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Women’s college basketball is having more than a moment


As 13,888 fans streamed into MVP Arena in Albany, N.Y. on Monday to watch the most anticipated matchup of this year’s NCAA women’s basketball tournament – Iowa vs. LSU – there was one common creed that bonded them together: a passion for women’s basketball.

“I want to see all the young girls be inspired,” said one fan from Albany as she entered the arena with her daughter, clad in a black and gold T-shirts with the No. 22 of Iowa sensation Caitlin Clark on the back.

“She’s changing the world of basketball,” said another fan of Clark.

Clark, who has averaged more than 32 points per game in the 2024 tournament, has broken countless NCAA records this year.

The point guard from Des Moines, Iowa has made the most three-point shots in a season, breaking a record previously set by NBA star Steph Curry in 2007-08. She’s smashed a 54-year-old record for most points scored in NCAA Division I history, previously held by Pete Maravich. Clark broke an NCAA women’s single-season scoring record during the game versus West Virginia in the Round of 32. And those point totals are still growing.

Then there was the rivalry. Not only was the sport’s greatest star on display, she was going up against the team and player that ended her dreams of a title in 2023, LSU and Angel Reese.

Reese, a towering 6-foot-3 forward, famously taunted Clark at the end of the championship game in 2023, pointing at her ring finger as her team was on the verge of beating Iowa.

But the rival stars established before the Elite Eight showdown that the rivalry is rooted in great respect for one another.

“Me and Caitlin Clark don’t hate each other. I want everybody to understand that. It’s just a super-competitive game,” Reese said.

“Me and Angel have always been great competitors,” Clark said. “…that's what makes women's basketball so fun is you have great competition, and that's what we've had all year long. I think Angel would say the same.”

As anticipation for the matchup grew, hundreds of fans were hanging over the barrier on the edge of the floor, waiting for Clark and the Hawkeyes to make their first appearance on the court.

As she rounded the corner out of the tunnel and the youngsters caught a glimpse of their hero for the first time, their eyes lit up, their jaws dropped, and there were screams and tears of joy.

Until only a few years ago, the women were fighting to have access to appropriate resources during the March Madness tournament.

Then-Oregon Ducks’ centre Sedona Prince posted a TikTok video in March of 2021 that exposed the dramatic inequalities between the men and the women’s weight rooms.

At the time, the women weren’t even allowed to use the trademarked March Madness branding. That set off a chain of events in which the women demanded more equality and, in turn, more respect, from the NCAA.

Clark, a rookie at the time, was already averaging over 26 points per game in the 2021 tournament as the Hawkeyes fell to UConn in the Sweet 16.

Who would have expected that, just three years later, the matchup between Iowa and LSU in the Women’s Elite Eight would bring in 12.3 million viewers on ESPN in the U.S., according to Nielsen? According to Sports Watch Media, it would become the most-viewed basketball game on ESPN since Game 7 of the 2018 NBA Eastern Conference finals.

“To be honest, when you step on the court and you’re a competitor, you don’t feel that,” Clark said following the game. “There could have been nobody in the gym and both teams would have competed the exact same way. You’re playing for a little more with the Final Four on the line. To me, I’m not thinking, ‘Oh my god, there’s 15 million people at home watching this game right now.’ No, that’s not what’s happening.”

The noise that erupted from the crowd for each of Clark’s nine three-pointers in Iowa’s 94-87 win over LSU was deafening. And there was another moment which drew an equal amount of excitement.

In the fourth quarter, the scoreboard showed a middle-aged man wearing a sweater with the words “Everyone Watches Women’s Sports” on it. The crowd went berserk.

There was anticipation that this game could break NCAA women’s basketball viewership records, but there was also a sense that this game signified something bigger.

Over the past year, several female sporting events have garnered huge audiences. One of those was the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia.

FIFA targeted ticket sales in the range of 1.5million for the event. Attendance exceeded those expectations, as almost 2 million fans took in the tournament. I witnessed a number of those games in person, including the final between England and Spain. There was a feeling that the world was finally noticing the talent on the pitch.

Sitting courtside in Albany on Monday night gave way to a different sensation. Not only has women’s college basketball established itself as an electric game with heated rivalries, but this is going to be the norm moving forward. Reese versus Clark was the start of something bigger, not just a singular moment in sports history.

The women’s college game is reaching a new crescendo. It’s proving that its stars can become household names. Players like USC freshman star JuJu Watkins will lead the next wave of exciting talent.

Women’s college basketball isn’t just having a moment this spring. It’s announcing that it’s here to stay.