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TV REVIEW : A 'Game' Look at Women's Basketball

March 29, 1994|ROBERT KOEHLER

OK, sports fans: Name the Final Four teams in this weekend's NCAA basketball championship. The women's edition.

We're waiting.

Time's up. (Answer: North Carolina, Purdue, Louisiana Tech and Alabama.)

Of course, it's not an answer on the lips of America, not like the men's game. The subliminal point of Becky Smith's "In the Game," a chronicle for "Frontline" of the Stanford women's 1989-90 basketball season, is that women's hoops is only just starting to get respect. While coach Tara VanDerveer's Stanford Cardinals were selling out their hall, the Oklahoma Sooners' women's program was axed, then reinstated. VanDerveer's team was drawing much bigger crowds than the men's games, but her $60,000 salary was half that of the men's coach.

VanDerveer's salary has now reached that goal of women's sports--gender equity--but it took the threat of a discrimination suit, and not just winning, to press her case. When she flashes "The Art of War" in front of her players, one gets the sense that it won't be useful just on the court.

"In the Game" alternates between being a suspenseful history of a dramatic Cardinals year (aided by Alfre Woodard's felt narration) and burrowing underneath the game itself, understanding that this is a life metaphor for young women who have no hope of parlaying their talents into a nonexistent pro career in the United States. This fact is especially bitter for the team's star point guard, Jennifer Azzi, who can drive Magic-style to the rim and shoot three-pointers with ease. Azzi's the go-to gal, an All-American cinch, but she must eventually move to Sweden to play professionally.

Nothing before "In the Game" has ever taken us into the locker rooms and viewing rooms and classrooms of women's college basketball, to show that, fundamentally, it's just like the guys' game. Just like the Fab Five's Chris Webber, Azzi calls a time-out with seconds left when there are no time-outs left. Just like the men, several Cardinals suffer serious knee injuries. Just like the Fab Five again, a team chemistry slowly struggles to form, and when it does, it's awesome.

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