Molly Qerim First Take ESPN Caitlin Clark Screen grab: First Take

While Molly Qerim isn’t shy to share her opinion, she often leaves the hot takes to Stephen A. Smith.

But with her beloved UConn Huskies women’s basketball team preparing to face Caitlin Clark and Iowa in the Final Four on Friday, the First Take host was letting it fly.

Following a conversation in which Smith compared Clark to Steph Curry while debating whether she should be considered the “GOAT” if Iowa wins the national title, Qerim made it clear that the Hawkeyes will be facing a diminished Huskies team in Cleveland on Friday.

“All I gotta say is she’s lucky this UConn team isn’t healthy, and that’s a true statement,” Qerim said.

“That’s wrong, Molly,” Smith told Qerim, who’s never hidden her Huskies fandom. “That’s excuses. You would not be saying that if it wasn’t UConn.”

“A hit dog will holler,” Qerim replied in reference Smith’s own biases.

While Smith conceded that UConn is battling injuries, he stated that all that matters is that Huskies star guard Paige Bueckers will be available for the highly anticipated showdown against Clark. To that end, Qerim fired off another scorcher, proclaiming that Bueckers was capable of being every bit the star that the two-time Naismith College Player of the Year is before suffering injuries of her own.

“If Paige Bueckers didn’t basically miss two seasons, I don’t know if we’d be talking about Caitlin Clark the way we are right now,” Qerim said.

“I said that the other day,” Smith replied.

“Well I was out of the country,” Qerim responded, referring to the vacation she recently returned from.

Qerim’s takes are hardly outrageous; UConn is certainly battling injuries and Bueckers entered college with even more than hype than Clark did, only to see her UConn career temporarily derailed. But what made Qerim’s opinions stand out is that you won’t find a lot of people doing anything but heaping praise on Clark heading into this weekend, let alone preemptively downplaying a potential Hawkeyes win over the Huskies.

In a weird way, this feels like progress for women’s college basketball. Not only is it being prominently featured on shows that typically prioritize the NFL and NBA like First Take, but the sport is also being discussed in the same way that those leagues are with arguments regarding Clark’s “GOAT” status and hosts leaning into their own biases and fandom.

In this instance, it happened to be Qerim playing up her UConn fandom, much in the same way that everybody knows how Smith feels about the Dallas Cowboys. And while it might have wrecked havoc on her social media mentions from Iowa fans, it certainly made for compelling content.

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About Ben Axelrod

Ben Axelrod is a veteran of the sports media landscape, having most recently worked for NBC's Cleveland affiliate, WKYC. Prior to his time in Cleveland, he covered Ohio State football and the Big Ten for outlets including Cox Media Group, Bleacher Report, Scout and Rivals.