It’s interesting that three of the teams at the Raleigh Regional could be seen as running a relay where they didn’t really pass the baton but rather grabbed it away from each other.
Here’s what I mean: If all of women’s college basketball is in a yearly race to keep proving that the Big Dance is more than a two-team tango, then among those leading the pack are Baylor, Maryland and Louisville.
Tennessee and Connecticut winning eight of 10 titles between 1995-2004 had its benefits in terms of establishing those two with “dynasty status” and bringing a spotlight to the sport because of their excellence and rivalry.
But by the time Baylor won it all in 2005, the sport was more than ready for such completely new blood.
This is not to overlook the titles won by Purdue in 1999 and Notre Dame in 2001. They spiced things up, too. But in both cases, those programs had been to a Final Four before … whereas Baylor was not far removed from a team that basically was like poor relations in the Big 12 (after having been the same thing in the Southwest Conference.)
Purdue and Notre Dame already had some established “name” in women’s hoops, but Baylor didn’t. The Bears winning the NCAA title showed that it could be done anywhere, and that to get the championship, kids didn’t have to go someplace where anything in particular already had happened.
Now, you might say Maryland taking the title in 2006 doesn’t fit into this, because that program had quite an established tradition, which included two Final Four trips, in 1982 and 1989. And that’s true, but …
The thing is, Maryland started to drop off in the early 1990s – a program, like Virginia, that was affected by the fact that Duke became such a power in the ACC.
So when Maryland revitalized itself under Brenda Frese and won in 2006 in such dramatic fashion, it wasn’t the same as what Baylor had done … but it felt kind of similar because Maryland had “gone away” – in terms of being a Final Four contender – for so many years.
Now we have Louisville, another Final Four first-timer … and in the strange way these things sometimes work out, the Cardinals beat Baylor and Maryland in back-to-back games to reach that peak.
So now it’s the Cardinals’ chance to run with the “new kids on the block” baton and see if they can join the Bears and Terps as national champions.
That would take two more big victories, including likely one over the Big East giant that torched the Cardinals in the conference tournament final: UConn. But whatever happens in the Final Four, Louisville getting there means a race well-run so far … and speculation on who might be next to join the Cardinals as “new” guests.
Though, admittedly, it seems highly unlikely because of the giant … there’s still Arizona State out there trying to get where it’s never gone.