It should go without saying that this team is good

I try to keep my arguing on the internet under control, but it’s been a losing battle lately.

You might think this is about politics because it’s an election year that threatens to be even more divisive than what we had in 2020.

Already, I’m getting messages that everything has gotten worse since the previous president left office. I’m tempted to ask for details – especially on average incomes, the unemployment rate, stock market gains and other traditional measurements of economic growth.

Ken Bradford

I’m also tempted to point out that there literally are not enough days in the year to prosecute that guy for all the crimes he is accused of committing. 

But I don’t say these things. It is of no use to introduce facts where hysteria rules.

My arguments instead have been over one of the few things where I have an emotional stake – Notre Dame women’s basketball.

We’ve held season tickets for about a decade. At first, our seats were so bad that we bumped our heads on the girders. Nowadays, we sit close enough that the leprechaun has danced with my wife, Judy, during timeouts.

I enjoy women’s basketball more than men’s basketball. Mainly, it’s because the game seems a step slower, so I can understand it better, and it’s played below the rim, so I can see it better. This slower, lower game allows me to notice the type of defenses that are being played and to gasp at a well-executed pick and roll.

I also find myself feeling like I know the women players. It started with Skylar Diggins-Smith, who played at Notre Dame from 2009 to 2013. I had seen her play first as a 15-year-old freshman at South Bend Washington. In the hundred or so games I’ve watched, she’s been a role model for any athlete, young or old.

After Skylar graduated, other star players emerged, including Arike Ogunbowale. In the 2018 NCAA championships, Arike made last-second shots that beat UConn in the semifinals and Mississippi State in the finals. When I was writing about her for a Notre Dame magazine, I looked at every major sport to see if anyone had won two consecutive games with last-second baskets, home runs, touchdowns or whatever to win national championships. No one has.

In the interview, she deflected the attention to teammates and coaches who set the stage for her. Still, it was Arike who hit those baskets. In the 2019 championships, Arike missed a free throw in the final seconds in a one-point loss to Baylor. It didn’t crush her. She understood that basketball is a fickle game.

That’s a good lesson for all of us. In most respects, this has been another enjoyable season. Niele Ivey is in her fourth season as coach, replacing a legend. Muffet McGraw had coached the Notre Dame women from 1987 to 2020. In those 32 seasons, her teams had a composite record of 848-252; won national championships in 2001 and 2018; and were national runners-up in 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2019.

Ivey’s first squad was a rebuilding project, going 10-10 during the pandemic season. Her second and third teams both advanced to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen. Last year’s team in particular was outstanding before two of its top players were lost for the season with leg injuries.

Injuries have been a problem this year as well. Four players who were expected to contribute – All-American Olivia Miles, Cass Prosper, Emma Risch and Jenna Brown – all are out, leaving Ivey with just eight, sometimes seven, regular players. In addition, Sonia Citron missed nine games with a leg injury and Maddy Westbeld has been playing with a transparent face mask since missing a game with a concussion.

The Irish have battled to an 18-6 record, with five of those losses coming against teams now ranked in the top 25. A freshman phenom, Hannah Hidalgo, is one of the nation’s most talked-about players – leading all NCAA players in steals and among the leaders in scoring. 

The team is successful and entertaining. Still, the internet assassins have been busy in the past two weeks. Ivey, they claim, is clueless as a coach. Hidalgo is a ball-hog and her teammates probably hate her. The team’s two centers – Kylie Watson and Nat Marshall – are worthless and should be benched. Miles and Prosper are malingering and likely will transfer out after this depressing season ends.

Vicious stuff is attached to every online account of any game. I spent a lot of years as a newspaper writer, and my training is to look for details. So, I ask, has anyone told you that the teammates dislike Hidalgo, or that Miles and Prosper are transferring, or are you making it up? If you bench Watson and Marshall, which of the 5-foot-8 substitutes will guard N.C. State’s 6-foot-5 center? How did a clueless coach outsmart UConn genius Geno Auriemma?

The answer: If I wasn’t a moron, I would know. It’s that obvious to everyone else.

I don’t know where all this anger comes from. How is it that these folks love the Notre Dame team so much while they hate everything about it – the coach, the players and other fans?

I suppose I could ask the same question about America – how the guys waving flags and misting up over that Lee Greenwood song can spew hatred toward our president, our legislature, our courts, our cities, our schools, our libraries and at least 65 percent of our population.

I could ask, but I would rather wait until the season’s over. I may be a moron, but the team needs my help right now.