UConn made a run to the national championship game Sunday despite a season mottled with injuries and uncharacteristic losses. But the Huskies lost their first ever NCAA final in the same place that the program won its first.
“I’ve said this all along: You have to be really good, and you have to be a little bit lucky to win the national championship,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “First things first, though, you have to be really good. You have to be really well-balanced and you have to be all the things that South Carolina is.”
Auriemma also credited the Gamecocks’ defense, which limited star sophomore Paige Bueckers to zero points in the first quarter and just 14 the entire game.
“We knew that was going to happen,” he said. “I don’t think from the beginning of the game our offense ever looked like it was in any kind of rhythm, any kind of flow. Then Paige tried to take it upon herself to do — that never works, when one person is trying to. But their guards completely, I thought, dominated the game on the perimeter and made it really difficult for any of our guys to get any good looks.”
The Huskies were not helped by the fact that they continued to be plagued by injuries and illness even into the championship game. Olivia Nelson-Ododa was playing through a groin injury, while Azzi Fudd missed shootaround with an illness.
While it may take awhile for the sting of the loss to wear off, Auriemma said he is still proud of his team for battling through the tough moments in the final game and all season.
“It was just a nonstop series of events that we had to keep dealing with,” he said in reference to the season. “It just didn’t stop all year long. I think it was a remarkable effort by them to stay together as well as they did throughout the entire year, and to be in this game.
“But then once you get in this game, you want to win this game. You’re not just happy to be here. But I think when this wears off, I think they’ll appreciate the effort that it took to get here.”
He knows what he has, however, in Bueckers and Fudd. And Nika Mühl, Aliyah Edwards and Carolina Ducharme. They are what gives him confident in his team’s ability to rebound next year.
“I like our chances,” he said. “Provided we don’t have to navigate a season like this year, knock on wood we stay healthy, I expect to be back here next year.”