It's not often a full-sized college arena sells out for a ladies' basketball game, but it happened yesterday. Standing room only in Columbia, where #2 ranked South Carolina hosted #1 UConn.
For those that are fans of girls' college roundball -- count me among them -- this was the showdown game. If anybody was going to knock off mighty UConn, it would be South Carolina in their own building.
Idle thought: The UConners are referred to as the Lady Huskies. Beats Husky Ladies, but still doesn't sound quite right. Yet male teams from South Carolina are dubbed Gamecocks. So what do they call their female athletes? Lady Cocks? That would be awkward. Game Hens? Do they have a Cornish tradition and go well with rice? Beats me, but their hoops team is pretty good. #2 in the country speaks for itself. As did their 22-0 record entering this game.
Alas, they would be trashed in their own building by the UConn juggernaut. At times the lead was over 25 points, a whopping margin in such a sport. Thing is, UConn didn't play particularly well -- at least by their standards. But after the usual garbage time towards the end of the game, when the outcome had already long been decided, the Huskies would defeat the whatever Cocks by 12 points -- a comfortable margin.
That begs the question.... Who, pray tell, has the remotest chance of beating UConn this year? Already 23-0, their final six games of the regular season are against what could be considered "patsy" teams. Barring major injuries, it's entirely likely they'll enter the tournament 29-0.
UConn plays in a weak conference you say? Indeed they do, the American Athletic Conf. But it's not their fault. They wanted to hook on with a stronger conference but could find no takers. The powers that be in other conferences can spin it any which way they want as to why they declined, but the LAST thing they wanted to see was little UConn obliterating their Enormous State universities on their own hardcourts, much less having to go to the house of blowouts in Storrs. Who's kidding who?
But consider who the Lady Huskies were able to schedule this year, and the results ---
#7 Ohio State. They demolished the Buckerettes by 44 points.
#3 Notre Dame. 10 points.
#6 Maryland. 10 again.
#11 Florida State. 24.
#22 South Florida. 16.
And now they just waltzed into #2 South Carolina to win by 12 in front of a packed house -- and really didn't play all that well while doing so. Uncharacteristic turnovers, missed lay-ups/free throws, bad passes and all around sloppy play by UConn standards. Yet they still rolled to an easy victory.
In a post-game interview, head coach Geno Auriemma made quite the astute observation. Having just knocked off the #2 team on the road, the mini-Italian Stallion said -- "This win bodes well for us. Come tournament time, we'll never have to face another team this good in their own building".
Truer words were never spoken.
Who is out there that is even semi-capable of knocking off UConn in the tournament indeed?
Lady Husky forward/center Breanna Stewart is on the cusp of accomplishing something that has never been done before in the history of college athletics, be it male or female, in any sport. And it looks like she might well pull it off.
More on that in a future post. When the NCAA tourney gets down to the Final Four (and who would doubt UConn will be one of the teams?) would be a good time.
But for now, the lady hoopsters in Storrs remain on an incredible run with no end in sight. Some love them, others hate them, and far more are just envious of what they have built and continue to accomplish. They play college hoops under Auriemma's guidance much like the San Antonio Spurs under Coach Pop. Both systems stress the ultimate in team play, whether on offense or defense.
The difference is -- the NBA has a salary cap, a draft, and free agency. Add those all up and it heavily tilts against a team remaining dominant for very long.
Yet in college hoops, particularly at UConn, winning breeds even more winning. Many 5-star blue-chip high school players would kill to get a scholarship at UConn to play for Geno. So as seniors graduate, incoming hot-shot freshmen take their place. And the beat goes on.