Terps vs. Car­di­nals is must-stream TV

Like other women’s games, it has drama, but not time on main­stream chan­nels

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Jonas Shaf­fer

COL­LEGE PARK — The el­e­va­tor pitch for the two-hour show would get it a meet­ing with most ca­ble net­works: Re­venge. Men­tor ver­sus stu­dent. All-Amer­i­can ap­peal. Py­rotech­nics.

Maybe drag­ons and zom­bies were ACC/Big Ten Chal­lenge needed in­stead of Terps and Car­di­nals, be­cause in a crowded sports cal­en­dar tonight, that’s not enough. What oth­er­wise would be a na­tion­ally tele­vised show­case of top-10 women’s bas­ket­ball teams — No. 5 Mary­land (6-0) and host No. 7 Louisville (6-1) — will be rel­e­gated to ACC Net­work Ex­tra, viewed on smart­phones and lap­tops or maybe not at all.

Who would have thought that the ACC/Big Ten Women’s Bas­ket­ball Chal­lenge’s mar­quee game would be a chal­lenge to watch?

“Yeah, it’s dis­ap­point­ing,” Terps coach Brenda Frese said Tues­day. “We’ve had some games across the coun­try that have gone to the app over tele­vi­sion that I think a lot of peo­ple would like to view.”

As women’s col­lege bas­ket­ball jos­tles for po­si­tion in the TV list­ings with men’s col­lege bas­ket­ball, col­lege foot­ball, NFL, NHL and NBA, all con­sid­er­ably more

pop­u­lar, it has found time hard to come by for even its best early-sea­son ac­tion.

Of the six games played be­tween top-10 teams so far this year, just one, Sun­day’s South Carolina-Louisville matchup on ESPN2, has made it to a widely avail­able ca­ble net­work. (The SEC Net­work, an ESPN TV prop­erty, broad­cast the Nov. 20 Texas-Mis­sis­sippi State game.)

Bay­lor-Con­necti­cut, a top-three bat­tle when the teams met, was on ESPN3. Bay­lor-Ohio State was on YouTube. South Carolina-Ohio State was on BTN2Go, which re­quires a BTN Plus sub­scrip­tion (monthly cost: $9.95).

“We’ve failed mis­er­ably in women’s bas­ket­ball not to have a Bay­lor women’s bas­ket­ball game on ESPN this week,” Lady Bears coach Kim Mulkey said this month, after her team’s games against No. 9 UCLA and the de­fend­ing na­tional cham­pion Huskies were passed over.

The rea­son Mary­land-Louisville finds it­self on­line tonight while ESPN2 shows a Ten­nessee boys bas­ket­ball game is fa­mil­iar to Frese and Mulkey. It is the same rea­son the WNBAstrug­gles while the NBAownsso­cial me­dia eight months a year: Not many peo­ple watch women’s bas­ket­ball.

Take March Mad­ness. Open­ing-weekend games in the men’s NCAA tour­na­ment last year re­port­edly av­er­aged 8.4 mil­lion view­ers. The women’s tour­na­ment, mean­while, drew an av­er­age of 343,000 over the same two rounds, ac­cord­ing to ESPN.

TheTerp­swill not hurt for ex­po­sure this year, with at least as many games on ESPN2 (six) as the Big Ten Net­work. (Their reg­u­lar-sea­son fi­nale against Min­nesota will be broad­cast on ei­ther the Big Ten Net­work or BTN2Go, de­pend­ing on its as-yet-un­de­ter­mined tipoff ). And had tonight’s game been held in Col­lege Park, it as­suredly would have found a spot on the league’s ded­i­cated TV chan­nel.

Still, it is a strange thing for se­nior cen­ter Bri­onna Jones (Aberdeen) to have to ex­plain to her par­ents how they can catch a matchup of po­ten­tial Fi­nal Four teams on the WatchESPN app.

“Just get­ting other peo­ple to know where they can watch it, I think that’s big,” Jones said, “so we get more ex­po­sure.”

Tonight’s game is a pre­miere of sorts. Mary­land and Louisville have met three times, all in the past seven sea­sons, but never in the reg­u­lar sea­son. In 2009, the Car­di­nals up­set the No. 1 seed Terps in the Elite Eight. When a re­porter men­tioned that Louisville coach Jeff Walz, a for­mer as­sis­tant un­der Frese, had said Mary­land seemed to be tak­ing the Car­di­nals lightly be­fore the game, Marissa Cole­man coun­tered: “Well, Coach Walz was wrong.”

Three years later, Mary­land elim­i­nated Louisville at home in the se­cond round of the tour­na­ment. In 2014, the Car­di­nals had to watch as the Terps cut down the nets in­side the KFC Yum! Cen­ter after an­other nar­row vic­tory. At one point in that re­gional fi­nal, “the court and the hoops were ac­tu­ally shak­ing be­cause the crowd was mak­ing so much noise,” Mary­land se­nior guard Sha­tori Walk­erKim­brough re­called.

If this meet­ing doesn’t turn out to be the in­stant clas­sic the oth­ers were, it won’t be for lack of tal­ent. Of the 50 play­ers named Wed­nes­day to the Nai­smith Women’s Col­lege Player of the Year watch list, five play for the Terps or Car­di­nals. Must-stream TV, right?

“I re­ally don’t care who watches it,” Mary­land fresh­man guard Des­tiny Slocum said. “In the end, peo­ple will see who wins the game.”

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