March 8, 2023 

For UConn women’s basketball, a challenging chapter has closed

Huskies clinch 21st BIG EAST Tournament title

UNCASVILLE, Conn. — In the state of Connecticut, UConn women’s basketball in March is a season onto itself. Like a Dunkin’ on every other block or an annual blizzard, it’s just a given. It’s expected and consistent, mundane even.

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With a 67-56 win over Villanova in Monday’s BIG EAST Tournament championship game, UConn women’s basketball clinched its third straight BIG EAST Tournament title and 21st overall. The Huskies have seven additional conference tournament titles in the trophy case from a seven-season stint in the American Athletic Conference (AAC) from 2014-2020. The program has won 11 national championships and reached the Final Four 22 times, including the last 14 consecutive Final Fours.

When you take a step back and think about the dominance of this program, it’s nearly incomprehensible. To achieve such success that anything less than a Final Four or national championship is a disappointment is a remarkable standard to uphold. And for the better part of the last three decades, UConn in March has met the standard and redefined excellence over and over.

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This season, March in Storrs has felt a bit less guaranteed because of the adversity the program has faced. Before the season even began, 2021 National Player of the Year Paige Bueckers (ACL) and freshman Ice Brady (patella) were ruled out for the season. Prior to the BIG EAST Tournament quarterfinals on Saturday, the last time UConn had 10 players available was Nov. 14 against Texas. In December UConn head coach Geno Auriemma’s mother died and he missed four games, taking time away from the team to focus on his health. On February 8, the Huskies lost back-to-back games for the first time since 1993.

Blow after blow, Auriemma and his coaching staff and whichever players were available to play had to pivot, experimenting with different rotations, navigating exhaustion. The team had to rely on players who weren’t expecting the minutes they had to play. They bore the incredible weight of expectations that a UConn jersey symbolizes.

“You want winning to be special here at Connecticut, like it is every place else, instead of we have to win,” Auriemma said after the BIG EAST Tournament victory. “And it’s just when you coach long enough, you describe coaching as there’s misery and relief. And when you lose it’s misery and when you win it’s relief. Not even joy.

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“But it almost felt like a chapter had been closed [with the tournament title win]. I can sit back now and really let everything, like, wash over you that you’ve been holding in. So many things have happened on and off the court this past season — personally, team-wise, everything — that to get to this point, you want to just close that book and now start a brand-new one starting next Sunday [in the NCAA Tournament].

“And it ended, that book ended the right way. It had a lot of acts and a lot of tragedies and a lot of ups and downs, a lot of stuff, but the book ended the right way. And now it’s time for a new one…for the next couple days, I think we’re just going to take a deep breath and let it all come out. Holding a lot in.”

When the game was over and the confetti was flurrying from the rafters of Mohegan Sun Arena, it felt like a valve had been released in the building. The tension this team has been holding all season seemed to find reprieve. Players threw confetti in the air, posed with team mascot Jonathan the husky dog and embraced. Auriemma did the griddy and brought his grandkids on the court.

The celebration came after three days of special performances from the Huskies en route to a dominant run through the BIG EAST Tournament field. They were playing with poise, effort and teamwork. With the return of Azzi Fudd to the lineup and more depth to execute different rotations, the team appeared to embody preseason expectations.

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“I think that [these] last three games kind of reflect on what team we can really be,” said UConn grad transfer Lou Lopez Sénéchal. “And I think the beginning of the year that’s the UConn that we were. And even though it was, the last couple of weeks were pretty rough for us, we still found a way to overcome all of that and find a way to find a solution during this tournament.”

What makes the UConn program so special is how, year after year, it is consistently excellent. Come March, no matter how the regular season plays out, Auriemma and his coaching staff take the program to another level. They are always in the conversation for national title contention and have so often met or exceeded that sky-high standard.

“We’re talented, but we’re disciplined and dedicated to win,” tournament Most Outstanding Player and UConn junior Aaliyah Edwards said. “It speaks to our standard and to what we are as a program and we’re a winning program. That’s what we did today.”

On Monday, like it does each year, UConn in March came around. After a trying regular season, the Huskies closed another chapter with a joyful ending.

Written by Tee Baker

Tee has been a contributor to The Next since March Madness 2021 and is currently a contributing editor, BIG EAST beat reporter and curator of historical deep dives.

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