak they put together from 2008-2010. This season, they are beating teams by an average of 40 points. They have made nine straight Final Fours and won five of the past eight national championships. Their head coach, Geno Auriemma, will likely win his 11th national championship next Tuesday and pass the legendary John Wooden for the all-time record.
These are transcendent accomplishments that should be celebrated. Instead, the debate this week has centered on them ruining the sport, with pundits questioning whether UConn is too outstanding for its own good.
“Hate to punish [UConn] for being great, but they are killing women’s game,” Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy tweeted after the Mississippi State game. “Watch? No thanks.”
This is as much of an indictment of women’s sports as it is of the actual issue of a team being too dominant. By Shaughnessy’s logic, every time tremendous over-achievement happens in sports — such as Wooden leading the Bruins to 10 national championships between 1964 and 1975 — it’s a bad thing.
But UCLA’s success in the ’60s and ’70s had people calling Wooden a genius, earning him the nickname, “Wizard of Westwood.” Nobody complained or stopped paying attention to men’s college basketball just because the Bruins were the favorite every year.
Examples from the NBA present a similar argument. When the Chicago Bulls made two different “three-peats” in the ’90s, Michael Jordan became a legend who helped advance the game of basketball, and head coach Phil Jackson was heralded as the master architect.
Perhaps the best present-day comparison, though, is the Golden State Warriors, who are on the verge of breaking the record for most wins in a season, set by those Bulls in 1995-1996. The Warriors entered Friday with a record of 68-7, and while they aren’t winning every game by 40 points, their point differential of plus-11.0 would rank among the top five in NBA history.
Nobody is turning off the Warriors; in fact, ratings for games are blowing up. Even during blowouts, everyone wants to see what Stephen Curry will do next. President Barack Obama called Curry the “greatest shooter [he’s] ever seen.” It is well-deserved praise for a once-in-a-lifetime player on an exceptional team.
But for Auriemma, rather than reveling in the dynasty he created, he has to defend his team to the public more often than the public gives the coach his proper due. Breanna Stewart, the equivalent of Curry in women’s hoops, hardly registers on the radar of a majority of sports fans — never mind that she is on the verge of being named the Final Four Most Outstanding Player for a record fourth straight year.
It seems like the majority of dissenters to UConn are people who don’t follow the women’s game regularly, but see the Huskies destroy the field every year at the NCAA tournament and then let loose their annual “UConn is ruining the game!” hot takes. In fact, six years ago, The New York Times ran a piece with the headline “UConn Women Are Good for the Game,” with essentially the same arguments in response to the same criticisms of Auriemma’s team as we are seeing today.
“Teams that become consistent winners and play at a certain level, fans love that, respect it,” Auriemma said in the story. “I don’t care whether it is the Yankees, the Patriots, us, whoever. To dismiss that is demeaning.”
Auriemma and the Huskies may be the primary stakeholders in this issue, but this is an unfair condemnation of women’s athletics as a whole. Praising dominance in male sports while questioning the same thing on the women’s side presents a double standard. It’s the same kind of brush back that Serena Williams receives every time she handily wins a tournament — her opponents are too weak, her physical abilities are unfair, and on and on.
The women’s game may not be at the same level of popularity as the men’s, but that’s no excuse to criticize UConn. Auriemma has worked tirelessly to build a successful program that draws the best recruits year after year and marches through a field consisting of the 64 best teams in college basketball with ease each spring. That’s hard to do at any level, at any sport. So instead of faulting him for it, let’s shut up and give him some damn respect.
Eric He is a freshman majoring in print and digital journalism. He is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Grinding Gears,” runs Fridays.