Hartman: UConn dominance brings diminishing returns for women’s basketball

Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma protests a call in the Albany Regional final on Monday, March 30, 2015, at the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y. David Jablonski/Staff
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Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma protests a call in the Albany Regional final on Monday, March 30, 2015, at the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y. David Jablonski/Staff

Connecticut’s 100-game winning streak was good for women’s basketball’s profile Monday night.

The rest of the year that probably won’t be the case.

The Huskies’ 66-55 win over No. 6 South Carolina shone a spotlight on the game it rarely enjoys in February, and that’s a good thing for those who support it and want to see it grow.

But now what?

This UConn team doesn’t just look like it can beat every other powerhouse in the nation – it practically already has.

The Huskies’ 25 wins include nine over ranked teams. They have already beaten six of the top eight in the most recent Associated Press poll.

This is also not meant to be a condemnation of Geno Auriemma for building an unbeatable super team – again. He doesn’t owe anyone an apology for the dominance of his squads, which play a beautiful brand of basketball at both ends of the floor.

Auriemma doesn’t just recruit the top five players every year then turn them loose on college basketball. He finds the talents and personalities that fit his program, and he generally gets them to play every possession like they are in an open gym with one spot on the team left.

This might be his best coaching job yet considering the loss of a transcendent trio from last season, including four-time champion Breanna Stewart.

But we might as well get out in front of a debate that will probably be trotted out in a month or so as the Huskies lay waste to the field of 64 for a fifth year in a row.

Their continued domination is not bad for women’s basketball as a game, but it’s not healthy for the expansion of the game’s audience.

What good is growth if no one is interested in watching?

Auriemma, who is a fascinating interview, has shot down such questions in the past. He compared it to fans of high culture going to the opera to appreciate performance art last year.

Except the average sports fan is not looking for artistry so much as drama. They want to see someone win and someone lose, and they prefer to at least occasionally be surprised by which team turns out to be which.

According to SportsMediaWatch.com, UConn's win over Syracuse in the NCAA tournament final last spring was the least-watched title game since 2009.

The women’s game itself is strong as teams work to match the Huskies, however futile that effort might seem at the moment, but it would be nice if the audience would expand along with the number of schools committed to building powerhouse programs.

It’s not hard to blame viewers for finding something else to watch if they feel like the women’s tournament is in reruns. As compelling as the early rounds tend to be, what’s the point in tuning in if you already know how it will end?

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