It has brought us Jackie Stiles, a female version of Pete Maravich, and Tennessee losing in the Sweet 16. It has introduced us to Diana Taurasi and taught us that even Connecticut can't stockpile enough players to defend its national title.
The NCAA women's basketball Final Four, sandwiched as it is between the men's, seemingly nothing more than off-day TV programming, something for basketball fans to watch while the men practice, is worth watching.
This isn't just for women. Even all you men who call talk radio and trash the women's game, any of you radio talk-show hosts who mention women's basketball only as a one-liner, as a butt of usually bad jokes, would have enjoyed this NCAA women's run.
Did any of you see Jackie Stiles?
Not just her against Purdue Friday night. And that's how it seemed. Stiles alone against the Boilermakers, who got every rebound and defended Stiles with two, three, four players at a time.
But the Stiles who dragged her anonymous Southwest Missouri State team to the Final Four.
She was worth watching. Stiles is tough and graceful. She never shoots without her shoulders squared. She can slash between two or three defenders, squeak through somehow and still get her shoulders square. What a treat.
And the upsets. Did you see the upsets?
Xavier beating Tennessee in the Sweet 16.
It was worth watching. Xavier had a forward who had heart surgery when she was a freshman and who wasn't afraid to take shots to the chest as a senior. The Musketeers beat Tennessee by 15 because they were expertly coached and because they had lots of talent.
That has always been one of the knocks on women's basketball in general and the tournament in particular. That there isn't enough talent to go around and so the same three or four teams win all their games by 40 points. That's dull, that's boring and nobody cares whether Tennessee or Connecticut wins another title.
And who am I to say that's wrong? Not many people around here care about women's college basketball, my bosses said in dismissing my request to go to the NCAA women's Final Four. They argued that attendance is terrible at USC and UCLA and that TV ratings aren't so great either.
Trying to respond, I could only marshal arguments about how many more girls are playing the game and care about the game. Maybe they don't care enough to drive to Pauley or the Sports Arena to watch losing teams. But they care enough to know who Jackie Stiles is.
My argument didn't go well. But next time maybe results will be different. TV ratings are up for this tournament. Guys took notice of Xavier beating Tennessee, of how well Stiles played the game. Husbands and boyfriends--in my house, in other houses--started saying "wow" when Stiles hit her fadeaway.
So this year The Times sent three reporters and a columnist to the men's Final Four and one reporter to the women's Final Four. Next year, maybe it could be four and two.
See, I'm not proposing equal coverage. Never would I suggest that women's college basketball is the equal in interest, even among women, of men's college basketball.
But in watching the women's tournament unfold this year, it is clear. The women are worth watching more than ever.
Yes, the women's tournament used to be a boring procession of 40-point wins by the favorites. You could count on two or three Southeastern Conference teams and Connecticut in the Final Four. Or maybe Louisiana Tech. Way back when, it used to be USC, too. Anyway, the favorites always won. They won big. They won so big the games were duller than dirt.
Frankly, it was dreary watching young women who weren't strong enough to hold on to rebounds or complete a drive to the basket. It was discouraging to watch the possession arrow change more than a red light because every play seemed to finish with a scrum under the basket with five women on the ground piled on one another and none strong enough to keep the ball.
Things have changed.
That would be clear if you took the time to watch.
One of the pleasures of watching the women's tournament is this chance to discover something new.
We'd not seen Stiles play dozens of games on TV all season. Duke's Shane Battier and Jason Williams should be able to find the couch in our living rooms, know which shelf the sodas are on in our refrigerators, so often have they been broadcast into our homes.
But Stiles was a stranger. This probably hurt the 5-foot-8 senior. So many people wanted to talk to Stiles after she, mostly just she, upset Rutgers, Duke and Washington to get Southwest Missouri State to St. Louis that all the attention seemed to distract her, exhaust her. She's not enough of a big shot to tell people no. So Stiles did all the interviews, signed all the autographs.