Patrick Reusse
See more of the story

There were tables crowded together in the back of the media room for the women's Final Four. The ESPN television crew was drifting in for informal interviews.

Holly Rowe arrived and headed for the morning coffee. She then sat down at a table with four chairs. Reporters came and went for a half-hour.

One visitor asked Rowe if she had a prediction for this Final Four.

"I don't make predictions," she said. "I don't want anything to affect my objectivity. It probably wouldn't, but …

She pointed to her right temple and said: "… Ego might enter."

She is clearly beloved by a high percentage of the players that she covers, although not for anything close to what you might observe, say, with the Vikings' locally based, unrestrained homerism.

Rowe has created this fondness among subjects of her coverage with a clear love of those sports — women's basketball, college football, softball, volleyball — without a sacrifice of professionalism.

And, frankly, the opinion here is that's amazing in any form of media as we wind down the first quarter of the 21st century in the United States of Angry.

“The reason I like her so much is because I've been a reporter, and that's what she is: a reporter. She's always curious. She asks questions because she wants to know.”
Sloane Martin, BTN broadcaster

This is Rowe's 17th season as the sideline reporter for the Division I women's basketball tournament. My first question was, "How did you get this assignment?" and it included a hint that a national TV talent might consider this a lesser assignment than covering the men's tournament.

"I begged for it," Rowe said. "There's nothing I wanted more than to be covering women's basketball for our network. Of all things I've been doing, nothing is more exciting to me than this."

This enthusiasm can be traced to being a plucky guard for a Bountiful, Utah, team in the Val Verde Stake Mormon Church League.

"There were 20 teams in our league and it was very competitive," Rowe said. "I played Church League all through high school.

"I didn't realize that college basketball could be an option. I wish I had known that. I would have tried to play. I loved playing basketball.''

Rowe's Wikipedia page suggests she is "best known'' as a sideline reporter for college football games. As of late Monday night, that page definitely needs an edit.

Rowe was the ESPN reporter for the Connecticut-N.C. State regional final in Bridgeport, Conn. Final: UConn 91-87 in two overtimes.

"That game was maybe the best game I've ever seen," Rowe said Thursday.

This wasn't Cris Collinsworth saying, "I've never seen anyone make a play like that," an average of five times per night on NFL games.

This was a wide-eyed Rowe, recalling in wonder those 2 ½ hours, and those two overtimes, that she had absorbed from next to the court only three nights earlier.

And when it was over, and the initial celebration had taken place, UConn coach Geno Auriemma came over to Rowe for the postgame interview.

Fourteen straight Final Fours for the Huskies, and Rowe has covered them all. And dozens of other UConn games, almost always with an Auriemma interview afterwards.

"When it comes to most time spent with a microphone in front of someone for your career, where does Geno rank?" Rowe was asked.

She had a laugh over that and said, "What's amazing about Geno is he's never boring. I've seen him upset in huddles, but I've never had that in an interview.

"Geno doesn't lose often, but when he does, he's gracious. He praises the opponent. He might be more gracious in defeat than in victory.

"I had the interview after Morgan William hit the shot to end the winning streak. First loss in 112 games and Geno was great."

William hit a buzzer-beater for Mississippi State to end UConn's 111-game winning streak in the national semifinals in 2017.

Late Monday night, Rowe's interview with Auriemma could serve as a clinic for sideline reporters from the "talk to me about" generation.

Opening question: "Coach, you have called this your most difficult season. I see the tears. How hard was this win?"

Auriemma's answer was excellent, including a "thank God, Paige came back," in honor of Paige Bueckers' incredible performance in the clutch.

Rowe's questions formed to create actual insight, and answers containing that from Auriemma, lasted three postgame minutes, concluding with the UConn players running over and mussing his hair.

There's a national podcast on sports media that includes John Ourand from Sports Business Journal. Ourand showed a clip of Rowe's postgamer with Auriemma and summarized:

"It was one of the best postgame interviews I've seen regardless of sports."

Sloane Martin, a Big Ten play-by-play announcer living in the Twin Cities, said:

"Holly Rowe is someone I look to, someone who does it exactly how it should be done. The reason I like her so much is because I've been a reporter, and that's what she is: a reporter.

"She's always curious. She asks questions because she wants to know."

There's even better news than praise for her work with Rowe at the moment:

At this point, she has taken a lead in her five-year battle with desmoplastic melanoma, a rare form of cancer. The early information was pessimistic, and her loss of hair due to aggressive chemotherapy became infamous.

Somehow, she kept working through the worst moments and said this week:

"I'm doing great. My latest CT scans looked good. I was a clinical experiment, taking a drug that wasn't FDA-approved, and it kept me alive."

Hang tough, Rowe. Younger sideline reporters are watching and many might realize that "talk to me about" doesn't qualify as a question.