Before the women’s NCAA basketball tournament even tipped off, a social media firestorm erupted around the games. Stanford’s strength and conditioning coach, Ali Kershner, spoke up about the disparities between the men’s and women’s workout areas. Oregon’s Sedona Prince added a video of the lacking workout areas, pointing out that anyone who didn’t see it as a problem was part of the problem. Several coaches, including UConn’s Geno Auriemma and Muffet McGraw, who retired from Notre Dame after last season, mentioned how the disparities have been going on for years.
The players and coaches from every one of the 64 teams in the tournament knew that every doubter, every person who said that no one cared about women’s sports, every administrator who didn’t want to allocate more money to women’s sports would now have their eyes on the tournament. If the women didn’t deliver, every troll would have fodder for their dismissal of women’s sports.
Instead of wilting under the pressure, the women provided an unforgettable tournament. The first weekend had a mix of upsets and dominant wins to start off strong. Wright State knocked off Arkansas. Belmont beat Gonzaga. Oregon’s sixth-seeded team beat Georgia’s third seed.
The second weekend delivered, as well. The matchup of UConn’s Paige Bueckers and Iowa's Caitlin Clark, the tournament’s two best freshman, showed why Bueckers won as many awards as she did. During the Elite Eight, the Baylor-UConn matchup had everyone from LeBron James to Megan Rapinoe tweeting about it.
The Final Four was somehow even better than the games before it. Stanford’s game with South Carolina showcased the Gamecocks' abilities in the paint against Stanford’s ability to play the perimeter. The world was introduced to Aari McDonald, who scored 26 points, and head coach Adia Barnes in Arizona’s upset of UConn. The national championship showed off the Pac-12’s best defenses, with Stanford holding on for the win.
People tuned in for the games, too. UConn’s win over Baylor averaged 1.7 million viewers, and social media engagements around the game doubled that of the men's Elite Eight. The Sweet 16 games ratings broke records, too.
With every game, the teams in the women’s tournament showed that they are not only ready for the pressure, but also that they’re worth investing in. While the NCAA said it is going to investigate the differences between the men’s and women’s tournament, the women showed what they can do even without the NCAA treating them fairly.