DALLAS— For the last 111 games, no UConn women’s basketball opponent has beaten the Huskies. The greatest win streak in college basketball lives on due to the Huskies’ consistency, intensity and talent night in and night out.
But eventually, the streak will end. Whether it be this season at the Final Four, next year or beyond, UConn will lose. So how will they do it? ESPN analysts Kara Lawson and Doris Burke weighed in on how the Huskies can be beaten this season at Thursday’s media availability session.
“Some of the greatest minds in basketball have tried to answer this and have yet been able to do it,” Lawson said.
For a team like Mississippi State, UConn’s opponent in this year’s Final Four, Lawson believes the Bulldogs must take advantage of their size in the post and utilize sophomore Teaira McCowan. The 6-foot-7 center had 26 points and six blocks in the Sweet 16 win over No. 3 Washington and 10 points against No. 1 Baylor to help Mississippi State secure a trip to Dallas.
“I would try and get the ball inside and see what they’re going to do with it, because I’ve got size and they don’t,” Lawson said. “I would really try and pound it [inside]. I want to make the game as physical as possible.”
Other teams have taken a different approach, with some having more success than others. In the Bridgeport regional final, Oregon head coach Kelly Graves wanted to force Gabby Williams and Napheesa Collier, two of the Huskies’ weaker shooters, to consistently hit mid-range jumpers.
Sure enough, Williams and Collier did just that, combining to shoot 63.6 percent from the field against the Ducks, with Williams hitting her fair share of jumpers as the Huskies throttled the Ducks 90-52.
“We knew we were going to give up something at the other end, and Gabby Williams has shown at times that maybe she’s not as comfortable shooting that 17-footer as she was tonight, and it was — you’ve got to kind of give up something,” Graves said after the loss. “I think when you’re maybe not quite as good, you have to kind of pick your poison. That was one we picked. We chose wrong.”
While Graves’ game plan may not have worked Monday night, Lawson and Burke both advocated for something UConn does to opponents every game, but almost never happens to the Huskies themselves: apply pressure on the defensive end and speed UConn up.
“I want to see a team get after Connecticut with great defensive pressure, but with discipline. Pressure them, trap them,” Burke said. “What happens with Connecticut a lot of times is that they’re on their heels right away. You are reacting to them. Somebody here in Dallas has to make UConn react to them.”
Lawson elaborated on Burke’s statement. Usually, more pressure from opponents means more backdoor cuts and easy buckets for UConn. Lawson’s game plan is a little bit different.
“I’m going to try and bring pressure to what they’re doing. Pressure in the individual matchup, maybe not as much pressure off the basketball,” Lawson said. “I’m not going to pressure enough to deny the passes. I’m going to pressure more to make their catches farther out from the basket as opposed to allowing them to get into their pressure releases.”
If Mississippi State can effectively pressure the Huskies and wreak havoc in the post, they’ll have shot at ending the more-than two-year-old streak. If UConn gets past the Bulldogs, either South Carolina or Stanford will have a shot in the national championship game. If none of those teams are successful, Burke thinks UConn’s next loss may not come for a while.
“If Connecticut walks out of here with a fifth-[straight] national championship, barring catastrophic injury or massive departure of personnel — which is unrealistic — they’re winning the next two. Period. I don’t see them losing for the next two years, if they don’t get knocked off here,” Burke said.