Whether good or bad for the sport, UConn’s dominance of women’s basketball is unquestionable – Los Angeles Times
A seven-point deficit had been turned into a 17-point lead and college basketball’s most dominant team was rolling, bringing many in a crowd of 8,830 to their feet.
Playing their NCAA women’s basketball tournament regional games at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn., only 80 miles from campus, the Connecticut Huskies were enjoying something close to the March Madness experience of most men’s tournament teams:
Lots of excitement, plenty of media attention and hyped-up legions of fans.
But that wasn’t the case at the other women’s regionals in Lexington, Ky., Oklahoma City and Stockton, Calif., where the crowds on average were only about half as large — the lowest attendance in 20 years.
Which brought a familiar question: Is Connecticut’s dominance of the sport hindering the interest in and development of women’s college basketball?
The Huskies have won 111 consecutive games. And before their last loss — in overtime to Stanford on Nov. 17, 2014 — they won 46 in a row.
“I hear people say all the time, ‘Oh, their dominance isn’t good for the sport,’” Oregon Coach Kelly Graves said before his Ducks became the Huskies’ latest victim, 90-52, in a regional final that was out of hand within five minutes.
“Really? I think it’s great for the sport. It makes us all accountable. We need to get better. We’ve got to improve our game.”
During UConn’s winning streak, only three opponents have come within 10 points of the Huskies. UConn has won by an average of 33.2 points this season, a staggering 36 in four NCAA tournament games.
For Geno Auriemma, in his 31st season as the Huskies’ coach, the question about whether his program’s superiority has helped or hurt women’s college basketball is a familiar one.
“I think it’s probably good and bad. Equal parts,” he said, adding that the amount of attention his team receives is a positive.
“The good part, I think, is at least there is a conversation about it,” he said. “The teams that are in the top 10 in the country have realized that they have to get a lot better if they want to beat us, and that’s a good thing because we don’t expect to be where we are today every single day, every year, year after year.
“The perception, though, is that we can’t lose, so what’s the point? That’s not good. It’s not necessarily accurate, but it is the perception.”
And it’s simple to see why.
The Huskies (36-0) defeated 10 teams ranked in the top 25 during the regular season — by an average of 24.3 points. In fact, the biggest blowout in UConn’s current streak was a 103-37 rout of South Florida in January, when South Florida was ranked 20th.
So when a team stays within 20 points of the Huskies, the words that Auriemma uses to describe the competition are relative.
“A struggle,” was how he referred to UConn’s 15-point win over UCLA in a regional semifinal.
UConn guard Katie Lou Samuelson, a sophomore from Orange County who joined the team 37 wins into its current streak, said there is always chatter about what the Huskies mean to the sport.
“Everyone has their own opinions on it,” she said. “Being a part of the streak has been really awesome and that there’s been definitely moments where I’ve looked back and thought, ‘Wow, this is something that basically no one gets to do.’”
Said Oregon guard Lexi Brando: “People probably hate them because they’re so good. That’s how I take it when someone says they’re bad for basketball. They’re always winning and people get upset because they can’t take them down.”
On Friday, Mississippi State (33-4) will give it a try in a national semifinal at American Airlines Center in Dallas. South Carolina (31-4) and Stanford (32-5) will meet in the other semifinal.
As UConn made the 1,600-mile trip to Dallas in search of its fifth consecutive national title, a large contingent of Huskies fans followed, along with a plethora of media and an HBO television crew that is filming a multiple-part documentary about its season.
The semifinals and title game are reportedly near sellouts, but Auriemma isn’t sure whether a seventh national title in nine years by his program would be celebrated much outside of Storrs, Conn.
“I don’t know. I don’t know,” he said. “I know what’s good for us.”
He paused, further pondering the question. “It’s good and bad,” he said again, “depending on which lens you are looking at it through.”