Opinion: After Arizona upsets Connecticut, overlook women’s basketball up-and-comers at your own peril

SAN ANTONIO — There might have been a time when overlooking Arizona would have been understandable.

That time is no longer.

Disrespected by the NCAA and underestimated by Connecticut, Aari McDonald and the third-seeded Wildcats showcased both the high level of play and the increasing parity in the women’s game by pulling off the biggest shock of the women’s tournament Friday night. Arizona never trailed and, aside from a 20-second span with 90 seconds to go, was never really threatened in a 69-59 win over top-seeded UConn.

Yes, freshman phenom Paige Bueckers had a rare bad game, and UConn’s vaunted offense started and ended with Christyn Williams. But do not diminish Arizona by characterizing this as a UConn loss. This was an Arizona win, through and through.

"We believe in each other," Arizona coach Adia Barnes said. "We believe in what we do."

And everyone else better, too.

“We just believed…”
– @AariMcdonald#WFinalFour x @ArizonaWBBpic.twitter.com/J6eDkoScp5

The NCAA ensured that McDonald and her teammates would be playing with Grand Canyon-sized chips on their shoulders after leaving them out of the pre-game promotional video. The very name of this stage in the tournament is the Final Four. You almost have to try to screw that up.

Williams acknowledged that UConn probably made the same mistake, too, saying, "(I think) we thought it was going to be easy, I guess, and we got flustered."

But the days of looking past programs because they’re not a UConn or a Baylor or a South Carolina is over, as UConn learned the hard way.

"For us to be left out (of the video), it wasn’t cool at all," McDonald said. "Okay, y'all think it's the final three? We’re going to show y'all. We shocked the world tonight. Keep betting against my teammates and I, we're going to show you wrong. We're going to prove you wrong."

There was a time when it probably was fair to say the game lacked parity. That it wasn’t much more than Tennessee, UConn and a Stanford team that could make an occasional deep run. That hasn’t been the case in a long time, though.

Rather than ceding superiority to Pat Summitt and Geno Auriemma, everyone else in the game worked to get better. Added resources led to improved programs, which eventually led to a deeper talent pool. The coaching got better.

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