Connecticut has certainly had its ups and down during the last two decades: soaring taxes, an unsteady job market, residents bailing out to head South and West, traffic jams and political scandals, to name just a few unsavory aspects of living in the Nutmeg State.
But the one thing the state has that no other in the U.S. does is University of Connecticut basketball. The men have won four NCAA national titles, and that ranks them among the all-time best in the college game. But it is the UConn women I will talk about here. And what a wonderful treat they provide Connecticut residents during the winter and into earliest days of spring, and boost their spirits.
The Huskies have won 10, count ‘em, 10 NCAA national titles—the last three in a row—and there is no reason to believe they won’t win another this season, with the likes of All-America players Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck and a host of other superbly talented young ladies on the team.
Head coach Geno Auriemma and associate head coach Chris Dailey (who never gets enough credit for the UConn success because she defers attention to Auriemma) have done a masterful job building a national title contender year in and year out for the last 20 seasons. It seems hard to believe that it was back in 1995 when Rebecca Lobo and Jen Rizzotti led the Huskies to their first ever national championship.
Scintillating games against arch-rival Tennessee, led by Hall of Fame head coach Pat Summit, ensued over the next dozen years, often times the two teams slugging it out in the Final Four or National Championship game. UConn and Tennessee matchups captured the attention of the entire country and elevated the women’s game to levels once undreamed of a mere decade prior.
Now, UConn sits as the preeminent women’s hoops program in the country, fueled, of course by the carrot of playing for a national title year every year and achieving rock star status that Auriemma and Dailey are able to dangle in front of the top high school players. And, while the two coaches get a lot of credit for their work, there would be no titles without the best players in the land coming to Storrs for four years before they go on to professional careers.
Whether it is because of UConn’s complete dominance in recent years, a sagging economy, or the belief among fans that the Huskies are merely going to stroll to another championship the fervor that once surrounded the team has waned a bit in terms of attendance. The UConn crowds, always dominated by older individuals, women, and young girls, have not packed the Hartford XL Center and Gampel Pavilion (the campus arena) to the rafters every game like they once did. Oh, an occasional contest against a noted, long-time rival like Stanford, Notre Dame or Baylor (Tennessee won’t play UConn anymore) will bring them in, and they still bring them in on the road.
But attendance at home has fallen off and that’s too bad, because the Huskies continue to play a brand of basketball that a purist can appreciate. They are unselfish, play the game below the rim, work as a unit no matter who the players are or what new high school superstar is brought in, and play defense like no other women’s team in the country does or ever has. The latter, perhaps even more than their amazing offensive abilities, has earned the Huskies the respect of friend and foe alike, and has been the cornerstone of all those championships.
So, when the cold north wind blows and the snow and ice chills Nutmeggers, there is always the warm feeling of turning on the television set or sitting in the stands to watch one of the most successful college basketball teams that has ever existed, each and every year. All hail Connecticut women’s basketball!
by John Torsiello