For the first time since 2007, the UConn Huskies are not in the Final Four. And while that simple fact may have some pressing the panic button, coach Geno Auriemma is not.
The loss ended a 14-year streak of Final Four berths, and snapped a 16-year streak of advancing to the Elite Eight.
“The problem with streaks is, the longer they go, you’re closer to ending it than you are to the beginning of it,” Auriemma said following his team’s loss to Ohio State, noting that it was “just a matter of time” before the streak ended.
While that does signal a shifting college basketball landscape, it does not mean that UConn is going away any time soon. And if you ask South Carolina coach Dawn Staley, it won’t take long for them to return to dominance.
“UConn is going to continue to be UConn,” Staley said. “They’re going to reload. If you see their roster that’s coming in and who they’re bringing back next year, they’ll reload. They’ll start a new streak.
“I don’t think any of us that’s outside of UConn, we’re not panicking. They’re going to be who they are. They’re going to always — you get a chance to beat UConn, it’s always going to be a big win for you and your program.”
This year was a tough one for UConn, as the team was plagued by injuries that kept Paige Bueckers out for the season and players like Azzi Fudd sidelined for significant portions of it.
But Bueckers and Fudd — and most of UConn’s roster — will return for the Huskies next season.
“It’s not over,” Staley said. “It’s a scary thing because they lost a lot more games than they normally lose. But they were hampered by injuries, and once they get healthy, once they get Paige back, once this year’s recruiting class is able to play and who they’ll bring in, it’s back to the drawing board.”
For Auriemma, who noted that “a lot of streaks” ended this year for UConn, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to have those monkeys off the team’s back.
“It might be time to get them all out of the way and start fresh next year,” he said. “Just a matter of time. It’s not like when will it happen. It’s just a matter of time. I mean, it’s not if it’s not going to happen. It’s just a matter of time when it’s going to happen. And it was going to happen sooner rather than later.
“I think that the other thing that it — that you take from it is how incredibly difficult it is to win in March in the NCAA tournament and because we made it look so routine and so easy, we gave the impression that it’s very easy to do. It’s a reminder that, no, it’s not. It’s very difficult to do. So you appreciate what we had, what we did, and, you know, you have to start another one next year.”
And while some may have thought a Final Four without UConn meant a loss for the NCAA Tournament as a whole, increased viewership and attendance records have shown that the game has grown beyond just the Huskies – something that is good not just for the game but for women’s sports as a whole.
“When you lose UConn, you lose part of a section of the country that enjoys watching UConn, their dominance,” Staley said. “But the game has grown. Not just this year and not just because UConn is no longer in the tournament. We are in demand.
“There are so many great narratives, so many great players, so many great coaches, so many great storylines that we’re able to hold our own even if UConn is not a part of [it]… And we need to do a better job not just with UConn. All the teams that have been dominant, we need to talk about them as part of our women’s basketball history. This is a new history that we’re venturing into because there are so many great players and parity that we need to start documenting.”