Connecticut is about to win its fourth straight women’s basketball title (heretofore unprecedented in all of college hoops) and all the questions facing coach Geno Auriemma seem to amount to: Why doesn’t anyone care?
The short answer, and the one he keeps giving in various forms, is why should he give a flying fuck. “So don’t watch,” is what he told the Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy, when the columnist Twitter-groused that UConn was making the sport too predictable. “Nobody’s putting a gun to your head to watch. And don’t write about it.” This makes sense. It’s not his job to let the rest of women’s hoops catch up to him. It’s his job to keep kicking everyone else’s asses, as he has done relentlessly over the past 20 years (10 titles since ’95) and for damn sure during the 120-1 streak his team is riding. Leave the man alone and let him get back to crushing opposing teenagers’ attempted dreams.
The strongest non-UConn team in this Final Four is Oregon State, the Huskies’ semifinal opponent. Fivethirtyeight gives the Beavers a whopping 5 percent chance of winning. The best gambling lines I can find consider that calculation optimistic: 35-to-1 says Oregon State, a 22-point underdog, can actually win. You want to win $100 betting on UConn? You gotta risk $8,500. Better chance that every character survives this season of Game of Thrones. After a 60-point thrashing of 5-seed Mississippi State, UConn star Breanna Stewart apologized zilch. “Yeah, there was a huge difference in the score,” she said, “but the way we were playing, executing everything we needed to execute … we had a great time … I don’t know what they want us to do about it.” UConn’s margin of victory this year, by the way, was more than 40 points a game.
Pretty much only the players’ dads and Rebecca Lobo are going to be watching these next bloodbaths. Life is short and the weather’s finally getting nice; you’re going to be doing other things Sunday and Tuesday. ESPN is biting its knuckle; Outside the Lines just did a dive into whether another perfect season is actively hurting the women’s game. “You turn on the TV, and by halftime the game’s over? And you know how it’s gonna unfold? It can become where you want to turn it off,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese told the show.
Gnaw on that all you want, Bristol, then go ahead and file it under “definitely not Breanna Stewart’s fucking problem.” As of today, she’s the three-time reigning AP National Player of the Year—only Ralph Sampson ever matched that—and pretty much your nightmare on the floor. She’s a 6-foot-4 forward with point-guard skills and a 7-foot-1 wingspan, a shade longer than LeBron James’s. Watch her devour the defensive end of the floor in this utterly demoralizing sequence from the second round of the tourney:
Three blocks in a span of 14 seconds. She’s the first women’s player to finish her career with more than 400 blocks and 400 steals. When she wins a fourth title on Tuesday, she’ll have won 151 times, more than any collegian in history. It’s far from a hardship, but she still gets asked to justify her existence. “When you come to UConn, you come here for what?” she told OTL. “You come to win national championships. I have a four-year career here. Why would I want anything less than four national championships?”
But she always knew this is where she was heading. Everything else was details. Here’s a story from the Syracuse Post-Standard that Auriemma told about waving her into UConn:
“It wasn’t that hard, really. Some recruiting processes are a joke. I mean, it’s demeaning. And I don’t get into it. But my heart goes out to those coaches that have to recruit that way with those kinds of kids, when you have to embarrass yourself to get a kid.
“Stewie was easy. It was easy. I mean, no frills, no drama, ‘Coach, I just want to play basketball. I just want to win a national championship. I want to be the best player in the country, period.’ I said, ‘Good. So sign on the dotted line. Let’s do it.’ It wasn’t that hard.’’
A couple of years after that no-drama pickup, he got to tell Sports Illustrated’s Emma Carmichael of Stewart, “She’s the first Durantesque player in the women’s game.” The coach and these players aren’t putting on this show to make you like Stanford and Texas and Notre Dame and SEC teams any more. They’re putting on this show because they’ve got an otherworldly star and a roster stacked with talent, and because no other team has gotten its shit together sufficiently to challenge them. The follow-up question to Brenda Frese was along the lines of, So what exactly are you, a national championship-winning coach, going to do about it? And it sounds like her pitch these days is, You come here, you might get to be the team that beats UConn. Which actually, yeah, could be pretty sweet.
Forward Morgan Tuck had it right when she told ESPN.com, “In no other sports are people saying that somebody needs to stop playing so well. So we take it with a grain of salt, and know we also have a lot of people who are supporting us and think we’re good for the game.” If there aren’t more of them, it may be down less because of the dominance itself than to the lack of even remotely serious threats. In the ’90s, it felt like a great rivalry was emerging between so-good-it-got-boring Tennessee and the then-upstart Huskies, with some upstarts like Baylor and Notre Dame mixed in. Now it’s just UConn and ... well, that’s about it. Though it might cheer you to notice the Irish have lost four of the past six title games.
Meanwhile, just let Stewart do her thing. “You never know if this is the last opportunity to play with ‘UConn’ across your chest,” she said upon getting back to the Final Four this year. That will end on Tuesday, and honestly, she’s kinda got me psyched up to watch the carnage.