UConn fans should embrace these historical times
It was during a postgame media session recently when Geno Auriemma, amid giving a thoughtful answer to a question, momentarily scanned the stat sheet. The column that caught his attention: shots attempted.
"You know, Morgan," he said to Morgan Tuck, seated to his left at the podium, "if you come back next year, you'll get 25 shots per game."
(Chuckles all around).
Auriemma alluded to a narrative trailing his program right now like the blanket behind Linus: Rather than bask in the potential history that will be made in a month — the first women's college basketball program to win four straight national championships — let's instead hyperventilate about the boogie man around the corner, otherwise known as the departures of Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck.
Translation: UConn will need everything short of a telethon next year to cope with the loss of such talent. No longer will the Huskies be the best team in the country.
Even Auriemma, after the win at No. 2 South Carolina in February, joked that he "needs five cell phones now" to answer all the calls from schools who want to play Connecticut next year.
Note to all the schools that want to play UConn next season: buyer beware. Maybe the Huskies won't have the best team in the country. But the idea they won't be anything short of dominant — and intimidating — illustrates a fundamental lack of knowledge about the nation's best program.
There's no denying that Jefferson not pushing tempo, Stewart not scoring and blocking shots and Tuck not doing a little of this and some of that will likely mean the end of the winning streak at some point. But they still have Auriemma. They'll still intimidate, just by showing up. And they'll still have a bunch of kids who have been taught The UConn Way, a bunch of kids who don't want the levels of excellence to wane on their watch.
Anybody really want to bet against them next year? They'll get better every day. They'll play harder than everybody else. They'll be reminded, sometimes gently, sometimes overtly, that this is UConn. And they'll still dominate the American Athletic Conference.
Now I'm not sure what to tell members of a fan base that will be anxious at the thought of not winning as many games by 50. But next season might be the most fun of all. Imagine how Auriemma, in certain situations, gets to be the underdog. He gets to needle everybody else. And nobody is better at deflecting the pressure off his kids and onto others, all while making sure his players maintain all the expectations that come with wearing the uniform. But most external expectations will be gone, foisted upon others.
Who would honestly make UConn the favorite next year to win the national championship with three first-round draft choices gone? It might be the first time in 20 years UConn gets to play with some house money. And still get better every day.
The burden rests with some others. Let's see if they'll be as graceful with it as Auriemma.
Think about it. How many times next year will opponents think that — finally — they have an actual chance to beat the Huskies? The pressure on them will be enormous. Because if it doesn't happen then ... will it ever happen? Auriemma will get more mileage from that than most others get from a Toyota Corolla.
Meantime, try to enjoy what you are about to see. UConn is the favorite to make history, four national titles in four tries on the watch of Jefferson and Stewart. Four rainbow rides to four national titles. Next season can wait. But when it gets here, just remember: all the banners raised before the 2016-2017 season still count. They won't get any smaller or less meaningful. Then watch the rest of the country tremble at the thought of the opportunity to finally beat UConn.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.
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