UConn's world didn't end, just the season
You kind of thought it might last forever, didn’t you? Go ahead admit it, wasn’t that the not so ridiculous thought cruising through the mind and off the tongue - the UConn women would play out this Final Four, run the win streak to 113 and then combine its mostly returning contingent with a great recruiting class and a couple of highly touted transfers waiting in the wing and just keep winning.
After all, UConn owns victory like the sun owns the sky on a cloudless day. Heck the Huskies kind of ruined the old Wide World of Sports lead in – “The thrill of victory and agony of defeat.” The agony of what? UConn couldn’t relate. There was even talk of 200 wins in a row flowing around.
And then it all imploded about 12:10 or so Saturday morning (thanks for the time ESPN). Mississippi State stunned the basketball world (and probably pleased a whole lot of it outside of UConn) when they made the Huskies feel the back end of that old Wide World of Sports line.
Feisty and no-fear Morgan Williams turned a regrettable Soniya Chong turnover into one of those rich, unforgettable moments that will stick through the years with a 12-footer over an outstretched arm of Gabby Williams that ended up in the bottom of the net and grabbed you good or bad.
The 111-game win streak now history. No UConn in the championship game. No fifth title in a row. Just doesn’t seem right does it. Or if it does seem right it sure doesn’t feel normal does it? The mighty Huskies vanquished.
There were tears here, 867 days in the making going back to November of 2014 because that is the last time UConn had the lower score than an opponent. The Huskies have always been about blazing new territory, this was experiencing new territory called the land of defeat. It was an area that they had no plans for or desire to visit.
And you know what, it’s all okay. Not okay in the sense that anybody is all-right with losing in the Final Four, especially if your uniform reads UConn across the front. Not okay when you bypass good and great and dance with perfection.
But, the world didn’t end for the Huskies Saturday morning. It got rocked, heck, the whole basketball world got rocked. That’s the painful compliment for the Huskies. Defeat is so rare in their world that the rest of the world took notice. Sports Center lent its first 15 minutes to the result. Women’s basketball leading the way. That is all about UConn brilliance, otherwise this story gets buried like so much of women’s basketball.
Coach Geno Auriemma spoke elegantly after the loss and threw us this gem to toss around, “What you experience at UConn is not real life, what you are feeling tonight is.”
The idea that UConn’s dominance has not helped the women’s basketball cause has been echoed by many in recent times. Not by women’s basketball people but by others. Geno has never apologized and either have his coaching brethren. He is often said it is not our job to get worse it is their job to get better. Maryland coach Brenda Freese and Notre Dame’s Muffet McGraw are just two who have agreed.
So guess what, Mississippi State paid attention. UConn did not play its best game but much of that was due to the relentless defensive effort of the Bulldogs. The Huskies smooth running offense spent much of the night misfiring. Too many turnovers. No breathing room.
Only Gabby Williams was top form with her wonderfully athletic game. They took away Katie Lou for most of the night, Nepheesa Collier was not her usual reliable self. Kia Nurse? It just wasn’t there.
Auriemma said his team wasn’t mature enough on this night which also speaks to the Huskies being in Dallas with an undefeated record. Nobody expected this, coach included. Too many new pieces, too tough a schedule.
Nobody caught up with the Huskies during the season. Not Notre Dame or Maryland or Baylor or South Carolina. They always found a way. No Stewie, no Moriah, no Morgan. Yet, they promoted the idea of no big deal. Not the same team, but the same pedigree.
But, the day finally came and Mississippi State authored it. The Bulldogs didn’t run away from the Huskies, they ran at them. They made the plays. They were the big dogs on this night with a monumental upset.They took last year’s 60-point loss to UConn and permanently put it in the rear view mirror.
Sooner or later the day was going to come. Often it has seemed that day might be in 2025 or thereabouts but it was going to come. Perfection comes in periods of time. In UConn’s case it comes in seasons and years. But even for the greatest women’s basketball program ever, it isn’t bundled in forever.
Losing one is okay. Somebody else will wear the title of national champion this year. There will be no trip to the White House. However, UConn has been there so often that players and coaches have tour-guide status. Plus their good buddy Obama is gone.
And UConn isn’t going anywhere. A game and a season ended not UConn. The Huskies are loaded for next year. UConn plays for its history and its name that produces this most elegant program. They are the best program that looks for ways to get better.
Now they play to rebound. Now it is about regaining the top spot. It is about those tears and going back to more tears only the new ones attached to achievement.
Always hungry Huskies get hungrier now. UConn is not about being happy getting there. There is a numb disappointment that rattles perfection here. But it is fuel for the future. The relentless quest for perfection begins anew.
It’s okay. Something tells me UConn will be okay. UConn was mortal this time around. Hard to believe, but it happens. Not often but it happens. For the first time in a long time the night belonged to another team. Stunning in the world of an unfamiliar result.
But, the world didn’t end, a season did. In disappointment comes incentive. UConn will be okay.