Yes, this game is an important measuring stick. No, it is not the national championship. Yes, this game is wonderful showcase for women's college basketball. No, it is not the national championship.
Yes, the scheduling is a bit of a nuisance. No, I don't feel one bit sorry for Baylor or anybody else.
"I just don't want people to overemphasize it," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said the other day of her No. 1 team's showdown against UConn on Monday night at the XL Center.
If Mulkey's mission is to keep the game in perspective, she is absolutely right. This one has nothing on world peace, the fight against hunger and the debate on gun control.
If her mission is to downplay the moment, downplay the impact of the game, render it meaningless in the scope of the women's basketball season, even build in a few excuses, may I make a few suggestions?
Return half the cost of those $27 tickets that an expected sellout crowd of 16,294 is paying.
Have ESPN, which leaned on Mulkey to play this game in February, move the broadcast from ESPN2 to its online streaming site so only the most dedicated of the game's cultists will watch.
And, oh yeah, have Mulkey, who works officials like no other in the women's game, sit silently on the bench for 40 minutes to demonstrate proper decorum and perspective.
Because, you know, we don't want to overemphasize the best regular-season matchup of 2012-13.
"That's why you play the games," said UConn coach Geno Auriemma, who, to be fair, has occasionally downplayed the import of regular-season showdowns to fit his needs. "If you win, you feel better. If you lose, you feel like spit.
"It matters because you want to win. It doesn't matter, because a game like that can put yourself into a tailspin if you don't win. So that's why you've got to be careful of how you approach a game like this."
College basketball coaches loathe the thought of their teams going into a tailspin in February. Coaches are control freaks. They want to control time, place, players' thoughts, the air that their players breathe, all in the name of a perceived edge.
"I think it goes against what you're trying to do with your program," Mulkey said. "Really selfishly, the most important thing in January and February is to try to get to the postseason and to win a conference championship. Yet at the same time, you feel a sense of a responsibility to do what's good for the women's game and keep the fan interest there. I understand that, too. Which one is more important to me? It's going to be Baylor University.
"The timing of it, going on the road, 2 1/2-hour flight, getting back at 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning … I agreed to it because it is good for women's basketball. I don't know Geno's Big East schedule, but I know the timing of ours is that I don't want anything to take away from us having an opportunity to clinch an outright championship the next game when we get back. Initially, I said, `No.' I just had a lot of phone calls from television, ESPN people, to give me their push why we should and I agreed to do it."
The Bears are 14-0 in the conference, they have a five-game lead with four games remaining. Their next game isn't until Saturday at home against Texas, 2-10 in Big 12. So they clinched outright since Mulkey spoke. I'm going to go way out on a limb here and assert the game against UConn was never going to interfere with Mulkey's plans.
I also going to assert that if Auriemma doesn't say something provocative, this sport dissolves too often into apologists, excuse-makers and the province of the timid. Geno, bless his soul, came up big again Sunday.
"If [Mulkey] didn't want to do it, she should say 'I don't want to do it,' " Auriemma said. "What the hell difference what ESPN thinks? If you don't want to play the game, don't play the game."
There will be more than a month before top-seeded teams like Baylor play opening-weekend NCAA Tournament games. If the Bears were to lose to UConn, surely they could recover mentally by that point to beat a No. 16 seed.
A great team with the most physically dominant player in the history of the game, a team that is veteran, poised, mentally and physically tough, a team that hasn't lost a game with its full complement of players in two seasons? The Bears should strut into Hartford saying, "Bring it on! We are the champs! We'll play the Connecticut Sun while we're up here!" You'd respect the bravado.
The Bears have the belt. The only game they lost this season — to Stanford — Odyssey Sims played four minutes because of a hamstring injury. It's a shame, because if she had played, Baylor would be riding a 65-game winning streak. Would Mulkey have urged everyone not to overemphasize that, too?
Look, if it ended today, Brittney Griner would not be remembered as the greatest player in college history. If she slams the door on UConn, closes out a second successive title, sticks another banner in the ground, well, she can challenge anyone. That's what games like this help define.
"I know one of their goals was to win 91 in row," Auriemma said making reference to UConn's record streak. "I think they discovered how difficult that is to do. ... If you look at their team and they play their A game, theoretically they're going to win every game they play. They have something no one else has. They can walk into any arena and say unless we play bad, we're not going to lose. I've been there lots of times. It's a good feeling."
I could go on and on about how Baylor grabs control of the biggest games with its defense and how the Bears play with a fearlessness on the perimeter because they know they have a devastating shot-blocker to erase any mistakes.
I could go on and on about how this is Stefanie Dolson's chance to show the world how much she has improved, yet if people are going to reduce it to big Big Stef vs. Griner, they'll be disappointed. I could quote Auriemma saying, "It's not Olajuwon vs. Ewing in the lane. That's not a fight Stef can win. It's a contrast in styles." I could go on about how important is for Dolson to get out on the high post, get the ball moving and open the floor. I could go on and on how a key to this game is spacing.
For today, I will only go on how UConn long has played anybody, anywhere, anytime without complaint. In 2012, UConn played at Duke Jan. 30 and at Oklahoma Feb. 14. Oklahoma three times, LSU twice, Texas once — the Huskies have played in February against nonconference teams seven of eight years. Don't remember them crying or not getting to the Final Four because of it.
"I don't know how a game [Monday night] is going to impact our ability one way or another to win the Big East," Auriemma said. "I never looked it at that way. I'm also to the point now where if you win the regular-season conference championship and you lose in the second round in March, you think anybody is going to have a parade for you?"
Said Mulkey: "Let me make it perfectly clear. We've got four games the rest of this month. The least important one is UConn. It's a great game for fans, great for TV, great for women's basketball. I'm not sure winning it means anything. I'm not sure getting beat means anything.
Actually, if UConn wins, then beats Notre Dame to win out, it'll get the No. 1 overall seed that would allow the Huskies to avoid playing both Notre Dame and Baylor in the Final Four. That's means plenty. Don't undersell a great game, Kim. It doesn't look good on you.