Life, death and women's hoops

By Mechelle Voepel
Special to ESPNET SportsZone


So, an old high school friend you haven't talked to in 11 years calls and says, "Hey, when did you move to town? Want to have dinner?''

Sure, you say. But what night? You've got a basketball game to go to, or there's one on TV, or a couple to watch on tape, or you're writing about basketball, or you're just sitting at your desk thinking about it. There aren't any free nights.

It has been 11 years, though, so you figure somehow you'll spare a couple hours and set the VCR. Then your friend says, "So where do you want to go?''

You have no idea. Who eats out? What a waste of time -- you can eat while watching TV or projecting your 64 teams or checking the Internet or reading e-mail.

"Where do you usually go out to eat?'' she asks.

You assume pick-up-and-go at Subway or Taco Bell is not acceptable. You tell your friend to choose. And she picks a place where there is no TV. No Headline News SportsTicker. No ESPN, no Deuce, no Fox Sports. Sigh.

Your friend, in med school the last time you saw her, is now a doctor who's traveled to Greece and Panama, draws, and listens to classical music.

She also sees AIDS patients every day. She knows death so well now, she says, she recognizes it just before it gets there. She'll walk into a room sometimes and see the person who's been dying for months, maybe years, but on this day the hair on the back of her neck will stand up. It's time.

You discuss death. You've each lost a parent since you last talked -- she, a nurse mother who passed on a love of medicine; you, the father who told stories about watching Stan Musial play and gave you money every Saturday for a pack of baseball cards.

How do you handle your job, you ask her. How do you deal with pain and death so often?

It's not just a job; it's a calling, she tells you. There are sad times, hard times, angry times. But she believes in the value of what she's doing. She feels so lucky to be doing it.

"Do you like your job?'' she asks.

"It's ... not very important; not like what you do.''

"Do you like it?''

"Some of it I love. Women's basketball, I love that.''

It's so fun, so exciting. And, also, you agonize that so many women's accomplishments throughout history haven't been chronicled. It's like they're invisible. These kids you watch play ... you don't want them to be invisible. You don't want them to be forgotten.

"That's your calling.''

You talk a long time and then leave to your different worlds, promising it will not be 11 more years before you get together again.

She goes home to sleep. At 5 a.m. she'll get up to go to the hospital. You go home and turn on the TV and computer almost simultaneously.

Wow! North Carolina lost! OK, now who's the fourth No. 1 seed? This gets N.C. State in the tournament for sure.

No, it isn't life and death. But it is life.

It keeps happening

Not like anything should surprise us anymore this season. But ...

Alabama losing to UNC Charlotte? (No e-mail, please from indignant Conference USA fans. You guys were surprised, too.) Duke losing by 30 to Virginia? In Durham? What?

The former was shocking, but was an example of something that is just a natural evolution -- more talent makes for more upsets.

But the latter ... OK, OK, technically it's not so hard to explain. U.Va. shot 53 percent, Duke 26. But why? Virginia winning is not surprising, but Virginia winning that big -- you've got to be kidding.

"This has been a season where anything can happen,'' says Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly, whose Cyclones upset No. 9 Texas on Wednesday. "The thing that is strange is, with some of the scores there's a wide margin.

"It makes it exciting, but I'm thinking it might be very hard for people who are just growing into following the sport to figure out who's good and who isn't.''

Good point. But for that matter, it isn't exactly easy for the ones who've been following it a long time. Often, who's good and who isn't just depends on the day.


We'll take a more in-depth look at the various conference tournaments next week, but it's safe to analyze the CAA and Big East: Old Dominion, UConn. That was tough.

Big 12 stuff

Guess what? Kansas State is making an already interesting league even more so. There are times when the Wildcats' offense looks like the Tin Man before he got oil, but K-State has played great defense and defended its home turf perfectly.

No. 12 Kansas, currently first in the Big 12, will try to become the first visitor to win in Manhattan, Kan., Saturday. On the same day there was another in-state rivalry, as Texas Tech traveled to Texas. The Longhorns pulled out a 72-61 victory.

Colorado, which we talked about last week, is an interesting case. The Buffs are at Missouri this week, then finish at Texas and play host to Iowa State. Colorado ought to win two of those and be safely in the NCAAs.

But, with three games left in the Big 12's regular season followed by the league tournament, a lot of things could happen. Maybe K-State plays itself into the NCAAs; maybe CU or Nebraska plays its way out.

Big Ten stuff

Big, big victories for Purdue last weekend over Michigan State and Wisconsin. The Boilermakers travel to Illinois on Sunday to finish up the Big Ten regular season.

Suffice it to say, Boiler fans are really happy with what this team has done so far, and it's not finished. The conference tournament is in Indianapolis Feb. 28-March 3. And now, it sure looks like Purdue will get an NCAA bid.

Confession: When Purdue visited Kansas back in December, I thought, "Wonder how the regional in West Lafayette will draw with Purdue not playing in the NCAAs.''


It's still a stretch to see Purdue, which has so little depth, as a Sweet 16 team. But it isn't impossible.

Weekend update

Also this weekend, watch for the following:

  • The two ACC heavyweights, North Carolina and Virginia, meet in Chapel Hill on Sunday. Always great theatre.

  • Just your typical SEC Sunday afternoon: Georgia vs. Arkansas, Alabama vs. Vandy.

    Mechelle Voepel of the Kansas City Star writes a regular women's basketball column for ESPNET SportsZone. Her e-mail address is