UConn, Louisville play for NCAA women's title tonight
New Orleans - It is about one game now, one chance from being No. 1. But if the historical examples of Mike Eruzione and David Tyree don't warn against the perils of foregone conclusions, maybe this will:
Two of the greatest players in the history of women's college basketball, Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins, left the game this year with exactly one national championship between them.
So while some precincts might view tonight's UConn-Louisville game at New Orleans Arena (8:30, ESPN) as a Connecticut coronation, remember this: Not even great players guarantee banners.
"The more time passes and the more you see how many really good teams come up short, you start to realize how hard it is to do," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said Monday, a little more than 12 hours removed from his team's liberating victory over Notre Dame in the national semifinals.
"I guess this is a perfect time to address that," he said. "I don't think the average person out there understands that this is what makes it so hard: Baylor didn't have to play Louisville in a best-of-five series. We didn't have to play Notre Dame (Sunday) night and then again (tonight). So all you need is one good night and the other team struggles just a little and it changes everything.
"So to be able to go through that six-game stretch in the NCAA tournament year after year after year and put yourself in that situation to win it, I want to say it's more than just great players. But when it comes down to it, nothing else matters if you don't have great players."
Except, perhaps, if the great players run into pixie dust. And what better example than the Louisville Cardinals to illustrate the concept of "from out of nowhere?"
"No one thought we could beat Baylor. No one thought we'd come back a day after that and beat Tennessee," Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. "And I know people picked us to beat Cal, but I think it's because they just had to because we beat Baylor and Tennessee, so it's like, gosh, if we don't pick them and they win, we look bad.
"I'm not sure everybody really believed that we'd win that game (Sunday) night, and I've got a pretty good feeling they aren't picking us for tonight."
The Huskies (34-4) defeated Louisville, 72-58, in Hartford on Jan. 15. It should be noted that the game's emerging face, UConn freshman Breanna Stewart, didn't play. Stewart scored 29 points to slay Notre Dame and has 81 points in four NCAA tournament games.
"I'm hoping she misses the bus," Walz said. "She's playing like I think we all thought she would the entire year. But for some freshmen sometimes it takes a little bit of time to get into your groove.
"I had the opportunity to sit next to Jim Boeheim at the Olympics, and we're just talking during the gold medal game. And he was like, wow, you know, there's this (high school) kid that plays open gym with our women at Syracuse, she's going to UConn, she's one of the best players I've ever seen. I'm like, yeah, I know."
But if Stewart has been UConn's salvation, Antonita Slaughter has been Louisville's heartbeat. She is 17-for-38 from three-point range in the tournament, seven of which came in the upset of Baylor.
"He's got to be a genius, that guy," Auriemma said of Walz. "Because every time I see (Slaughter) catch the ball, she's wide open. And I can understand if it's the first game of the tournament, but here they are now in their fifth game and the kid for 40 minutes is wide open every time she catches it. So I'm going to have to watch their films really closely and find out how the hell he does that.
"She has made more big shots in this tournament than anybody I can remember in any five-game stretch," he said. "So all I can say is if we're there and we have a hand in her face and she still makes them, then God bless them, they deserve to win."
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