WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Our purpose today is not to perpetuate stereotypes. Women are wonderful drivers, or they wouldn't get discount rates from insurance companies.
But when it comes to college basketball, they are terrible in traffic. Or at least they were Monday night.
The NCAA's Mideast Regional championship was a poor advertisement for this weekend's Final Four in Cincinnati. It was a poor advertisement, for that matter, for roller derby. Old Dominion defeated Florida, 53-51, and it would be nice to report that the ending was stirring and the players' grace under pressure inspiring.
It would be nice, but it would not be true. The order of this day was futility, and the finish was fitting. Old Dominion did not score a point in the last 6:35 of play, but prevailed. Florida missed two layups and a short jump shot in the final minute - any one of which could have tied the game - thereby sparing spectators what surely would have been a stultifying overtime.
''I think if you like defense, it's a good thing,'' Florida coach Carol Ross said. ''It you want Showtime, you're probably disappointed.''
It wasn't pretty
Showtime? This game belonged more properly on public access cable. The most salient statistic was this: the two teams combined for 40 field goals and 42 turnovers.
Women's basketball should not be judged against men's. The size disparity alone makes it an entirely different game. The women's game, no less an authority than John Wooden tells us, is frequently more fundamentally sound.
Yet when the layup becomes a low-percentage shot - as it was Monday night - it is specious to suggest that this is the product of stout defense. DeLisha Milton, Florida's All-America forward, missed 11-of-18 short-range shots Monday. She was also charged with eight turnovers.
''We weren't as loose coming out as we were in the previous games,'' she said. ''I'm not sure if it was nerves or what.''
Both coaches characterized Monday's game as ''ugly,'' and there was comfort to be found in this. Presumably, it meant both teams are capable of prettier play.
Women's basketball has made such enormous strides within the last year - the dynamic U.S. Olympic team spawning two professional leagues - that we are reluctant to read too much into a single artistic setback. Still, if the Old Dominion-Florida game was representative of the elite college teams, the women's tournament should be known as March Sadness.
'Bring on the Bulls'?
Many of Monday's turnovers were unforced, typically the result of ill-considered passes or unsure hands. Old Dominion turned the ball over five times between its second and third field goals, and the Lady Monarchs would go 5:14 without scoring during this span. Florida promptly responded with a 5:42 stretch between baskets.
''Everything we ran at them, they seemed to have a defense for it,'' Ross said. ''I don't know if anybody has played us as tough, as aggressive and as well as Old Dominion did.''
Old Dominion's toughness was typified by Portugese forward Mery Andrade, who scored 10 points, grabbed nine rebounds, and led both teams in Punishment Absorbed.
When Florida closed the gap to 38-35 early in the second half, Andrade took a timely elbow in the face from Milton to earn a charging call. Then, after a timeout, she retaliated with a three-point shot.
''I'm used to taking charges,'' Andrade said. ''Some people question my charge. They call me a drama queen.''
Trailing by 14 points, 53-39, the Lady Gators supplied additional drama by scoring the last 12 points of the game. But Florida's ''Twin Towers'' - Milton and Murriel Page - blew successive layups in the final minute, and Dana Smith missed a short runner in the closing seconds to facilitate Old Dominion's escape.
''We've got a well-rounded team,'' Old Dominion's Ticha Penicheiro said later. ''We can play anybody. Bring on the Chicago Bulls.''
Makes perfect sense. If you're going to miss what you're shooting at, you might as well aim high.