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UConn is back in the Sweet 16 ... thanks to the guiding hand of CD

She sat there in some room in the Alamodome late Tuesday night and answered every question, Chris Dailey did, just as CD answers all the others: earnestly, honestly. And honestly? If you didn't know better, this could have been some Tuesday night game in Peoria and not what it actually was: The victory sealing UConn women's 27th straight trip to the Sweet 16.

This. Yes, this. The matter-of-factness of it all. This was Chris Dailey at her core. No big deal. We got this. Her calmness, assuredness and understated command illustrated once again why she belongs on the mythical women's Rushmore in the history of our state (more on that later).

First: the game. UConn beat the navels off the Orange, throttling Syracuse, 83-47. Note: This was not High Point. This was Syracuse. Decent team. More collective NCAA tournament experience than UConn. A 6-foot-7 center in the very promising Kamilla Cardoso. A resume that featured three games against 2-seed Louisville and one game against 1-seed North Carolina State. No joke.

Then the other circumstances. Geno Auriemma: home. Shea Ralph: home. Starter Nika Muhl: hurt. Half the coaches home, a starter gone and yet like Ol' Man River, the UConn Huskies just keep rolling ... they just keep rolling along.

"This was a tough game because I didn't want to be in a position to cost the players an opportunity to keep playing," Dailey said after the game via Zoom. "(Geno) was actually calming when I was talking to him (earlier Tuesday). I think we were both anxious."

But then, when you have Chris Dailey, the conscience of the program, pinch hitting, it's almost inevitable that the result of the at-bat is a ringing double up the gap.

Back to the Rushmore thing. OK. It is exhaustively referenced. But easily understood. And in the history of our state, Chris Dailey belongs on our Rushmore with former governors Ella Grasso and M. Jodi Rell. The fourth spot is up for grabs (although your humble narrator's candidates would be Prudence Crandall, Katherine Hepburn and Clare Boothe Luce).

Dailey transcends basketball. There's never been another woman of prominence who has — ever — stood for more decent, wholesome and honorable principles than Chris Dailey, all while helping Auriemma win 11 national championships. Dailey belongs because of who she is, what she stands for and her willingness to teach it. Sometimes, role models, those people in our lives always pushing us toward the right choices, are found right under our noses.

"The biggest impact she makes is that you hold yourself accountable because she holds you accountable about everything," program great Morgan Tuck said once. "She makes you become more of an adult. Her focus isn't just basketball, even though she is a really sharp basketball person. It's also about building you as a person and preparing yourself for when you leave school.

"It's about little things. How to carry yourself in public. When you're in it (the public eye), you don't realize people are always watching you. Even a little thing like being in the lobby of a hotel waiting for the bus to go to practice. Do you have ear buds on? CD teaches you to always be ready to engage with people and be a people person."

That's how she was taught by Bob and Mary Dailey, her parents. Bob and Mary taught their daughter there's a certain way to handle yourself and a certain level of effort required every day. There are no shortcuts.

Dailey echoed as much Tuesday night.

"I can still remember our very first (Sweet 16)," she said. "The Husky dog was carrying a suitcase saying 'we're going dancing.' The consistency says everything about the type of players we have. You have to embrace being at UConn, having target on your back, working hard and having it not always be easy. ... The players understand every possession is important and every practice is important."

In the earlier days of the program, Dailey said this: "I think they probably find me annoying when they're here. But I remind them they can find inspiration anywhere if they want to look hard enough. The guy at McDonald's who has to take the bus to work. But still remembers my order. Or reminds me if I'm late one day. Always with a smile. Look how he embraces his job. That's inspiration."

The sheriff, otherwise known as Geno, returns now. And Chris Dailey can resume her regular duties. But it was quite the comforting thought that the UConn Huskies were in good hands Tuesday night in San Antone. One of the our Rushmores was on the bench with her understated, guiding hand. And on they go to another Sweet 16.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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