Sunday, April 7, 2013

Final thoughts on the Norfolk Regional

Watching the Final Four tonight? Us, too. But before the final round of games begins, we wanted to share our takeaways from the Norfolk Regional.

-- Grow the game. That's what the NCAA wants us to believe is among its top priorities. Like most rhetoric, it sounds great, but what better opportunity to grow the game than to give its fans -- and ideally its future fans -- chances to interact with the women who play it up close. With four Sweet 16 teams in town last week, how sad is it that they are kept at a distance from the fans befitting a Hollywood superstar. No open practice. No autographs, please. No clinics with kids. No opportunity to grow the game.

-- Did you see Lady Monarch Jackie Cook at ODU last weekend? Cook was there, working as part of her sports management class. But the rest of the team? What a great opportunity it would be for each of the host schools to have a seating section for that school's players. Turns out the players must be working due to NCAA rules. Again, we lament the lack of women following women's athletics, and it often surprises us how little female basketball players know about the sport they're playing. No wonder. These are college kids who frankly aren't going to shell out money for tickets to Sweet 16 or Elite Eight games. We wish it weren't so. We wish the NCAA would make it easier to showcase the game for its players.

-- Love that Notre Dame fight song, and we can't find fault in the bands from Duke, Kansas or Nebraska. But Blue Devils coach Joanne P. McCallie joked with us about booking the Hampton band for the weekend because of the appreciation she gained when the Pirates played in Durham for the first-round game. We loved the energy the HU band produced last year when the Constant Center hosted a first-round game between Hampton and Stanford. Man, they rocked. As long as we're talking about bands, we admittedly missed the Stanford tree this year, too. With the Cardinal rocked by Georgia, the tree doesn't even get to go to the Final Four.

-- Quote of the tournament: "Now?" - Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie when approached by ESPN sideline reporter Jeannine Edwards for one of the network's new in-game interviews.

-- Speaking of Edwards, the woman worked her tail off during games, running back and forth between the benches and furiously scribbling notes. Look, we've rolled out eyes at some of these sideline interviews, too. But after watching Edwards, there's obviously a lot more to these gigs than meets the TV viewer's eye.

- The Elite Eight performance of Duke's extremely gifted freshman point guard Alexis Jones (9 points and 7 turnovers before fouling out in 26 minutes) reminded us of the 1-for-15 shooting nightmare by then-UConn freshman Diana Taurasi - also against Notre Dame - in the 2001 Final Four. Not saying Jones will develop into a Taurasi. But the great ones rebound strongly from early disappointments. If Jones blossoms into the type of elite point guard her talent suggests, we can imagine her referencing her struggles in the Elite Eight as one of the performances that helped fuel her to greater heights.

-- We didn't get any dunks, but on about six occasions Notre Dame tossed "mini-alley oop" lobs to springy freshman Jewell Loyd. The 5-10 Loyd's ability to elevate and finish these plays in mid-air injected some "wow" factor to the proceedings.

-- As a shot blocker/rim protector, Duke's Elizabeth Williams has few peers. Offensively, though, the Blue Devils star struggled to finish around the basket, making just 8 of her 24 field goal attempts in the two games - this on the heels of a 6-of-15 shooting performance in Duke's second-round victory over Oklahoma State. In fairness to Williams, she was unable to train last offseason because of a stress facture in her leg, and we're not sure at what point - if at all - she was 100 percent healthy all season. Whatever the case, the continued offensive development of Williams will go a long way in determining whether Duke can take that next step and become a Final Four team.

-- By the way, if you ever get invited to a party at the Williams' house, accept without hesitation. Not only does that family set out a mean spread, but their graciousness and good nature make you feel right at home.

-- After four days of seeing Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins behind the scenes, we're happy to report that the young lady walks the walk when it comes to the stuff she says about reaching out to fans and being an ambassador for the game. Again, the NCAA could do a much better job in presenting its stars to the public at these events. But even though access was limited, Diggins never missed a chance to interact with the few fans enterprising enough to catch her as she was being shuttled to and fro.

Our favorite image of the tournament - the joyously contented expression on ODU associate director of athletics Debbie White's face as she watched the Fighting Irish dancing postgame at midcourt as "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" reverberated throughout the Constant Center. The Fighting Irish would later say that while this clinched their third straight Final Four trip, the feeling never gets old. Judging from the look on White's face, neither does watching it.

LadySwish coverage of the Norfolk Regional (on the blog and via
Point guards on parade in Norfolk
Norfolk welcomes home Elizabeth Williams
Norfolk Regional: The things they said today
The Skylar Diggins effect
The arrogance of ESPN's in-game coach's interview
ODU comfortable playing NCAA hosts
Diggins leads Irish past Blue Devils

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