BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Geno Auriemma and his UConn Huskies have been steamrolling through the NCAA Tournament without much trouble at all.
They stand three wins away from a fourth straight national championship, an unprecedented feat in the sport. Up next is Texas, a team they beat by a record 51 points in the Sweet 16 last year.
Instead of talking about the Longhorns, however, Auriemma and his team were left answering whether their dominance was good for the sport a day after they beat Mississippi State by 60 points in the regional semifinals. It’s a question the Hall of Fame coach has heard many times over the last 15 years when the Huskies have won nine of their 10 titles.
“When Tiger was winning every major, nobody said he was bad for golf,” Auriemma said. “Actually he did a lot for golf. He made everybody have to be a better golfer. And they did. And now there’s a lot more great golfers because of Tiger.”
Women’s basketball is still waiting for someone to consistently challenge the Huskies for the throne.
The Huskies have won 72 consecutive games and no team has come within single digits of them during that streak — the second longest in NCAA history, trailing only their own 90-game run a few years ago. If they get three more wins, which almost seems like a foregone conclusion, then Auriemma will pass vaunted UCLA men’s coach John Wooden for the most championships in college basketball history.
Auriemma has said that what his team has accomplished comes at a time in the sport that is similar to when Wooden and UCLA were dominating men’s college basketball.
“We don’t appreciate people for how good they are and what a good job they do, we always have to compare it to something,” Auriemma said. “It’s only in women’s basketball. It’s the only sport where that happens. The only sport. Day in, day out, year in, year out, we’re faced with those questions and those comparisons.”
There have been signs of change. In three of the past four seasons, two No. 1 seeds have lost in the Sweet 16, including South Carolina and Notre Dame this year. There have been more upsets in the women’s tournament than the men’s this season.
“I think that for women’s basketball, we’re trying to continue to grow the game, and you can tell that we are with how the tournament has played out so far, with the upsets and that kind of stuff,” UConn star Breanna Stewart said. “But it needs to continue. Teams need to get better, players need to get better and that starts from before we even get to college.”
Texas is hoping it’s improved from last season’s rout. The Longhorns (31-4) have already advanced further and are trying to reach their first Final Four since 2003.
“I think that experience from last year and trying not to have that deer in the headlights look that, obviously, everyone seems to have against them hopefully will help us,” Texas coach Karen Aston said.
The Longhorn players didn’t want to dwell on last year’s loss.
“Last year I think they put the hammer on us because we gave up,” Texas’ 6-foot-7 center Imani Boyette said. “... We learned that we have to stay together when times get hard on the court and make sure we’ve locked into each other and helping each other regardless of what’s happening.”
Here are other tidbits from the Texas-UConn matchup:
MEASURING UP: On the bus ride over to the arena for practice Sunday, former Texas coach Jody Conradt was trying to find a favorable matchup for the Longhorns against the Huskies.
“I couldn’t really come up with one, except I really believe that Tina Thompson could take Chris Daley,” she said, laughing.
The Hall of Fame coach then went on to discuss UConn’s dominance.
“There is always going to be a standard. There is always going to be someone who is up there and that’s what motivates us,” Conradt said. “That’s what athletics is, whatever the standard is, we’re going to try and get there and eventually we will. It used to be the four-minute mile was unattainable. The first time somebody did it, then everybody eventually did it. We went through a time at Texas when we won 180-plus games against conference opponents. But, Arkansas, Texas Tech, eventually raised their bar and got there.”
CHASING HISTORY: With a win Monday night, UConn will have 22 consecutive NCAA Tournament victories, passing Tennessee for the longest streak ever.