Sunday, April 2 gave the world the most-viewed and highest-rated NCAA Women’s National Championship in the history of the tournament.
It was a battle between heavyweights; the No. 3 LSU Tigers, led by unanimous First-Team All-American sophomore Angel Reese took on the No. 2 Iowa Hawkeyes, led by National Player of the Year (awarded by AP, Naismith, Wooden, Wade and USBWA) Caitlin Clark.
To finish off a tournament full of drama; tears, anger, joy, success, and defeat, the Tigers convincingly defeated the Hawkeyes 102 - 85. Reese won the Final Four Most Outstanding Player award after averaging 19.5 points and 11 rebounds in the national semifinal and final. Clark finished the game with 30 points and eight assists.
Both women set multiple records in their historic runs not only in the tournament but in the regular season as well. Clark recorded 191 points in the tournament and 60 assists, both the most of all time, including back-to-back 41-point games. Reese made her own history, recording the most double-doubles in a single season at 34.
One might think that these accomplishments would be the main story to come out of this game, but you would be wrong.
In the closing minutes of the game, LSU, fans and even Iowa knew the game was over. This prompted Reese to taunt Clark, using the "you can't see me" gesture, popularized by WWE wrestler John Cena. Next, she pointed at her hand signaling she was ready for the ring.
This blew up over social media. People were calling Reese “classless” and "unsportsmanlike" while saying she’ll never be half the player Clark is.
Reese went on the podium for the post-game press conference and delivered an unapologetic and confident quote.
“All year, I was critiqued for who I was. I don’t fit the narrative. I don’t fit the box that y’all want me to be in,” Reese said. “I’m too hood. I’m too ghetto. Y’all told me that all year."
She then directed the attention towards Clark, saying what many people were thinking.
“When other people do it, y’all don’t say nothing,” Reese said. “So, this is for the girls that look like me. For those that want to speak up for what they believe in. It’s unapologetically you.”
This was in reference to Clark doing the same gesture in the Elite Eight game in the Hawkeyes' victory over Louisville. After Clark did it, she received praise for her competitive spirit.
Everything that both of these athletes did or said to their opponents is welcome and should be expected in basketball, especially in the postseason.
The national and social media fallout from this game shows two things. Black people and women are still held at different standards than their counterparts. Reese falls under both umbrellas.
Both Clark and Reese played at an extremely high level not only this season but for all of their college careers. Both talk trash and get their fans involved. Both are competitors. However, one has been held at a higher standard while the other is being called names and given unwarranted titles.
Additionally, Reese came to more attention after she tweeted that First Lady Jill Biden’s invitation for Iowa to visit the White House as well was a joke. This was a very warranted reaction because at no point ever has the runner-up in any sport also been celebrated by the president alongside the victor.
At first, Reese said they weren't coming and teammate Alexis Morris asked Michelle Obama if the team could go celebrate at their house, but LSU Athletic Director Scott Woodward announced the school will accept the White House invite.
“Men have always had trash talk…You should be able to play with that emotion,” Clark said. “…That's how every girl should continue to play."
In the men’s game, it's normal. It’s encouraged. However, in the women’s game it sparks national debate and extensive media coverage when the attention and energy could’ve been better spent on the actual games and the accomplishments of the women and each team.
What this fallout shows is that although there has been a lot of progress made toward advancing the women’s game – the most attention and coverage ever in the past few seasons – there is still a long way to go.