The game that could change college basketball and the WNBA forever


Bayou Barbie is dead. And I’m glad it happened on Monday night in a nationally televised game for a berth to go to the Final Four in women’s college basketball.

Iowa vs. LSU was one of the best basketball games I’ve seen in years. The two teams faced off in last year’s national title game, the most-watched women’s college basketball game up to this point. Monday’s game topped it with 12.3 million viewers, making it the most watched college basketball game ever, men’s or women’s.


Angel Reese of Louisiana State, the Bayou Barbie, pitted against the game’s biggest star, Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, known as Ponytail Pete.

Nothing less than fireworks was expected and they didn’t disappoint. Clark was hitting bombs from everywhere like “Pistol” Pete Maravich, and Reese was imitating Bill Russell on defense, blocking shots and scoring at will in the paint.

Before limping off the court in the second quarter, apparently twisting an ankle (she did return), Reese was toying with Iowa (she amassed 17 points and 20 rebounds) while Clark was electrifying the crowd on her way to a 41-point, 12-assist night in Iowa’s 94–87 win.

Let’s bury the cutesy nickname for Reese. I never liked it because it highlighted style over substance and didn’t begin to describe her game or her impact. She was Two-Way Reese during Monday night’s Elite Eight competition, a force to be reckoned with despite being injured.

What a treat to see two of the best players in the world going at it in the kind of game that changes the fortunes of those who played in it as well as the game itself. It’s reminiscent of the 1979 men’s college basketball championship game between Larry Bird’s Indiana State and Magic Johnson’s Michigan State, the most watched college basketball game of all time — until now.

Although Monday night was only a quarterfinal matchup, it felt like a championship tilt. The other thing you noticed while watching these stars was that the other women on the floor really got game, too.

Clark and some of the other players are a perfect imitation of Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors. From the crossover dribbles, to the constant motion and the fadeaway 3s — Curry has done more to change women’s basketball than any single NBA player. Maybe the women’s game has achieved the requisite dazzle to become must-watch TV with the likes of JuJu Watson at USC, Hannah Hildago at Notre Dame, Paige Bueckers at UConn, and Lauren Betts at UCLA lighting it up night after night.


What that means is more popularity for the college game, and when they move to the WNBA, more butts in arena seats and increased revenue for owners and the league. Ideally, that would also mean that female players would see serious pay raises. It is absolutely ridiculous, when contrasted with top NBA salaries, that the three highest paid WNBA players each earned a measly $241,984 last year.

But this game could be the one that puts women’s basketball on the map — college and pro. I’m happy that Angel Reese announced that she is leaving LSU to take her talents to the WNBA. She had nothing more to prove at the collegiate level — having won the national championship last year — and everything to gain by helping catapult the pro game to another level.

Angel Reese and Caitlin Clark have the potential to do for the WNBA what Bird and Magic did for the NBA — save the league and pave the way for a new generation of players to get greater exposure, stature, riches and endorsement deals commensurate with their talents.

The WNBA has long needed a marketable rivalry and just might have its first big one. Clark versus Reese. It’s going to be fun watching women’s basketball at the pro level in the coming years. And it couldn’t come soon enough.

Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to the Final Four madness this weekend as the women battle it out for a ticket to the national championship. There’s no way we can lose when it comes to these games.