April 2, 2022
Can Huskies remain undefeated in national title games?
UConn vs. South Carolina features a traditional powerhouse and a contemporary force
For the Connecticut Huskies women’s basketball team, perfection has been part of the tradition for the the better part of the past three decades. Six undefeated seasons, seven consecutive seasons (2014-2021) without a loss to a conference opponent, and owners of the two longest winning streaks in college basketball history (111 games, 90 games), UConn has been an absolute powerhouse of sport.
With a gritty 63-58 victory over the Stanford Cardinal on Friday, the Huskies advanced to their 12th national championship game in program history. UConn has a perfect 11-0 record in national championship games heading into Sunday’s match-up with the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Part of the reason Connecticut has found such incredible success is due to the persistent perfectionism of head coach Geno Auriemma, now in his 37th season at the helm of the Huskies.
“I still have my assistants going, you know, we’re doing a lot of really good things,” Auriemma said. “I’m, like, yeah, name one. Because I refuse to see the good things that we’re doing. I already know what they are.”
“I always feel like my job as a coach is to only see the things that could help us lose. So if every single day I’m attacking those things that can help us lose, I don’t have it in me to see the ten things we’re doing that are great that are helping us win. All I care about is if I don’t fix these things, we’re going to lose. That’s a lousy way to live,” Auriemma laughed.
Blue Blood vs. New Blood
There were years (notably during the Stewie era) which Connecticut was so dominant that it seemed a foregone conclusion that they would be the champions. They made the really, really difficult look relatively easy by winning four straight national titles between the years 2013-2016.
In 2017, the Huskies lost 66-64 to Mississippi State on a buzzer beater made by Morgan “Itty Bitty” William. The loss snapped UConn’s 111-game winning streak. The next game, Dawn Staley-led South Carolina would claim its first title with a 67-55 win over Mississippi State, solidifying its spot among the sport’s elite.
UConn vs. South Carolina features a traditional powerhouse in the Huskies against the contemporary force that is Dawn Staley’s Gamecocks. Since 2015, South Carolina has reached the Final Four four times (2015, 2017, 2021, 2022). Only Connecticut has reached more during that span.
Auriemma said of Dawn Staley: “I think anybody who builds a program that can get to the Final Four and win a National Championship and put themselves in the position to do that multiple times has been able to do it by building a solid foundation, a solid base,” Auriemma said. “And that starts usually in your staff, and she had a great staff; recruiting the type of kid that you want to coach that wants to play for you. She’s very, very demanding and very exact in what she wants and what she expects from her players. They play exceptionally hard defensively.”
“Doing all those things then allows you to recruit a team like they have right now, you know, high school All-Americans who want to win a National Championship. And once you do that, then that train is going, and it’s not going to stop as long as she’s there.”
The two titans have collided earlier this season, in November, when South Carolina defeated UConn 73-57 in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in The Bahamas. UConn led for some of that game, but the Gamecocks completely dominated on the boards and overwhelmed the Huskies with a fourth quarter run to clinch the early-season tournament crown.
Dawn Staley knows that the two teams are very different now, this late into the post-season.
“The Bahamas game was eons ago,” Staley said. “What did we take it from it? We’re going to watch it a little bit because I liked how we were defending, and we can compare what it looks like from back in November to what it looks like now. I think we’ve gotten better, but we did a pretty good job in the Bahamas.”
“We’ll look at it just probably to get our players’ juices flowing a little bit to see this is what we did. This is the kind of effort and more that it’s going to take to basically dethrone Connecticut and all the things that they’ve done and the incredible percentage of winning when they’re in a National Championship game.”
Guard play is key to UConn victory
Naismith Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year Aliyah Boston is a stifling defender. She’s also an automatic double-double. Until the Elite Eight she was riding a 27-game double-double streak. In Friday’s win over Louisville she scored 23 points and grabbed 18 rebounds. The junior is absolutely dominant.
In contrast, the Huskies are not at full strength in the post right now. Connecticut 6’5 forward Dorka Juhász is out for the season with a fractured wrist, and post players Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Aaliyah Edwards have struggled with foul trouble.
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The Huskies will need to hold their own in the post and they’ll need help from their guards. BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year Nika Mühl and senior Evina Westbrook have been an energizers off the bench for the Huskies and need to maintain that intensity against South Carolina.
Azzi Fudd and Paige Bueckers need to find their shooting strokes. In the Final Four game against Stanford, Bueckers scored 14 points on 7-13 shooting. Fudd was held to eight points and was 0-2 from downtown. Both will need to contribute offensively for the Huskies to defeat the Gamecocks.
Freshman Azzi Fudd is ready to meet the moment. She came to Connecticut to be in a a position to win a national championship.
“I knew it was going to be hard, but I wanted to be pushed,” said Fudd. “I wanted to come out of college being the best player I can be. And I know just that at UConn there’s so much — so many amazing players have come out of here done so well at the next level. That’s what I want to do eventually. I just wanted to join the legacy, if you will.”
Fudd and the Huskies have the chance to write their own legacy tomorrow night in Minneapolis.