Perhaps you watched Friday's NCAA semifinals at a viewing party with your friends. You might have gathered in a rec room, relaxed in some comfy chairs, maybe enjoyed a couple of beverages from a red cup.
Or you could have attended the coolest watch party in town, just by turning on the TV. In a makeshift lounge above Section 120 at Target Center, basketball legends Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi took in the games from a pair of leather chairs, with a few of their high-profile pals dropping by in person or via videoconference. For those not in the arena, ESPN's "The Bird and Taurasi Show'' felt like watching hoops at a friend's house, except the friends were famous, the hosts were all-stars and the house was a TV studio.
Like any good watch party, the game was only part of the entertainment. Though it was front and center on the broadcast, the audio was replaced with the conversation between Bird, Taurasi and their guests, who appeared in "Hollywood Squares''-style boxes along the side. Friday's guests included Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett and Bill Walton, new Lynx forward Angel McCoughtry and Iowa star Caitlin Clark.
Some of the things they discussed, in addition to the games:
- Personal trainers for college players. "I was pounding beers and cheeseburgers in college,'' Taurasi said. "Baby fat ballers.''
- The role of analytics in basketball. Taurasi gives it a big thumbs-down, while Garnett said analytics "impact too much on the psyche'' and "killed the midrange jumper.''
- Name, image and likeness rules. Bird and Taurasi wondered if they could get back pay. Garnett mused that "campuses are going to be a lot different. There are going to be a lot more Range Rovers.''
One person who wasn't tuned in: UConn coach Geno Auriemma, who was busy guiding the Huskies into Sunday's NCAA title game. Though he's known Bird and Taurasi since their days playing for him at UConn, he didn't plan to catch a replay.
"I didn't record it, and the chances of me watching it are less than zero,'' Auriemma said with a smile. "But I'm sure they were funny as hell. And I'm sure whatever they were drinking didn't come from the store.''
Bird and Taurasi will be back in their Target Center lounge, red cups in hand, for another show during Sunday's NCAA final. Catch the party on ESPN2 and ESPN+, starting at 7 p.m.
Team USA takes the court at Tourney Town
As the emcee announced the U.S. women's national team at an open practice inside the Minneapolis Convention Center on Saturday morning, the crowd reserved its loudest cheers for Angel McCoughtry and Aerial Powers. Packed into three sections of makeshift bleachers 15 rows deep, with overflow spectators layered shoulder to shoulder around the entire perimeter of the court, Minnesota women's basketball fans clamored for their Lynx stars.
McCoughtry, the first overall pick in 2009, signed with the Lynx in February. Powers signed as a free agent before the 2021 season and posted 13.4 points per game in 14 appearances last year with Minnesota. The team's presence dominated Saturday's practice.
"One of the reasons the Final Four was awarded to Minneapolis was the work we do with the Lynx and the support of their fans," said Team USA and Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve speaking to the crowd. "You're why we're here."
Scrimmaging against a star-studded lineup featuring Breanna Stewart and Kelsey Plum, McCoughtry caught a looping pass in the lane and finished a right-handed lay-in over the Indiana Fever's Kelsey Mitchell. The grandstand erupted again.
Minnesota's next generation wants to be like Paige
Avery Frier, 13, a seventh-grader from New Ulm, Minn., started watching Paige Bueckers when she played at Hopkins. Avery knew right away from the YouTube highlights that Bueckers was the kind of player she wanted to be: unselfish. She loved the way Bueckers passed the ball and demonstrated her love for her teammates.
Avery spread the word to her teammates Bailey Johnson and Olivia Hammer, who immediately saw the same qualities. The trio watched UConn beat Stanford on Friday night, came back the next day for open practice and are set to cheer on Bueckers and Co. again in the national championship Sunday — the whole time waving their Paige Bueckers poster.
"My motivation is Paige, and I want to be just like her," Olivia said. "I want girls watching me just like I watch Paige."
Entertaining the crowd
Basketball fans may have been at Target Center to see the star players of South Carolina and Connecticut during Saturday's free open practices, but the coaches did provide some entertainment. Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley was frequently dancing and singing along to the arena playlist, which included hip hop hits and artists from her hometown of Philadelphia like Boyz II Men. She also turned her eyes away from her practicing players to watch several interviews with South Carolina fans in the crowd on the video board, clapping and showing her support to those who made the trip.
Auriemma's three grandsons shared the spotlight during UConn's open practice, shooting baskets at one end of the court while the Huskies ran drills at the other for most of the session. The boys were such a part of the show that they posed with the players during a team picture at the end of the practice.
Naila-Jean Meyers contributed to this report.