Every NCAA basketball tournament can only have one champion. Because of the you-know-what, we were deprived of that last season only to see women’s collegiate basketball return this year and conclude with legendary coach Tara VanDerveer and her Stanford Cardinal bringing a championship back to the Bay Area.
In the history books, it will show that Stanford, the overall No. 1 seed, proved victorious in a scintillating championship game that saw the Cardinal eke out a one-point, 54-53 victory over a worthy Arizona team. That Wildcats team, led by Aari McDonald, despite being a 3-seed, was every bit as worthy of being crowned champions as the eventual victors themselves.
But as historic as the Stanford win is, and given they were a favorite to win on many a bracket (including Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff’s) prior to the tip-off of the first tournament games two to three weeks ago, let us understand that every woman that participated in this year’s tourney is a winner in their own rights.
To a very large extent, the tone of this tournament was set at its outset when the controversy over training spaces, food accommodations and swag bags became such a big thing that it almost overshadowed the games. That controversy, which became well-known because of Sedona Prince’s video she posted to her TikTok account, was step one, in a gradual process that effectively unmasked the NCAA as an archaic dinosaur which calendar is still stuck in the 1950s instead of 2021.
The NCAA was probably hoping not to get exposed so thoroughly and soundlessly as it was throughout these past three weeks in San Antonio. But make no mistake, it was. And it was such because the women of this tournament, along with a cavalcade of allies, says that enough was enough when it came to sexism, misogyny and unequal treatment.
The women of this tournament not only won because of the exposing of the NCAA for what it is. It won this tournament because despite that, these women managed to put together a better tournament on-court than their male counterparts in Indianapolis.
And in so many ways, we saw them being authentically themselves. Can one believe there were actually calls for Arizona coach Adia Barnes to apologize after the speech she gave to her players following the Wildcats’ upset over UConn in the Final Four?
Can one also believe there were calls for that same coach to apologize because she was breastfeeding at halftime of the national title game? Let us not even get into the obvious issue of her being the object of unnecessary flack because she is a Black woman, but did anyone that was giving her flack even ever play sports? We are talking about March Madness here – save being prim and proper for a first date by the Riverwalk.
If any coaches deserved negative attention, it was Baylor coach Kim Mulkey (who has a history of letting her inner Karen show) and UConn coach Geno Auriemma for what they said about COVID testing. But … you know. Oh, and some atrocious referee calls as well.
Anyway, this was a tournament where women won March. Whether it was Iowa’s Caitlin Clark who put up monster numbers and whose name was on everyone’s lips prior to the Hawkeyes Sweet 16 defeat to the Huskies, or how March Madness served as the culmination of the uplifting comeback stories for DiDi Richards at Baylor and Tiana Mangakahia at Syracuse, or the raw and real emotion we saw from South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston at the conclusion of the Gamecocks’ heartbreaking Final Four defeat to the eventual champion Cardinal.
Oh, and let us not forget Fran Belibi, either. The same Fran Belibi that went viral on numerous occasions for dunking in her preps days is now a national champion at the same school that is the alma mater of Ogwumike sisters Nneka and Chiney.
This tournament proved exactly why women won March and every woman that had the honor of making the trek down to central Texas to put on for their teams and their cities should feel proud of themselves for what they did. For not only giving us a tournament full of One Shining Moments, but for advancing the conversation on how women are looked at in sports and at society at large.
And for that, every single one of these players deserve for nets to be cut down in their honor.