Unless you’ve been under a rock for the last few days, you’ve probably heard the news by now. It’s been one of the biggest sports controversies not just in Connecticut, but in America.
Following the UConn women’s basketball teams 98-38 win over Mississippi State in the Sweet 16, Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy fired off a tweet that sent UConn Nation into a frenzy.
It’s no secret that UConn is the most dominant team in sports. They’ve beat their opponents by an average of more than 40 points this season, and broke their own record for largest margin of victory in a Sweet 16 game with their 60-point win over Mississippi State on Saturday.
In his column, Shaughnessy didn’t attempt to shoot down the Huskies’ success due to it being a women’s sport like so many misogynistic Twitter trolls do. Instead, he said it was due to a lack of competition.
The way Shaughnessy positions it, it’s easy to see his point. He cites scores of 100-56, 79-31 and 104-49 amongst others. He even originally cited the Huskies’ 98-18 exhibition win over NAIA school Vanguard, which was played with experimental rules before removing it in an update to his column. It’s easy to win people over with shock factor stats when they’re against teams that literally aren’t in the same division as the Huskies.
Of course, those 100-56 and 79-31 wins and so many others that followed it were very real, and against great competition. But to say the team hasn’t struggled or had competition is blasphemous.
Notre Dame came to Gampel early in the season and gave UConn all they could handle before the Huskies squeaked out a 10-point win. Maryland had the Huskies on the ropes with just a few minutes left in the fourth quarter before a clutch three-pointer from Saniya Chong and constant fouling from the Terrapins allowed for UConn to pull away for a 10-point win at Madison Square Garden. Still not swayed? Houston, Tulane and USF all had leads after one quarter against UConn. It hasn’t been a cakewalk. It’s been far from it.
Still think there’s a lack of parity in the sport? This weekend’s Final Four in Indianapolis features three teams (Oregon State, Washington and Syracuse) that will be making their first-ever Final Four appearance. UConn is the only school left to do it more than once. They’ve done it nine-straight times for a total of 17 appearances.
For someone such as Shaughnessy who doesn’t watch women’s basketball much (if at all), it’s easy to chalk UConn’s gaudy stats as a testament to a lack of parity and competition within the sport, but it couldn’t be more wrong.
Its easy to think that since the Huskies are the best team in the sport, they get the best players year in and year out. While it’s true UConn has the best player in the country in Breanna Stewart and last year’s top recruit in Katie Lou Samuelson, they have not landed the most the top 10 recruits in the country since 2012. The team that has is Duke, and the Blue Devils have never reached the Final Four in that span, reaching the Elite Eight just once.
It’s not just the players. They’re important, but the good ones are spread all over. More or less, the talent level amongst the top 10-15 teams is relatively similar, just like it is in the men’s game. The key to this success relies on Geno Auriemma and the culture he instills in those players. That’s what causes the 40-point wins against top teams when the talent is essentially equal.
Find me another school where a starter is diving after loose balls and throwing their body into the stands to save a possession when they’re up by 20 with less than 10 minutes left in the game. Moriah Jefferson did just that in the 86-55 win over Texas in the Elite Eight win. Not because she had to, not because she wanted to, but because it’s how she is coached and how the UConn program carries themselves day in and day out.
As the storied careers of Jefferson, Stewart and Morgan Tuck come to an end, it’s easy to lose track of their greatness amidst this controversy, but don’t let that fool you. This is not just a dominant women’s basketball team. This is a team of talented players led by a legendary coach playing near-perfect basketball and going for a historic fourth-straight national title.
You don’t have to be a women’s basketball fan to respect that. You don’t even have to be a basketball fan to respect that. You just have to be a sports fan. No matter what you’re a fan of, be sure to tune in to watch the Huskies this weekend in Indianapolis to watch one of the best basketball teams ever to play the game in action and witness greatness in action. You won’t regret it.