O’Donnell: Clark flourished but UConn women held betting eyes to anxious end

WOMEN'S COLLEGE BASKETBALL sliced deeply into the psyches of the most cynical sports fans in America Monday night.

And the supremely charismatic Caitlin Clark and Iowa were merely an opening act.

Those hearts of suspicion — serious (and Sirius) gamblers — were in Mach squirm mode during the final 1:25 of the UConn-Southern Cal game on ESPN.

For the two days before the Elite Eight contest, touts from the Golden Gate Bridge to Fort Lauderdale Beach Boulevard were crowing about what a lock 'n a shoo Paige Bueckers and the Huskies were.

ON THE BETTING BOARD, UConn was minus-3 ½ points.

“That line is nonsense,” one Vegas-based acorn chaser wailed. “UConn wins this one by double digits!”

With 1:25 remaining in the fourth quarter, he appeared correct. UConn had switched into glide, leading 76-64.

Then … squirm shakalaka.

GENO AURIEMMA'S HUSKIES missed 7 straight free throws. That enabled freshman sensation JuJu Watkins and USC to punch out a 9-2 run and pull within 78-73 with the ball.

There was only :05 on the clock when Kayla Padilla of the Trojans missed a three and UConn headed for the Final Four this weekend in Cleveland with an 80-73 win.

Casual observers thought they were merely watching another close-out by the most successful major-college program in the modern history of the women's game.

The more invested viewer was living and dying in chip-away time.

THE MOST ENCOURAGING TAKEAWAY was women's basketball can now draw that kind of attention and emotion from the most caustic segment of the nation's sports audience.

There is certain to be more of that from Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse Friday in Cleveland. That's when powerful South Carolina (-11 ½) faces North Carolina State and then Clark and stalk hustlers (-2 ½) tip off vs. UConn. Both games are on ESPN beginning at 6 p.m.

It isn't “Machine Gun” Molly Bolin and Iowa rules six-on-six girls basketball anymore.

Just ask the acorn squirmers at any watch site Friday night.

*** *** *** *** *** *** ***

TWISTING THE COLUMN AWAY, “Sports Leverage” for $1,800 please.

And the “Jeopardy!” answer is:

“NFL franchise now willing to commit $2 billion to a new suburban stadium if it doesn't receive $1 billion from the public for upgrades to its historic lakefront home.”



Who are the Cleveland Browns? The Cleveland Browns.

OWNERS JIMMY AND DEE HASLAM made the announcement last week. Their proposed new Dawg Pound would be in southwest suburban Brook Park, a neat, modest burg on the front porch of Hopkins Airport. The Cleveland City Council is already pushing back.

The Haslam gambit suggests there must be some owners PDF available from NFL HQ about playing your host metropolis against a suburban site to try and swill from the taxpayers kitty.

Maybe the Haslams can bring in Kevin Warren to really twist things up.


Shota Imanaga — the Cubs' fresh 30-year-old Nippon Professional League veteran — dazzled vs. droopy Colorado Monday afternoon at Wrigley Field. The Q. now: How will he do when he faces a real Major League team? …

Fortunate that Craig Counsell didn't go up in smoke when those low-level pyrotechnics around the Cubs dugout malfunctioned before the home opener. Losing $40M that way could send family patriarch Joe Ricketts back into kooky email overdrive on one of the family laptops. …

White Sox manager Pedro “Flush” Grifol already has none of the answers for the D.O.A. Slouch Sliders. His post-game media sessions have been about as chockful of insight as a Zoom seminar on “Is Your Backyard Birdhouse a Death Trap?” …

As if the brutes from UConn needed any more edges heading into the men's Final Four Saturday, the late Al McGuire once said, “Until you've been a head coach at the Final Four for the first time, with all of the b.s. about media and tickets for family you never knew you had and other distractions, you have no shot at winning.” UC boss Danny Hurley is the only 2024 survivor who's coached a Final Four. …

Palatine's Marlys Akin — who spent more than 30 years raising her brood in Raleigh, N.C. — reports that old homies are saying the pilgrimages to the grave of Jim Valvano have been off the charts since D.J. Burns Jr. and N.C. State punched their ticket to the Final Four on Sunday. Deepest historians will recall that Valvano's 1983 Wolf Pack got to hold the ball for the final 1:05 in pre-shot clock days before the stunning title-winning dunk-back of Lorenzo Charles. …

And Bruce Pearl, to Dan Patrick on the realities of the current NCAA transfer portal: “It's like having to ask your wife every December, 'Honey, do you want to stay married for another year?'”

Jim O'Donnell's Sports and Media column appears each week on Sunday and Wednesday. Reach him at All communications may be considered for publication.

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