Being a UConn women’s basketball fan is an incredibly spoiled experience. To borrow from the revered DJ Khaled, all they do is win, win, win, no matter what. After watching victory after victory, many against spectacular opponents, a new normal is developed. Losing becomes a foreign concept. Except then they lost. In the Final Four. In back-to-back seasons. While they were national championship favorites. And the cherry on top, two tremendous shots as the clock ran down. Mississippi State’s and Notre Dame’s upsets of the Huskies the last two seasons were perfect cocktails of surprise, disappointment and misery. Which one was more so? Please let us help you relive them both as we litigate this miserable question.
Matt Barresi: It has to be 2017. For the casual fan, which many people are, nothing could have been a greater blow than the loss to the Bulldogs last year. UConn was the juggernaut of all juggernauts. We were cruising. 111 straight games. 111. Do you realize how absurd that was? And in those 111 games, four – FOUR – were single-digit margins of defeat. We were untouchable. In the NCAA Tournament we beat Albany 116-55, Syracuse 94-64, UCLA 86-71, and Oregon 90-52. That is an average margin of victory of 36.25 points. Cut out the obvious outlier in Albany and we were still beating good teams by a ludicrous 27.66 points per game. Going into the MSU game we were casually a 21.5 point favorite in a Final Four game. These are all indicators of a team that not only doesn’t lose, they don’t even get close. Of course if you watched the Tulane game, you knew that dominance was able to be threatened, but how many people were aware of that Green Wave game? I didn’t even know Mississippi State had a good team before the game. 538 gave us a large, but surprisingly low, 87 percent chance to win prior to tip. And it just never happened. I was never in doubt. It was certainly arrogance, and I was shocked as the Bulldogs continued to work, but I was confidently waiting that whole game for UConn to pull things out. Then Morgan William ripped everyone’s heart out with a dagger in the lane. And I didn’t know what to do, say or think. I can’t say I felt that way this year.
Andrew Morrison: I agree that last year’s upset was more unexpected, and therefore was more painful just in terms of shock and disbelief. Anyone that thought we’d fly past Notre Dame on Friday hasn’t been paying much attention this season, especially given that the Huskies were down by double-digits to Notre Dame back in December. That said, did anybody really expect UConn to lose on Friday? This is a Notre Dame team that lost four – FOUR – players to torn ACLs. And when Mississippi State defeated Louisville right before UConn took the floor, it seemed that destiny was bringing the two teams together for a rematch in the national championship. That’s partly why the Notre Dame loss hurts so much more: a chance for redemption, for revenge, was waiting just on the other side. Instead, they didn’t even get a chance. It also has a lot to do with the team that hit the shot to bury UConn. Mississippi State was just an emerging program last year, not necessarily a Cinderella story but certainly a fresh, inspiring face among the heavyweights of women’s hoops. Notre Dame is a powerhouse, and a heated rival of UConn in the sport. At least with Mississippi State, we could cheer for them in the finals. This year, we had to watch a bitter nemesis go on to cut down the nets, making the loss all the more painful.
Barresi: I won’t say I called it because I definitely didn’t, but I anticipated a good game. The Fighting Irish do just that: fight. They gave UConn a great game in Hartford earlier in the season. Their adversity from the ACL tear crew has made them as battle tested as any group in the nation. Muffet McGraw is a Hall of Fame coach, Notre Dame never gets punked by UConn. Meanwhile this UConn team, clearly dynamic, has had some flaws. I was nervous about Notre Dame so when it became a game, I was worried, unlike last year. As it entered the home stretch, I was not confident, unlike last year. Our two surges at the bitter ends felt like grasping to fight another day, not actually bids to take control. I just went into this game predisposed for a fight and it was. Maybe other fans were different.
Morrison: For me, that surge at the end of regulation only made the overtime winner more heartbreaking. Down 5 with 20 seconds left, the game was over. But somehow, UConn not only tied it up, but had a chance to win in regulation. Although Gabby Williams missed that shot, it felt like we had all the momentum heading to overtime. I thought I’d be watching that Kia Nurse steal for years to come, completing an improbable comeback. Instead, I watched another devastating buzzer-beater – and then watched it again and again everywhere I looked. I was prepared for a close game, and maybe, just maybe, a part of me was prepared for a loss. But I certainly could never have been prepared for another iconic OT game-winner at UConn’s expense.
Matt Barresi is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.