Tara VanDerveer is willing to cut officials some slack with her Stanford Cardinal playing in the national championship Sunday night, saying they can’t see everything and they do work hard to do their best.
Still, the type of basketball being played in the women’s NCAA Tournament looks very different from how they played early this season, and VanDerveer said again Saturday that she just wants some consistency and players able to play without being thrown to the floor.
“It’s just the attitude that we change from playing basketball in the fall and winter to playing football in the spring,” VanDerveer said. “And I think we just need to be consistent with how we want our game played.”
This women’s tournament has had three very notable questionable calls and non-calls just since Monday night.
First came the lack of a call when Baylor’s DiJonnai Carrington was hit on the elbow and again in the face on a shot at the end of the game against UConn in the River Walk final.
Then Stanford’s Katie Hull appeared to kick the ball away from South Carolina guard Zia Cooke with 1:46 left in Friday’s first semifinal. Hull got the ball to Cameron Brink for a layup and a 64-59 lead in a game Stanford won 66-65. And UConn guard Christyn Williams fouled out with 3:51 left in the Huskies’ 69-59 loss to Arizona.
TV replays showed Hull’s outstretched leg kicking the ball and later in the other semifinal that Williams made no contact with Arizona guard Aari McDonald. VanDerveer said she thought Brink was hacked on the turnover that set up South Carolina’s last two shots at a victory.
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley saw the kicked ball.
“I didn’t make a big deal out of it,” Staley said. “But, I mean, I don’t know what you want me to say. I can’t say much about it besides they (officials) got a tough job.”
Officials called 30 fouls in Stanford’s win, though Brink and South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston and Destanni Henderson finished with four apiece.
Far more whistles blew in the other semifinal, with 44 total, and both UConn and Arizona finished with more fouls than shots made.
UConn had 23 fouls and was 20 of 56, while Arizona shot 20 of 50 with 21 fouls called. Williams said the officiating was different in the semifinal and thought Olivia Nelson-Odoba fouled.
“Obviously I was devastated because I had to go out of the game,” said Williams, who had a team-high 20 points.
Staley said officials have a tough job.
“There are dreams on the line,” Staley said. “Everybody wants to compete for a national championship.
For all the talk about underclassmen like UConn’s Paige Bueckers, the first freshman to win The Associated Press player of the year award, and Caitlin Clark of Iowa, the teams in the national title game are led by some very talented upperclassmen.
Arizona coach Adia Barnes keeps insisting that Aari McDonald deserved much more than being named second-team All-American, and the senior guard helped slow down Bueckers to get the Wildcats into the title game.
Stanford counters with a pair of senior guards in Anna Wilson, a fifth-year player, and Kiana Williams. Wilson has been a lockdown defender for the Cardinal while running the offense as well.
“We trust everything that they do,” Stanford sophomore forward Ashten Prechtel said.
TV cameras caught Arizona coach Adia Barnes in a passionate moment of celebration after the Wildcats’ upset of UConn. She’s not backing down a day later.
Barnes admitted Friday night that she used an expletive in telling her team to forget the people who didn’t believe in it. She wrote on social media Saturday that it was supposed to be a private moment with her team and no, she didn’t gesture at the camera.
She told reporters later Saturday she thought it was a more intimate huddle that appeared different on TV.
“I’m not apologizing for it because I don’t feel like I need to apologize,” Barnes said. “It’s what I felt was my team at the moment, and I wouldn’t take it back. … So I’m in those moments and that’s how I am sort of apologized for doing that. But I’m just me, and I have to just be me.”
All 63 games in this women’s NCAA Tournament were broadcast nationally, with six on ABC, the first on a national broadcast network since 1995.
And people have been tuning in.
ESPN reports the Elite Eight averaged 1.186 million viewers, a jump of 6% from 2019. The Sweet 16 averaged 915,000 viewers for a 66% improvement and the most-viewed Sweet 16 since 2013. Second-round games averaged 375,000 viewers, while the 48 first- and second-round games averaged 261,000 viewers.
Viewership was up 11% from 2019 for the semifinals. ESPN reported Saturday that the games averaged 2 million viewers combined, with the audience peaking at 3.3 million for Arizona’s win over UConn. That game averaged 2.5 million, up 15% from 2019.
Arizona senior forward Sam Thomas said they’re playing entertaining and quality basketball with future WNBA stars.
“Now we’re getting more views, more respect,” Thomas said. “I think they said, like the UConn-Baylor game had the most views for that game or something like that. So I mean, it’s just nice to now finally be here. And we’re getting some more respect. We’re seeing change. So hopefully that progresses into the future as well.”
PLAY LIKE MAGIC
Leave it to reporters to spill to players what a coach really thinks about how they play. That’s how Stanford guard Haley Jones learned that coach Tara VanDerveer compared how she plays to Magic Johnson.
Jones immediately lit up at the compliment.
“She never told me that,” Jones said with a big smile.
The 6-foot-1 sophomore guard hit the game-winning jumper with 32 seconds left to lift Stanford over South Carolina and into the Cardinal’s first national championship appearance since 2010. A native of Santa Cruz, California, Jones called Johnson a legend.
“The way that he is so long, lanky, agile, athletic, he’s kind of like a point forward like myself, I guess,” Jones said. “He can really do everything. I love his passing ability and the court vision that he has. … That’s the highest compliment I’ve ever heard, so… Thanks! Shout-out to T-Dawg.”
AP Basketball Writer Doug Feinberg contributed to this report.
More AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25