Love for sport drives this writer

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What's not to love? Maples Pavilion buzzes with enthusiasm for the Stanford women's basketball team -- it did 18 years ago, and it does today.

I didn't start out as a female sports writer covering women's basketball.

I started out as a female sports writer covering high school football and Little League baseball and taking slow-pitch softball results from the local rec league over the phone.

But I ended up as a female sports writer covering women's basketball.

It was not because only women should cover women's sports. Or because there weren't opportunities to cover other things.

I have covered women's basketball for 18 years now because I choose to.

On National Girls and Women in Sports Day, I feel compelled to go back to that first day that I got assigned to a Stanford women's basketball game.

I arrived at Maples Pavilion and took my seat in the old press box, halfway up the stands in the old configuration.

It was 1995, three years after the team's last national championship. The stands were mostly full. The Stanford band broke into "All Right Now" as the players finished their free throws and headed to the sideline.

The energy and enthusiasm for the women's team was, to put it simply, inspiring.

I was an athlete in high school, a softball player who relished the days when we would play for a league championship or in a sectional playoff game in front of a large crowd, and you not only could hear the people who were watching and rooting, but you could feel them, as well.

I felt that at Maples Pavilion. All of these people, this music and celebration were here for the women. And I loved it.

Eighteen years later, I still do. I love full arenas, buzzing with anticipation and tension before a big game. Love to hear the turnstiles turn and the sound of large groups of people talking on their way to the seats.

There is no better sound than the rumble that comes from a tightly packed gym.

I have never understood the people who dismiss the women's game out of hand, who act and react as if because they aren't interested in the sport, it shouldn't exist.

And it is frustrating at times to watch folks in the college or pro game still trying to convince those same people who don't deem it worthy to give it a chance.

My view of the women's game is not romantic. There are plenty of empty gyms, unbalanced matchups, heartbreaking injuries.

But my view of the women's game is based on love. Love for the will and desire of the young women who kill themselves to play, for the fans who take the time to show up, for the coaches who toil to get their teams ready.

On National Girls and Women in Sports Day, I just felt compelled to go back to that for a few minutes.

Five on the marquee

1. Tiffany Hayes, Connecticut. The Huskies senior is finding her offensive groove with just weeks left until the postseason. Hayes put up 35 points versus Syracuse this past Wednesday and followed with 33 against South Florida on Saturday, the highest total for a Connecticut player ever over a two-game span. But Hayes was struck in the head in the first half of Monday night's game at Duke and finished with limited minutes and a more understated eight points.

2. Khadijah Rushdan, Rutgers. Rushdan, Rutgers' second-leading scorer, sustained a mild concussion in the first half of Sunday's game against Georgetown and then missed the Scarlet Knights' game Tuesday against Notre Dame, which ended in a 30-point loss. She had started 40 straight games before the injury.

3. Kentucky. The Wildcats are 20-2 and within one win of their best start in school history. Kentucky is trying to capture its first SEC title since 1982. The date to circle on the calendar: Feb. 13 in Knoxville against Tennessee.

4. North Carolina. The Tar Heels have won four in a row since a run of three straight losses that included the program's worst-ever loss, to Connecticut. But big tests are coming again over the next week, including road games at Duke (Monday) and Miami (Wednesday).

5. Shenise Johnson and Riquna Williams, Miami. The Hurricanes' high-scoring duo scored a combined 40 points to lead Miami to its eighth straight win, an 88-57 rout of Boston College on Sunday. Williams needs six points to reach 2,000 in her career.

Five names you should know (but probably don't)

1. Curt Miller, Bowling Green. The Falcons' head coach won't make the trip with his team to Central Michigan after doctors determined this past Thursday that he suffered a minor stroke after his team's game against Eastern Michigan. It hasn't been determined when Miller will be able to return to the sideline. Bowling Green is 18-3 and off to an 8-0 start in the Mid-American Conference.

2. Monet Tellier, Virginia Tech. The sophomore guard led the Hokies to an upset win over No. 7 Maryland last Thursday with 31 points, including a career-high five 3-pointers. It was the second time this season that Tellier has scored at least 30, one of two players in the ACC who have done so. The win was a huge one for Virginia Tech, its first over a team ranked that high since 1998.

3. Minnesota. The Gophers, the program that spawned WNBA standouts Lindsay Whalen and Janel McCarville, won their first game over a ranked program in three years on Sunday, knocking off No. 9 Ohio State 75-65.

4. Porsche Poole, Michigan State. Poole scored a career-high 32 points as Michigan State upset No. 19 Penn State on Sunday. Poole was coming off a 28-point game against Illinois, which the Spartans lost.

5. Brittany Johnson, San Jose State. Johnson scored a career-high 32 in a road win over Nevada, and it was a big one for the beleaguered Spartans program. The win ended a six-year, 44-game WAC road losing streak. And Johnson became the first SJSU player to score 30 or more in a game since 2005.

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