A Rough Beast Sadly Slouches to the Title
Winning isn’t good enough…
by Clay Kallam
It’s sort of sad, really.
The University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team finished off the ’09-10 season with a 39-0 record and a 78-game winning streak – not to mention a second straight NCAA title.
And yet the 53-47 win over Stanford wasn’t really enough. The postgame celebration was forced, almost muted, by the facts that the Huskies didn’t win big, they played poorly, their expectations are so high that anything less than domination is unacceptable.
It’s sad, really.
Accomplishing what UConn accomplished should not be marred by the weight of the women’s basketball world resting on the shoulders of these young women, but it was – and that pressure showed.
The Huskies, as anyone reading this knows, played an awful first half, scoring 12 points in 20 minutes, a task most high school JV teams can handle without too much effort. Of course, most high school JV teams don’t play Stanford, but still, how could Maya Moore airball a 15-footer with no one around her? How could Tina Charles forget how to move without traveling? How could the Husky supporting cast suddenly shrink into insignificance?
For whatever reason, they did. And it turned what should have been a coronation into a long night at the in-laws. In the end, everyone got through it and things turned out OK, but to call it fun, or even satisfying, would be an exaggeration.
Of course, this is not the fault of the players or, directly, of Geno Auriemma and his tremendous staff. But indirectly, the monster Auriemma has created threatened to consume his team Tuesday night. His unparalleled ability to recruit, improve and motivate talent has resulted in a program that’s unmatched in women’s basketball. He says someday someone will do what he’s doing, that someone out there is looking at his program right now and thinking “Let’s do that, we can do that.”
But the truth is this burst of brilliance is not reproducible just by hard work or slavish imitation. It is the product of a particular landscape occupied by a particular school and run by a particular individual – and the only way the Huskies will fall from their place atop the pedestal is when Auriemma loses interest and/or retires.
Consider that UConn is bringing in another elite recruiting class. Consider that the girl who many consider to be the best player in the country, Mater Dei (California) junior Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, has already committed to Auriemma. And consider that the girls out there who want to win national championships know where they want to go, even if it’s 3,000 miles away.
Sure, UConn will lose a game, and maybe next year. And there will come a time, maybe next year, when the Huskies don’t win the national championship – but, barring injury, it will be an upset, if not a shock. The Huskies are just that good, at both ends of the court, and on the sidelines.
Which is why Maya Moore said after the game that no one knew how hard it was, and how UConn finally got its reward by winning the national title.
First, it’s sad that the only way the Huskies could account the season a success was to win it all. It didn’t matter if they won every one of their games prior to that, or if they had a great time playing for UConn, or if they had a wonderful year on and off the court. Everything, in the end, was defined by this one game, at the end of a long, long trail.
And it’s also sad that just winning isn’t good enough, that cutting down the nets was less a celebration than a sigh of relief. To steal the lead from Graham Hays of ESPN, the perfect was not only the enemy of the good in San Antonio, it reached out and strangled it with its insatiable demand for better and best.
But here’s hoping the disappointment fades quickly, and the sense of the magnitude of the accomplishment starts to sink in. The journey may have ended with a letdown rather than an ascension, but it was still a great ride – and everyone involved should start smiling as soon as possible. They deserve to.