MINNEAPOLIS – Connecticut has spent nearly three decades as the biggest threat in women’s college basketball, dangerous even when it hasn’t been in first place in Division I for weeks – where the Huskies spent much of that time.
But after losing to South Carolina on Sunday night, the Huskies no longer have a perfect record in NCAA championship games. For the first time since 2008, some UConn players will graduate without winning a national title. And the program, so often considered dynastic, is in the midst of its longest championship drought since winning the first of its 11 championships in 1995. Although it has been a permanent part of the Final Four in recent years, its last championship was in 2016.
“This is UConn, so it’s a national championship or nothing,” second-year star Paige Bookers said after the game, looking at red-eyed reporters. “I’m obviously upset, frustrated and disappointed.”
Her coach, Geno Ariema, was unusually overwhelmed while talking to reporters after the game. Instead of attributing the defeat to the “immaturity” of his players, as he did after last year’s defeat in the semifinals of the national team from Arizona, the second winning coach in the history of women’s basketball in Division I insisted he was proud of his team for coming this far.
Auriema went through a list of obstacles the Huskies overcame during the season – most of them related to maintaining health – and added that striker Olivia Nelson-Ododa played with an injury sustained in a game against Stanford on Friday, as well as new defender Azi Foodd. he fell ill overnight and did not go to filming.
The team must have faced a lot of adversity. Most notable among the various failures was Bueckers ’knee injury in the middle of the season, which contributed to the Huskies’ worst regular season in 17 years.
Even that injury, however, still does not explain the questions that hang over every move of Auriema at this point in his legendary career: is the legendary UConn Huskies dynasty losing its power? Is this defeat, more than any of the previous defeats of the Final Four, the one that marks the end of an era?
“It’s another reminder of how hard it is to win here,” Ariema said. “Usually a better team wins when you come here, and we just weren’t good enough.”
Hearing Auriemma say that it is difficult to win can sound almost unbelievable, considering how easily he has done it in the last three decades. Connecticut has had a better team in their games for a long time – they spent entire seasons inflating teams by 30 or 40 points, and almost reached their 11 championships.
UConn’s dominance may have begun to recede, but the untitled part is also a testament to the growth of programs designed to challenge his position at the top of the crowd. South Carolina, for example, is now a two-time champion whose claim to powerful status has been reinforced by the fact that, unlike in 2017, the Gamecocks had to go through the Huskies to win this championship.
“A lot of what we are able to do and get out of the back of their success,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said before the championship game. “I think people at UConn treat their women’s basketball team as a sport. They are forced to do so because of all the victories and all the successes, but you could take a page out of their book. ”
Whether this loss can be attributed to the fact that the Huskies are no longer what they used to be, the development of even tougher competition or just a series of bad breaks – perhaps all three reasons are valid – Auriemma is optimistic that his young team will have much to offer next year. age.
“I like our chances,” said Auriema, who will return his two new A-list recruits to Food and Bueckers and add Aianna Patterson and Isuneh Brady, both ranked in the top five in the 2022 class according to ESPN.
“Provided we don’t have to go through a season like this year and – knock on wood – if we stay healthy,” Auriema said, “I expect to be back here next year.”