Caitlin Clark [1296x729]
Caitlin Clark [1296x729] (Credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Rare TV appearance for ALW a reminder of inequality

There were years doing this show that when it came to the women's NCAA basketball tournament, it was difficult to generate a ton of excitement while discussing it, simply because it was a noncompetitive event. We'd ask Rebecca Lobo before it began: Can anyone beat UConn? Then the answer was a resounding no.

In 2016, they won their fourth consecutive title, and the average margin of the victory in the six games was 39.5 points. That made it 24 consecutive tournament wins by double digits. There was simply nobody in the same solar system.

These past couple of years, the sport saw a new galaxy of stars emerge, all of which led to a night like this. A Monday in April, and not the Final Four -- but to get to the Final Four -- that had the sports world buzzing.

In our show meeting, I kept making the same point repeatedly -- let's not forget there is a South Carolina team out there who hasn't lost a game, who has lost only once in the last two seasons, who has already advanced. It will face an NC State team, who along with the men, has Raleigh dreaming of titles, plural. It just beat the 2-seed Stanford and the 1-seed Texas by double digits to make the Final Four.

But this day, most of the bandwidth was being eaten up by a title game rematch. Is it a couple rounds earlier than it ought to be? Probably. But the sport got the game it wanted. Iowa and Caitlin Clark are blindingly popular -- she was a one-woman, sold-out show and ratings spike this season. Like Clark, LSU -- who are the reigning champs, thank you very much -- have the kind of popularity that in today's world demands in equal measure haters who root very loudly for them to fail spectacularly.

Someone's demise was guaranteed by this game, as was someone slapping their name on the next line in celebration. Given the arc of this season's storyline, I suppose it's fitting it was the third-quarter flurry from Clark that provided a margin too large to overcome.

It's amazing that the nightcap was reduced to the smaller type on the marquee. Unlike the men's game, which lacks the true freshman phenom this season, the women's game has it. L.A.'s own JuJu Watkins has lived up to her No. 1 billing. She was the reason USC was a No. 1 seed.

But maybe the best example of how stars have burst onto the scene is that somehow Paige Bueckers was reduced this year to, oh ... she was the No. 1 player a few years ago, right? Right. Back from injuries and now the savvy veteran, Geno Auriemma, called her the best player in the country. He was right to say that every coach would say the same of their best player. He added, "Listen, I've coached the best player in the country a lot more than anybody else coaching in this tournament. It's OK for somebody else to say their player is."

I mean, he is headed to his 23rd Final Four. He's got 11 titles, and trying to get his 12th isn't the walkover it once was. That's added to the interest -- but so have the stars, the people. Nights like this, seasons like this, are to be celebrated and the three most important games of this season are still to come.