UConn Women Great, not Perfect
Weighing in on UConn/Stanford and the Nike TOC.
by Clay Kallam
Before the second half of the Stanford-UConn game, there was a general feeling that there were two tiers at the top of women’s basketball: One that included Stanford and UConn, and another with everyone else.
Now it’s clear that was one tier too few: There’s UConn, there’s Stanford, and then there’s everyone else.
Sure, Cardinal fans can point to the first half as evidence that Stanford really can compete with Connecticut, but let’s look at that a bit more closely. First, the Huskies have dominated every team they’ve played this season, which leads to certain perception of how they felt games should go. So when UConn jumped out to a 19-10 lead, the Huskies fell into their usual mindset: “Well, this one’s over” – and relaxed. But Stanford isn’t Hartford, or even Texas, and the Cardinal showed just how good they are by bouncing back to lead at halftime.
Unfortunately, all that did was wake the monsta – and the Huskies simply took over in the second half. The final 12-point margin really didn’t tell the story, as UConn is clearly a level above Stanford. And since Stanford is a level above everyone else, that means the rest of the season will consist of two activities: 1) Hoping against hope that someone can give UConn a game; and 2) Wondering how much fun it is for the Huskies, since if they don’t win every game, and the national title, the season will be a bitter disappointment.
Granted, Connecticut isn’t perfect. The Huskies do miss point guard Renee Montgomery, so they’re not as smooth as last year, but with Tina Charles, Maya Moore, Tiffany Hayes and a host of other elite talents, they can easily handle a couple bumps in the road – and, barring disaster or a complete meltdown, every other team in the country.
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One other question was answered in Tuesday’s game: Which post player goes first in next spring’s WNBA draft.
Though Jayne Appel should be a fine player in the league, Tina Charles showed that she brings more to the table – especially when she drained an elbow jumper with the outcome still in doubt. Everyone knew Charles was strong, athletic and tough inside, but even a hint of a perimeter game adds to her value.
And Charles also outplayed Appel, even adjusting for the fact that Charles has stronger teammates. Appel is the better passer (six assists Tuesday) but Charles and her teammates held her to 12 points and six rebounds. At the other end of the court, Charles had 20 points on eight-of-eleven shooting, but more important had 12 rebounds, leading UConn to a huge 41-27 edge on the boards.
In short, Appel is very good, but Charles is better – just as Stanford is very good, but Connecticut is just better.
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At another level of play, Mater Dei of Santa Ana, CA, took a huge step toward claiming a national high school championship by winning the Joe Smith Division of the Nike TOC in Chandler, AZ.
The Nike TOC always draws the top teams in the country, and this year four of the top six in the ESPN Rise rankings were in the 16-team Smith Division. Mater Dei, No. 2 going into the tournament, battled its way to the finals, where it went head-to-head with No. 1 St. Mary’s (Stockton, CA). The Monarchs won 66-60, and in bad news for those who are hoping for a quick end to the UConn dynasty, the best player on the floor, and in the 88-team event, was Connecticut commit Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, a 6-0 junior who had 27 points and 12 rebounds in the championship game.
But for those who claim that East Coast basketball is always better, this year’s TOC was a pretty strong statement about the strength of California prep basketball. Though the bulk of the teams were from California and Arizona, there were schools from Hawaii, Tennessee, Oregon, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Utah, Texas and Maryland in attendance, and all four semifinalists in the Smith Division were from California.
In addition, 20 of the 24 semifinalists in the six divisions were from California, and nine of the 12 finalists. Of course, if UConn keeps skimming the cream of the crop, the balance of power in college won’t be changing any time soon no matter how good the West Coast high school teams are.