Wyman's Words: Women's basketball is on the rise, and Indiana is at the center of it all
Elizabeth Wyman is a senior journalism major and writes "Wyman's Words" for The Daily News. Her views do not necessarily agree with those of the newspaper. Write to Elizabeth at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The smell of cigarettes and cheap bar food cling to my clothes as I sip my flat diet coke while sitting in the middle of a sports bar somewhere in Smalltown, Indiana on Sunday evening.
I patiently wait for the bartender to flip the channel for me as I watch the snow fall through the window in such unorthodox fashion.
Why am I here? What could possibly bring me to such an establishment on a gross, wintery Easter Sunday?
Women’s basketball if we’re being specific. This season, the women’s NCAA and WNIT Tournament have been the greatest I’ve ever seen. Buzzer beaters, upsets and all around entertaining games have pleasured basketball fans from coast to coast.
But Sunday’s National Championship between Mississippi State and Notre Dame was special.
Sitting at my parents house after an early Easter dinner waiting for the game to start with my mom — the biggest basketball fan I know — I receive a text from a friend.
Her car died; on the highway, in the middle of nowhere in a snowstorm, and she needs help.
I’ve watched approximately one possession of this much-anticipated game featuring two teams coming off exhilarating Final Four victories.
But my friend is stranded. I get in my car, and probably less than willingly begin my 45-minute drive in the snow to pick her up.
I listen to the game on the radio.
A brief game synopsis: Notre Dame scored a lowly three points in the second quarter. Down 15 early in the third quarter, a 16-1 run to end the quarter left it tied at 41 going into the final 10 minutes.
This game has me hooked. The radio signal wavers in and out and I clutch my steering wheel tighter from my game-induced anxiety, or the atrocious road conditions from the snow.
I pick up Annie.
Five minutes left in the game. It’s tied.
As we begin our journey to Muncie, I can hardly speak because I was so intently listening to the game. As if an Easter miracle happened, “The Barn” a little sports bar appeared in our view. I pull in and walk into the dimly lit bar featuring an empty stage presumably for karaoke, a pool table and a bar with maybe eight people surrounding it. To my surprise, the game wasn’t on TV.
We take a seat as I wait for the bartender to flip through the channels.
Mississippi State is up.
I narrate the game to Annie — who isn’t the biggest sports fan. She enjoyed watching me watch the game more than anything.
When Mississippi State’s star center Teaira McCowan missed what could have been the game winning layup with 27 seconds left, I had a little freak out. Then the wild sequence, which featured both teams turning the ball over, I had another little freak out. But when Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale hit the most clutch shot I’ve ever seen to win the National Championship (there was .01 second left on the clock, technically) I had a major freak out.
There I was trying to contain myself, jumping up and down losing my mind inside a bar where nobody else could care, but me.
That was fine. I got to witness history. The luck of the Irish. The most clutch women’s college basketball player this era — maybe ever — has seen.
But even more, I witnessed peak women’s college basketball on the rise — and the state of Indiana was at the helm.
This Final Four was the greatest ever. For the fourth time in history, all four number one seeds made it to the Final Four. UConn — 11 straight Final Four appearances — took on Notre Dame and Louisville played Mississippi State. Ogunbowale also hit the game winner ruining Geno Auriemma and the Huskies’ perfect season. Mississippi State defeated Louisville in dramatic fashion as Roshunda Johnson nailed a deep 3-pointer to initially send the game to overtime for the Cardinals.
Two buzzer beaters and an overtime game attracted the attention of the country. With much debate about UConn’s storied dominance ruining women’s basketball, I think that point has been put to bed. It was because of UConn’s dominance the level of game these women have brought has riven to untapped territories. While UConn wasn’t in the championship game, its presence was clearly felt as their legacy forced the elevated skill.
The WNIT didn’t disappoint for the state of Indiana, either. Indiana won six straight games — all at home as committee determines sites — to win the championship. At the championship game, Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall saw a record attendance for a women’s basketball game of 13,007 people. That beat the previous record by nearly 3,000.
Two Indiana basketball schools brought home two championships to the state that breeds basketball.
In a time when women’s basketball seems to be only getting better, the state of Indiana is at the cusp of it all.
So as I found myself in the middle of a grimy, dive bar watching basketball with typically unpredictable weather transpiring outside, well, this is Indiana, so that sounds about right.