What UConn’s Geno Auriemma said about the development of the women’s game

STORRS — The UConn women’s basketball team will play its first NCAA Tournament game against Vermont in front of a national crowd on Saturday afternoon.

The game will be broadcast on ABC as the Disney family of networks continues to provide a greater presence to the sport. ABC will have at least six games in the tournament, including ESPN’s coverage of the national title game in Dallas on April 2.

Last year’s championship game between South Carolina and UConn averaged 4.85 million viewers on ESPN and was the most-watched title game since 2004. The 2022 NCAA Tournament saw a 16 percent increase in viewers over the previous year for ESPN.

The ratings this season continued to climb. UConn’s ratings on SNY were the best since the New York-based network took over coverage of the program in 2012, while ESPN’s regular-season games posted their highest ratings since 2015.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma pointed to the increased ratings for his team coming in a season where the Huskies have been challenged on many nights. Also, there was more parity across the country.

“Which means people like to watch close games,” he said Friday. “They like the fact that there’s some semblance of uncertainty about who’s going to win. There have been so many top 10 changes throughout the year, haven’t they? Teams enter, start at the top, exit, return. I think that creates a level of excitement. People want to come in.”

This seems to be a sign that the women’s game is growing. Can the NCAA continue to elevate the sport to another level?

Auriemma said the governing body needs to take action.

“Where do I see it going from here?” Auriemma said. “Well, I think the NCAA — I think the women’s basketball committees have to make a decision. Do they want to improve, keep improving? Or do they want to stay the same and go back to where we were years ago?

“A lot of that will involve how the game is run. How the game is allowed to be played.

Auriemma believes fans want offense and there is an influx of talented offensive linemen coming out of high school.

So how does the NCAA continue to evolve the game with more fluidity on offense?

“This is coming from a coach who … we had the best defense in the country for about 10 straight years,” Auriemma said. “So, I understand playing defense. Whatever it takes. How physical you need to be. How aggressive do you have to be? So I’m not complaining about how the game is coached or how the game is taught or played.

“I think basketball committees need to be very clear with the officials. We will shout this, we will not shout this. What are your priorities? If your priorities are like that, we want the scoring to increase. We want the fouls to be reduced. We want movement on the court. Then you have to create those rules and then you have to enforce them. If you say it doesn’t matter, then say it doesn’t matter.

Auriemma added: “Baseball wanted more goals. They put in the fences, took down the mound. I don’t think we can drain the basketball, it doesn’t do us any good.”

The players, Auriemma said, are more skilled than ever. He compared Paige Bookers’ junior class to Diana Taurasi, who was a junior more than two decades ago.

“The game has changed a lot,” he said. “But there are still really, really, really skilled basketball players coming out of high school. I would venture to say that there aren’t that many good basketball players coming out of high school. So what they teach you at the college level is really, really important. Basically, a lot of times you’re starting from scratch.”

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