Tinkering with the rules in women’s college basketball has a long history, and as a result the changes that took place in the now-completed 2015-16 season were nothing new. Many believe the changes helped move the game forward: the switch from two 20-minute halves to four 10-minute quarters; two automatic free throws after the fifth team foul in a period; and teams allowed to advance the ball from the front court after a timeout in the final minute.
UConn’s Geno Auriemma and Dawn Staley of South Carolina, who both were quoted in an NCAA.org published article in February, gave their thumbs-up. “I think it’s been great for the players, the coaches, the fans, and for television,” said Auriemma. “I absolutely love the format of four quarters. It creates parity in our game,” added Staley.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if the men didn’t go to the quarter style within the next two years,” predicts Kent State Women’s Coach Danielle O’Banion, a former Minnesota assistant coach, last week at the Final Four in Indianapolis. “I think the fans enjoyed it. I think the rule changes have made women’s basketball so much more exciting.”
Games, according to the NCAA, have gotten shorter — the average length of a game dropped slightly from 1:49 last season to 1:48 this season, and free throw attempts also saw a decrease from 18.13 last season to 17.21 trips to the line per team per game this season.
But Baylor Coach Kim Mulkey, quoted in the same article, isn’t a fan of the changes. “I never understood why we changed to begin with. I don’t find that it makes the game any more exciting or that it scores any more points through the course of a game.”
The numbers, however, don’t support Mulkey’s contention. Scoring per team per game in women’s hoops definitely was up this season. Team scoring two seasons ago on average nationally was 67.7 points per game, and the all-time high of 70.7 points per game occurred in 1982-83. Connecticut, who won its fourth consecutive national title last week, finished first in the nation this season at 88 points a game, just 1.3 points less than last season.
UConn and Ohio State are the only two schools with consecutive top-five finishes in scoring offense in as many seasons. The Gophers’ 83-point team average was fifth, one of three top-five-scoring teams nationally that came from the Big Ten, the conference that showed the biggest growth in scoring per team per game this season.
NCAA Vice President of Women’s Basketball Championships Anucha Browne told NCAA.org, “I would say the pace and flow is exactly what we wanted to see. It has resulted in a better quality of play.”
Minnesota Associate Head Coach Nikita Lowry Dawkins, asked before the season began, opted to wait until season’s end to better evaluate the changes’ success or shortcomings. As promised, she offered her assessment last month to the MSR.
“It helped us a great deal,” she said. “Offensive players have a considerable advantage. I thought it was good for the game. It was very good.”
More scoring wasn’t just at the big-school level, either. “Honestly, I haven’t noticed a huge difference in our play. We try to score a lot anyway,” noted Texas-Tyler Coach Kendra Hassell, who completed her first season as coach at the Division III school. Her squad, who averaged 84 points a contest, reached the Elite Eight this season.
Browne concluded, “What we see is improvement. That is really important.”
Our wrap-up conversation on the 2015-16 women’s basketball season continues on the MSR website.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.