On Dec. 21, 1984, some people thought women’s basketball had changed forever.
On that afternoon, 6-foot-7 West Virginia All-American Georgann Wells became the first woman to dunk in a college game.
The event — in a 110-82 victory over visiting University of Charlotte — was seen by a crowd of fewer than 110 people.
It was a full decade before another woman dunked in a college contest.
Since, not much has changed (save the superior athletic talent) in the game and its rules.
Dunks remain few and far between. Still only a dozen or so Division I teams shoot better than 45 percent each season and layups remain a mighty challenge for many.
Hoping to add additional flavor to women’s hoops, the NCAA this season has made a handful of significant rule changes — and orders for existing-rule enforcement: a 10-second backcourt clock, no two-hand touches of opposing offensive players and more strict attention to contact in the paint.
UC Davis coach Jennifer Gross weighed in on what it all means to the Aggies.
“Has it changed the way we coach our defense?” the UCD Hall of Famer asked rhetorically. “One hundred percent. We’ve had to adjust. It used to be we’d tell the players ‘Be physical, be tough, get into them, get in their face.’
“Now it’s ‘You have to give them a gap, you have to give them space, you have to get your hands up.’ You really have to rely on your help.”
Gross says her Aggies have seen squads “whose emphasis is drive, drive, drive … and (the rule changes) really help those teams. (Players near the paint) have to help earlier and that takes you away from good rebounding position.”
After losing 88-71 on Sunday at St. Mary’s, the Aggies are now 2-7.
UCD has been called for 196 personal fouls, 43 more than its opposition. That foul number is up 25 from last year through nine outings. Foes have made 143 free throws to 115 for the locals.
With teams like USC, Stanford, the Gaels and Connecticut on their early-season schedule — all “drive, drive, drive” squads — the rule changes have affected the formerly hard-nosed Aggies.
“Year 1 is not as pretty as we hoped because the flow is being constantly interrupted,” explained Gross, who is in her third year as head coach. “We have to figure it out … adapt and adjust to the new calls so we can get the flow back that is fun for the players and exciting for the fans.”
In an 86-78 road loss at Pacific, officials called 57 fouls.
“They’ve done a good job, for the most part,” said Gross, who added that different crews call it “one way, another calls it another way. But I don’t think that (discrepancy) has changed much.
“Officials have a tough job anyway … now they’re being told to call every little foul.”
But Gross says it’s what coaches nationwide called for — rule changes that “were to allow for more free movement on the court, which was intended to provide a more exciting product for the fans. Less beating each other up.”
As for the backcourt clock …
Gross likes talking to point guards as they bring the ball down the floor. Now, with urgency legislated, the coach says her chats will be more brief or completely eliminated.
The 10-second rule also is a double-edged sword.
“Coaches want to press, but they’re a little nervous about the fouls racking up,” Gross explained. “Teams are ultimately still doing what they do.”
Or, they’re backing off their physical style of play and not getting as many backcourt turnovers and allowing more points.
UCD is giving up 73.9 points per game through nine outings, up 10.1 ppg from the 2012-13 season average.
According to Gross, her charges are adjusting. They have four more nonleague games to get things straightened out before Cal State Northridge comes to town for the Jan. 9 Big West Conference opener.
Notes: UConn coach Geno Auriemma recently told The Enterprise that he favors even more changes in women’s basketball. “Lowering the basket 7.2 inches, a 24-second clock,” are his latest suggestions. Maybe four quarters instead of two halves. … Gross says she’s personally not in favor of the even-shorter clock, although “I know the majority of coaches I’ve talked to would be.” Gross thinks lowering the baskets might add a new element to the game, but is logistically “almost impossible to do.” … UCD plays at Santa Clara (3-6), 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at email@example.com or 530-320-4456.