Tuesday, March 23, 1999

Women's game passes the test

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The college women play basketball below the rim. It's like watching the men's game from 35 years ago, which isn't bad. Especially now, when lots of men's teams do more flying than thinking. Everyone dunks, but who can attack a zone?

        The women, they can attack a zone.

        Georgia drilled Iowa State in the Mideast region final at Shoemaker Center Monday partly because the Lady Bulldogs knew what to do when the Cyclones dropped back into the 2-3.

        They passed the ball.

        They swung the ball around, overloaded certain areas of the zone, set hard screens and, what a concept, hit the open player.

No patience
        I've been watching the men's tournament for two weeks and haven't seen a team do that consistently yet. I've seen lots of them try to play the way they always do. Lately, that amounts to running and jumping and shooting right away.

        Somebody tell the formerly high-flying men from Maryland. The Terrapins reacted to the St.John's 2-3 in the South Region by being outscored 20-0. The Terps looked like they were playing a physics exam.

        Somebody show Monday's Georgia tape to UC's guys, who took on Temple's matchup 2-3 last week by throwing up the first available shot.

        The guys hate playing zone. It's not macho. “It's an ego thing,” St.John's guard Bootsy Thornton explained. “You want to prove you can shut your man down.” The guys hate playing against a zone because solid passing never made Play of the Day.

        If Dick Vitale had to analyze a women's game (Ram, slam, jam? Are you serious?) he'd have to actually explain what was going on.

        The men's game is shaped by television, completely and absolutely. Players choose schools with the highest TV profiles. They choreograph their games to fit the highlight shows. No coach in the history of the sport — not Iba, not Wooden, not Smith — ever had as much impact on kids' games as SportsCenter does now.

        'Copter jams are nothing more than the on-court answer to a fanly “Hi, mom! Send money.”

Good throwbacks
        (Before we proceed, a few questions:

        Do we have to call them Lady Bulldogs?

        If this was the Mideast region, where was Bahrain?

        To steal a line I heard somewhere, if Cal-Irvine's men's team is the Anteaters, is the women's club the Uncle-eaters?

        Don't you think at women's games, the guy cheerleaders should be the ones wearing the skirts and doing the splits? Just asking.)

        The women work closer to earth. They have to compensate for their lack of wings by playing the game nearer the way it was originally intended. They screen. They block out. Against zones, they pass the ball. Imagine that.

        If you're my age, the women play the game you watched when you were a young kid. Iowa State's All-American point guard, 5-foot-8 Stacy Frese, shoots a set shot.

        The irony is, as the women become bigger, stronger and more athletic, they will start playing more like the men. As more of their games are televised, they'll place more importance on style. And nobody's team will know how to attack a zone.

        For now, it was fun watching Georgia's Kelly Miller, rolling off screens to hit jumpshot after jumpshot. Miller would beat you and everyone you know in H-O-R-S-E. Miller had 18 points on 7-for-7 shooting, including four threes. That was in the first 13 minutes.

        She finished with 33, going 11-for-15. Georgia shot 53 percent as a team. The men are lucky to shoot 45 or 46.

        The men's game is eye candy. It's no worse than it was when everyone shot with two hands and wore really little shorts. It's just different. It's barely the same game. We like dunks. We like crossover dribbles. We like the notion that gravity's hold on the game and its players is fading.

        But occasionally, it's good to see teams play smart and apparently without ego. Georgia and Iowa State did that here Monday.

        Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at 768-8454.