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March 23, 2019 — A very preliminary farewell

This afternoon, in opening-round play in the NCAA Division I women’s basketball championship, the Tennessee Lady Vols lost 89-77 to UCLA. It is the first time since 2009 that Tennessee has been knocked out in the first round of the tournament.

And it’s been a while since Tennessee was a No. 11 seed, to be sure.

This year is very much a sea-change year in women’s basketball. Connecticut is not a No. 1 seed. Rutgers is currently without head coach Vivian Stringer because of health issues. Other former champions such as North Carolina and Texas also did not make it past the first round.

What this has done is give a boost to some very hard-working programs at schools which have been previously known only for men’s basketball.

Take Indiana University. IU had a strong on-campus presence for decades through intramural and some extramural play through the 1960s, but only began varsity basketball in 1971. That year, the Hoosiers had a successful start to the season, but at the national tournament that season, were eliminated by a small Roman Catholic college from the Philadelphia area. Yep, the Immaculata Mighty Macs.

Another women’s team coming from a school whose basketball culture has been dominated by men is Gonzaga. Aha, bet you didn’t notice that the Spokane, Wash. school had a women’s team that could rival their men’s side, didn’t you? The Zags came into the tournament with a 28-4 record, which is almost as good as their men’s team, which has been ranked No. 1 for several weeks this season.

But I think a team that could open some eyes is UCLA. The Los Angeles school has been known for big men, Hall of Famers, and John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success. Women’s basketball? The program has never made an NCAA FInal Four, although the 1978 team led by the legendary Ann Meyers won the national title sanctioned by the Association of Interscholastic Athletics for Women (AIAW).

I think all of these programs bear watching to see how their fan bases latch onto their success.

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