Last night, for the first time in over four years, UConn women’s basketball lost a regular season game.
Despite that fact, the Earth continued spinning, the sun rose today and the Huskies will valiantly continue their season. Head coach Geno Auriemma knows it’s not the end of the world, good teams lose more games in a week than UConn has lost in the last five years. Nobody is supposed to win as much as the Huskies have, and losses were to be expected this year. They were expected last year, too, they just didn’t get one until the Final Four.
But this loss to Baylor doesn’t change much. UConn’s outlook this season isn’t different than it was at the start of the season, or even before the game. Unlike some other teams in the Huskies’ history, this year’s edition is flawed. Their lack of size size was exploited by Baylor. Their depth is certain to be tested at some point. They don’t have a transcendent player on their roster this year.
At the same time, a flawed UConn team is still one of the best teams in the country. There’s a chance the Huskies don’t even fall from the No. 1 ranking next week. And while they might not have that transcendent player, Napheesa Collier, Crystal Dangerfield and Katie Lou Samuelson form as good of a three-headed monster as you can get in college basketball.
All this is a long-winded way of saying there’s no reason to panic over one loss to a very good team on the road. If anything, the loss will help UConn far more than a win would’ve.
Take 2016-17 as an example. The Huskies had a monster streak going, setting the NCAA record for consecutive wins, hitting 100 against South Carolina in February. The next game, they barely beat Tulane — TULANE — by just three points. As that game progressed and the score remained tight, UConn was visibly scared.
That UConn team was terrified to be the ones to lose the streak. They often spoke about how it wasn’t really their streak since most of the games were won by Breanna Stewart and her class. They put too much pressure on themselves because of it.
If the Huskies dropped that game to Tulane instead, I’d be willing to bet the Mississippi State game turns out differently.
Compare that season to Stewart’s freshman campaign. That year, the Huskies lost three (!!!) regular season games and a fourth time in the Big East Tournament final. But things finally came together for the team in the NCAA Tournament (and Brittney Griner’s Baylor team got upset) and hoisted the trophy when all was said and done.
That team learned from their losses. Stewart played seven minutes in a triple-overtime loss to Notre Dame. Then she went on to win Final Four Most Outstanding Player.
That’s the blueprint for this year’s UConn team to follow. We still don’t know what kind of player Megan Walker and Christyn Williams will be in two months. Olivia Nelson-Ododa could be a much bigger factor if the Huskies play Baylor again. Maybe Mikayla Coombs breaks through her struggles and shows why she was a high school All-American.
There’s so much that could happen over the rest of the season. There’s a lot of games left to be played between now and the NCAA Tournament.
This UConn team might be flawed but so is every other team in the nation. There’s no clear-cut favorite — realistically there are eight or nine teams that have a legitimate chance at winning it all.
UConn is as well-positioned as anyone to claim the title when all is said and done. And if that does happen, when the confetti is falling and the team cuts down the net, we’ll look back to Thursday night as an important building block to that championship.