UConn’s women’s basketball team is an outlier in the collegiate basketball world. Despite being the team to beat in NCAA women’s basketball, they’ve won three straight national titles and they lost their last game in 2014. For reference, that’s two years since they’ve lost a game (to Stanford). That was back when the United States and Cuba didn’t even have open communications.
I say this not in a condescending or arguably sexist way, as journalists like Dan Shaughnessy have tried to do, but for the last four years, UConn has been breaking the game of women’s collegiate basketball. It’s a joy to watch because they may have accomplished the greatest four-season stretch of any team in American sports ever.
They Don’t Lose.
As I said before, the last time UConn’s women’s team lost was against Stanford in Nov. 2014. But here’s the thing: even that was by two points and in overtime. Generally in professional or collegiate sports, losses that go by a one possession margin are what I call 50/50s. In other words, the results of these games are practically reliant on coin-flip situations that the other team has to hope goes well for them.
For example, let’s take a look at the Stanford game. When they beat the Huskies, the Cardinals shot at a 50 percent clip from the arc on 14 attempts. Just for reference, the same team averaged a 37.8 three-point percent for that whole season.
I know it’s tempting to attribute their success in that game to stellar play - and obviously, the Cardinals deserve credit for being the only team in the last two years to play UConn close, let alone beat them. But the innate high-variance and luck they needed to beat the best defense in the country was still clearly huge. Which brings me to my next point.
They win… Big.
We could talk about UConn’s winning streak, which is currently at 72 games (just behind the Huskies’ record of 90 games from 2008-2010). Even that doesn’t go into the depths of how badly they’re destroying their opponents.
During their current winning streak, UConn hasn’t had a single game go into a single-digits margin of victory. Keep in mind that I’m saying single-digits and not single-possession. They’re literally beating their opponents so badly that they’re more likely to win by 50 than they are to have the game be decided by less than ten points.
It’s not as if they’re beating terrible competition either. Their last three title runs have involved double-digit victories over the likes of Notre Dame in the 2013 (by 18 points) Final Four, Notre Dame in the 2014 Championship Game (by 21 points) and a 10-point victory over Charlie Brown, I mean, Notre Dame in the 2015 rematch: the Huskies’ closest game during their winning streak.
Even that’s not selling how good they are.
The Huskies have a chance to be in a special stratosphere of greatness
Think about the greatest teams in each professional American sport. For football, you’re likely to think of the 1972 Miami Dolphins, the 1985 Chicago Bears or any of the various Super Bowl Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers or a few of this millennium’s New England Patriots squads.
In the NBA, you have the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls of the 90s, the Bill Russell-led Boston Celtics dynasty of the 60s and what looks to be the Golden State Warriors today. Hell, the MLB has their fair share of late 30s and early 50s New York Yankees teams. The closest comparison to today’s Huskies program might be the UCLA teams of the late 60s/early 70s, who won eight straight titles.
If UConn wins its fourth straight national title in women’s basketball, they’ll be in a vaunted category with only the previously mentioned Yankees, Celtics, Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders and the and UCLA Bruins as a team in American sports to win four straight national titles.
That might not even go into how impressive the Huskies’ accomplishment is, considering that the talent pool for basketball is more global, competitive and profitable than ever. For example, is it fair to compare UCLA’s men’s team’s successes when they literally got to have Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Bill Walton in consecutive reigns over their sport? Or when the Celtics in the NBA used to routinely rip off teams in trade deals, like when they were able to get Bill Russell from the St. Louis Hawks?
It’s not even as if the Huskies have been dominating the high school scouting any more than programs like Kentucky in men’s basketball. The rules are set to prevent long-term dynasties, but UConn is still succeeding. You could argue their dominance, because of how unexpected it was, is more impressive than any other program in professional or collegiate American sport history.
Regardless of how the tournament goes, I think it’s time we celebrate UConn’s immortality in women’s collegiate basketball instead of making excuses or arguing about whether it counts or not.