So when I found out this week's challenge was about women's basketball I was thrilled. Totally and absolutely thrilled. You see I'm that guy in your group of friends who actually loves watching women's basketball. I know... I know... you're confused. I'm being honest with you. I really truly do enjoy it.
I always feel weird being this guy... none of my friends who pay attention to the men's team at UNO pay attention to the women's team. My only sources of conversation regarding the women's play
is my amazing wife, who also loves women's basketball (or at least this team of women playing basketball), and their equipment manager. Yep, I'm Facebook friends with the team's equipment manager and we chat about how they're doing quite a bit.
Now I suppose at this point I really should disclose that I currently do play-by-play for Omaha's women's basketball team. Just the home games, and just for a webcast. They don't pay me though, this is something I wanted to do and got permission to volunteer for. I'm not there for the pay, nor for the career experience as valuable as it is. If it wasn't for the broadcasting I'd like to be at the games anyways, because I do love women's basketball.
There are a few difference between men's and women's basketball. First of all the court is the exact same size. The only difference is the 3-pt line... oh wait... not it's not. They use the same three point line as the men now (was different for a few years). The ball is slightly smaller, which of course isn't a bad thing considering most women's college basketball players are under 6 feet tall and most men's college basketball players are over 6 feet tall.
There are a few rule differences.. no 10 second backcourt violation in the women's game and only a thirty second shot clock (men play so slow). While not a rule difference it's usually easy to explain the difference in play by saying a men's game is played above the rim while the women's game is played below the win. Players aren't going to leap as high, you won't see slam dunks, and you probably won't see as prolific of three point shooting.
I originally spent a lot of this article trying to argue for women's basketball. I took it out in the end and decided to be brief. Everything you love about sports is present in women's basketball. Everything you love about men's basketball is present in women's basketball. The only real difference is the size of the players and thus how high they can leap. Outside of that it's basically the same game. I'm passionate about women's sports and I hope that you find a way to appreciate them. If you can't appreciate women's college basketball because "they aren't as good as men" then I'll always wonder how you can enjoy men's college basketball because they aren't as good as the professionals!
So the point of this was of course to talk about a specific team, in fact a specific game. Sadly Omaha's women have been on the road for the last two weekends so this is my 17th day in a row without seeing a game. Prior to that I was at four of their games in a nine day span... this has been a long two weeks. Still I'll cover the last game I saw Omaha play in person (Fort Wayne on 1/5) and a little about the Summit League in general.
Omaha has been really good this year. It's an incredible turn around for the Mavericks. Let me take you back to my senior year of college, 2009-10. Omaha had four freshman that played major minutes and the two best were Jamie Nash and Paige Frauendorfer. Jamie was a 5-4 dynamite freshman guard. She played incredible defense and became known for two signature moves. The first was that she'd stick her foot out and deflect an opponent's dribble away. Sure it was whistled a kick a lot of times, but it was disruptive and got into opponent's heads. Second if an opponent drove past her she had an incredible ability to poke the ball out from behind. Between those two moves and some courage and ability to get to the rim she was a delight to watch.
Paige Frauendorfer was a 6-0 freshman who hadn't realized her potential yet. I remember thinking all year how she had the potential to become a go-to scorer, she just hadn't figured it out yet (and didn't need to... two other older good scorers were on that team). She showed flashes of brilliance as a freshman but probably wasn't quite as complete at first as Nash.
The next year their team was not very good. They lost a lot of games and had few wins. They did have one amazing win against a top 6 D2 team (UNO was D2 still at that point) but the coach was not back after that season. Over the off-season Omaha moved to D1 and very importantly hired a new young head coach by the name of Chance Lindley. Coach Lindley installed a new 1-1-3 zone on defense and as Frauendorfer and Nash developed he reaped the benefits. Both have become great players at the Division 1 level.
Nash has been among the top ten in the country in assists and steals. She is the all-time school leader in both categories and has scored over 1,000 points in her career. She's an incredible player who has become more disciplined defensively. Frauendorfer has developed into much more of a rebounder than I ever though possible. She's also a great scorer who has a great jump shot and can use her size to shoot over smaller players. She'll hit 1,000 points Thursday night. It's sad to think I will only watch them play in person likely six more times. They've grown as players so much over the years and it all happened right in front of me.
Now Omaha, who was a poor Division II team just two years ago, started the year strong and is currently 13-5! In DIVISION ONE! I NEVER would have believed this 24 months ago in the midst of a very rough season. The defense has been outstanding and some big transfers have strengthened the team. Carolyn Blair-Mobley used to play at Oklahoma State but after not sitting out last year decided to come to Omaha to play. She's provided great scoring and three-point shooting along with some strong rebounding. These three make up the focal point of Omaha's attack. All do a good job at their defensive assignments and thus are trusted and play nearly the full game every night.
Fort Wayne was an interesting game. Omaha several times got out to leads they looked to threaten to pull away with. The same thing had happened in the last game vs. Oakland and eventually Omaha did pull away to win fairly easily. Omaha had leads of seven and six points in the first half, but each time Fort Wayne would close the gap and get back within a basket. Finally Omaha went on a quick 7-0 run to star the 2nd half and they were up 10. I thought that was it and they'd coast to the end. Fort Wayne had other ideas and came storming back to lead by as many as four. Omaha was in some trouble.
Several things then happened to change the game. Two Fort Wayne players went down with ankle injuries within a minute. Both had to be helped/carried off the court and were clearly out for the game. Then just a couple minutes later their best player, Amanda Hyde-an incredible shooter and scorer, picked up her 4th foul and headed to the bench. Down three of their better players they were playing bench players not usually in this situation and who had to feel like things were not going there way.
Yet they didn't go away. For the next four minutes they held on and didn't give up ground. Omaha still trailed by 1, 50-49, with 4:14 left. At that point Omaha's defense finally got things figured out and they didn't give up another point. They went on an 11-0 run to post a 60-50 win that was closer than the score indicated.
Omaha's struggled to a couple of road losses since then. It's hard to know what to make of this team. They are clearly talented but they are streaky. Sometimes they hit shots in bunches, sometimes they can't seem to hit anything. Their defense is pretty consistent thankfully which carries them at times.
The Summit League seemed like it would belong to South Dakota State this year. The Jackrabbits are former Division II National Champions (2003) and have been to the Division 1 tournament four straight years. Things were all going according to plan until a loss last week at home to IUPUI. IUPUI has been strong in some games but has a few head scratching losses too. Western Illinois and South Dakota have shown some signs of strength too.
If this was the ACC in men's basketball people would be going crazy on ESPN about the level of competition and the argument for who the best team is. Instead it's women's basketball and it's the Summit League... I'll be having that discussion about who the best team is (think it's clearly SDSU) and who the 2nd best team is (give me IUPUI... for now) alone mostly. Not really anyone else to talk about it with.
That's women's basketball though and that's okay with me. They play for the love of the game and I love watching them do it. If others want to enjoy that like I do, awesome. If not though these girls will just keep on playing the game that they love in front of their family and friends. Even if it's just 268 of them (Omaha's average home attendance).