By Ryan Chatelain
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Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaugnessy was lambasted by some last month after he tweeted in response to the Connecticut women’s basketball team’s 98-38 Sweet 16 win over Mississippi State that the Huskies “are killing (the) women’s game.”
But chances are many of Shaugnessy’s critics weren’t even watching Tuesday night when UConn, predictably, thrashed Syracuse, 82-51, to win its fourth consecutive national championship.
The title game was watched on TV by 2.972 million households, down 4.1 percent from last year and 33.6 percent from two years ago.
Why aren’t people tuning into one of the great sports dynasties of all time? Because while college basketball fans were enthralled Monday night by two clutch 3-pointers in the final seconds of the men’s championship, there was next to no possibility for drama in the women’s final.
Quite simply, UConn has no peer, no competition, no real chance of being challenged. And that makes for bad TV and zaps interest in a sport constantly fighting for respect.
To put into perspective just how much the NCAA Tournament was nothing more than a rubber stamp for the Huskies’ latest coronation, consider this: Vegas had higher odds of an earthquake striking during this year’s Super Bowl than UConn not winning the tournament.
Tuesday’s victory extended the Huskies’ winning streak to 75 games — all by double digits. They’ve won 122 of their last 123, dating back to March 2013. And they won their six tournament games this season by an average of 39.8 points.
When the architect of this dynasty, coach Geno Auriemma, was asked last month if his program’s domination was bad for the sport, he fired back: “When Tiger (Woods) was winning every major, nobody said he was bad for golf.”
Say what you will about Tiger, but he was the best thing ever to happen to golf’s TV ratings.
The Huskies, on the other hand? Their latest championship was outdone in the ratings by “Fresh off the Boat” and Megyn Kelly’s Fox News show.
And despite stomping its way through history, UConn has now played in four of the five least-watched college women’s basketball title games since ESPN began carrying the event in 1996.
And, see, the thing about Woods was that while he was certainly the most dominant player golf had seen in decades, he still had a rival in Phil Mickelson, who could win a major once a year or so.
Once upon a time, UConn had a great rival in Tennessee, and women’s college hoops had something brewing. Notre Dame then appeared to be building up to something — until it was exposed as more pretender than contender when it met up with the Huskies in back-to-back title games.
Did we critcize John Wooden and UCLA when they won 10 national championships in 12 years in the 1960s and ’70s? Honestly, I can’t say what the tenor was then because their last championship came a year before I was born. But while UConn’s last four title wins have come by an average of 23.8 points per game, UCLA at least had four championships decided by seven points or less.
And UCLA’s 1974-75 team, for example, won two tournament games in overtime and another by three points. There was a legitimate chance some team could throw a Buster Douglas-esque knockout punch to dethrone the Bruins. Not so with the ladies from Storrs, Connecticut.
And it doesn’t look like that’s going to change any time soon. This season, UConn increased its average margin of victory by 11.2 points per game from last year (up to 39.7). Meanwhile, the Huskies are returning three of their five starters, recruited three of the nation’s top 23 players last year and will welcome the country’s best high school point guard to campus this fall.
For Auriemma, it must be extremely frustrating: How dare we criticize a coach or team for being great? After all, they didn’t set out to sabotage their beloved sport through a combination of God-given talent and hard work.
We really should appreciate what the Huskies are doing. We should celebrate them. We should talk about them decades from now.
The problem is that if we do, it’ll be hearsay. Because few of us were actually watching at the time.
Follow Ryan on Twitter at @RyanChatelain