April 8: I am watching the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship pitting my Michigan Wolverines against the Louisville Cardinals. It is a great game and if Michigan wins, perhaps even if they lose, I will probably write about it. Tonight, I am commenting on the other Final Four, the NCAA Women's Tournament.
I lived in the great state of Connecticut for seventeen years. During that time, I got into Women's College basketball simply because of the University of Connecticut Huskies. There were exciting and talented players like Diana Taurasi, Rebecca Lobo, Sue Bird, and so many others. The Lady Huskies have won seven national championships. They have been in the Final Four fourteen times and have more than 30 Big East Championships.
They had some amazing, crazy long, win streaks. In the early 2000s, they tied a record with sixty-nine consecutive home wins. They started another such streak in the later part of the decade and broke the record with 70 consecutive home wins. They had an unbelievable rivalry with the Lady Volunteers of the University of Tennessee.
Living in the state, I was aware of their record and slowly became interested. There were certainly on TV often enough. The first game I watched was against Tennessee. There was so much hype, I had to check it out. Once I did, I was hooked. I was a Huskie fan forever. I got to like the UConn Men's team too, but the women were very good and something very special.
The center of their success is their brilliant coach, Geno Auriemma. He was hired in 1985 which was his only losing season at Connecticut. Coach Auriemma, always looking dapper, recruited some of the best players in the country and coached them superbly. In a world that was increasingly all women coaching staffs, Auriemma was something else. It is, however, impossible to mention Auriemma without mentioning the brilliant Tennessee coach Pat Summitt. They were like women's basketball equivalent of Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler. When Tennessee and UConn played it was always epic.
I have not paid as much to women's hoops since moving to Chicago. There just is not the same hype about women's college basketball here; the Big Ten is not a strong women's basketball conference. I did note that Notre Dame and Connecticut were playing in the women's semi-final, I knew I had to watch. Recently, ND has owned UConn winning eight out of the last nine meetings. Notre Dame was led by Skylar Diggins who is an all-everything star with every accolade except a national . She is already a photogenic celebrity who grew up in South Bend, was a MacDonalds All-American coming out of high school, and in storybook fashion chose the University of Notre Dame. Everyone assumed it was Notre Dame's and her year.
Notre Dame had already beaten UConn three times this year. On Saturday, January 5th, they won 73-72. The second ND win came on Monday March 4th with a score of 96-87. They met a third time in the Big East Tournament on Tuesday March 12th and, again, Notre Dame prevailed winning 61-59. Without much argument, Skylar Diggins was probably the difference in these games. Notre Dame was favored to beat UConn for a fourth time in the NCAA Semi-Finals on Sunday April 7th.
It was not to be. Connecticut took it to Notre Dame led by freshman Breanna Stewart who was simply everywhere. She played great defense, drained threes, and drove to the basket. She emerged, big time, to national prominence and overshadowed Diggins with her numbers: 29 points and 4 blocks. UConn finally beat ND 83-65. As the players liked to say, Breanna took her game to a new level and she dragged the entire UConn team with her.
April 9: Fast forward one day and I am watching the women's championship against Louisville. The Louisville Men beat Michigan last night for the Men's Championship. If the Louisville Women were to win tonight, it would only be the second dual basketball championship in NCAA history. The only other team to do that is the University of Connecticut back in 2004.
No way. Louisville took an early lead 14-10 and then UConn shifted gears and blew Louisville out of the water. They went into half-time with a 20 point lead and ended up winning the game by a record margin 93-60. This was UConn's and Geno's eighth title.
With this win Geno Auriemma tied Pat Summitt for the most number of National Championships at 8. Only John Wooden, with 10, is the absolute master... er... wizard at UCLA. Pat Summitt retired in 2012 suffering from Alzheimer's disease. So, there is a chance that Geno, with another National Championship, would be by himself.
I am a Michigan Wolverine. I support them in all college sports. But, I am also a University of Connecticut Women's basketball fan. Congratulations Huskies!