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Weekly Roundup: The best UConn women’s basketball teams that didn’t win the national championship

Plus injury updates on Evina Westbrook and Kyla Irwin.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

On Friday, The Athletic released its list of the 25 most dominant women’s college basketball teams of all time. Unsurprisingly, UConn landed seven teams on the list — far more than the next closest (Tennessee had 3). The Huskies’ 2001-02 team ranked as the best team of all-time while the iconic 1994-95 squad finished right behind in the second slot. Here’s the full list of UConn teams:

1. 2001-02
2. 1994-95
4. 2015-16
7. 2009-10
12. 2008-09
15. 2013-14
18. 2002-03

There’s an argument for all 11 national title teams on the list (especially considering the inclusion of the 2016-17 South Carolina team, which the Huskies dropped 66-55 in a game that wasn’t as close as score indicates), but that’s not a gripe — it’s important to spread out the recognition.

While any season at UConn that doesn’t end in a national championship is considered an abject failure, the Huskies have featured more than a handful of dominant teams that couldn’t finish it off in the end.

1996-97

Going into the 1997 NCAA Tournament, UConn appeared to be the clear favorite with a sparkling 30-0 record — with all but two of those wins coming by double-digits. Led by National Player of the Year Kara Wolters, the Huskies reached the regional finals against Tennessee, who was struggling through a down year with a 21-9 record and three-seed in the tournament.

When the archrivals met in the regionals finals in Iowa City, the Huskies were primed to reach the program’s third Final Four. After all, UConn crushed the Vols 72-57 in Storrs earlier that season.

However, Tennessee caught fire at the right time and couldn’t miss. The Huskies played from behind the entire game — they trailed 45-33 at halftime and never lead in the second half as the Vols earned the 91-81 upset win. Tennessee went on to win the national championship with relatively easy wins over Notre Dame and Old Dominion, leaving Geno Auriemma’s squad to wonder what could’ve been.

2000-01

Coming off a national championship season in which UConn lost just Stacy Hansmeyer and Paige Sauer to graduation but added a young freshman named Diana Taurasi, the Huskies were clear favorites to repeat.

Then the injuries struck. Svetlana Abrosimova went down with a season-ending foot injury in February and Shea Ralph tore her ACL in the Big East Tournament championship. But even without two All-Americans, the Huskies still won the conference title over Notre Dame in large part thanks to juniors Swin Cash, Asjha Jones and, of course, Sue Bird — who hit the most iconic shot in program history, “Bird at the Buzzer.”

However, the Fighting Irish got revenge in the Final Four. A 15-point lead early in the second half vanished for UConn as it went cold from the field. Notre Dame stormed back and eventually turned the game into a rout the other way, winning 90-75.

On his last Instagram Live, Auriemma admitted he made some wrong decisions at halftime, and Taurasi’s 1-of-15 shooting performance (and Auriemma’s insistence that she keep shooting) certainly didn’t help either. Like 1997, Notre Dame went on to win the national championship.

2010-11

Coming off back-to-back national championships, Maya Moore looked to complete the trifecta in her senior season as Diana Taurasi had done before. Around Moore, the Huskies had a talented — but young — roster that featured junior Tiffany Hayes, sophomore Kelly Farris and freshmen Stefanie Dolson,

UConn lost just one regular season game, a 71-59 loss at Stanford — a place that has established itself as a house of horrors for the Huskies. But for the most part, Moore and UConn cruised to the Final Four to face its new arch rival, Notre Dame.

But the Huskies were dealt a tough hand, having a play a de-facto road game against the Irish in Indianapolis, just 2.5 hours from South Bend. Despite a herculean 36-point effort from Moore, the senior couldn’t will UConn to victory as Notre Dame held on to a 72-63 win.

The game ended Moore’s illustrious career and also ruined UConn’s chance to win dual national titles — some the Huskies accomplished in 2004 and later 2014.

2016-17

It’s still unfathomable to think UConn didn’t win a national championship in the post-Breanna Stewart years. While the 2016-17 campaign was expected to be a “rebuilding” year for the Huskies, they exceeded all expectations by finishing the regular season undefeated with only two tight wins over Florida State and Tulane.

Auriemma said recently he kept expecting the team to falter at some point, yet they kept winning. UConn unexpectedly broke its own NCAA record for consecutive wins and extended that number to 111 entering the Final Four. However, “the streak” seemed to weigh on the players more and more as more wins were added to the pile. Suddenly, winning wasn’t the main concern — not losing became the priority.

While the streak hung in the back of the minds of the Huskies’ minds, win No. 71 was especially crucial. It was the Sweet Sixteen the year prior when UConn embarrassed the Mississippi State, 98-38. The Bulldogs took the loss personally and put a sign up reminding them of the loss in the weight room. They wanted vengeance.

Mississippi State punched the Huskies in the mouth early and after initially staggering, UConn roared back. The Huskies had more than a few chances to put the game away, none better than with 12.3 seconds left when they had possession and could hold for the final shot in overtime. But inexplicably, Saniya Chong got the ball and rushed a bad shot with 12.3 seconds left that harmlessly fell out of bounds. Everyone knows what happened next. William on the drive, pull up...

Had UConn won, there’s no question it would’ve beat South Carolina in the championship and claimed its fifth-straight national title.

2017-18

Looking back, the 2016-17 team was bound to slip up and lose a game at some point. The fact that it happened in the Final Four is more unlucky than anything. The next year, however, might be UConn’s worst missed chance.

Returning essentially the exact same roster as the year before sans Chong and Natalie Butler while adding Duke transfer Azura Stevens and No. 1 recruit Megan Walker, the Huskies were a juggernaut. From start to finish, UConn rolled over everyone with few games that were still within shouting distance by the final quarter. They won all but two games by double-digits and scored 95 (not a typo) points in the first half of their first NCAA Tournament game.

Stevens found her stride by the end of the season, winning AAC Tournament Most Outstanding Player while coming off the bench.

But in the Final Four against Notre Dame, things followed a similar script as the year prior. The Huskies struggled early as the Irish jumped ahead but UConn fought back and even took a lead into halftime — much of which was sparked by Stevens’ play. Then, Auriemma made one of the most criticized decisions of his career, choosing to leave her on the bench to start the second half.

Despite trailing by five with 21 seconds left, UConn mounted an incredible rally and even had the chance to win it at the buzzer. But Gabby Williams rushed a shot on a great look and the game went to overtime. There, Arike Ogunbowale made sure the Huskies season ended the same way it did the year prior.

Even with the benefit of hindsight, it’s still hard to believe a UConn team with this much talent didn’t rise the national championship trophy at the end of it all.


Louisville matched pushed back

After Jeff Walz’s self-announced game against UConn in the Never Forget Classic failed to materialize for next season, the Louisville head coach told local media that the game will be moved back to 2021-22.

“Just because of what’s going on right now it’s probably more difficult to be able to get much of a crowd in there right now,” Walz said on a conference call, per the Courier-Journal. ”So instead of just doing a wait-and-see, we’ve agreed to push it back for a year. We’ll hopefully get it worked out for next year and be able to get that up and going again.”

Walz first revealed the possibility of a neutral-site matchup between the two teams back in November but no contract was ever signed. While the coach cited the coronavirus pandemic as a reason for the change, it likely has more to do with the fact that the Huskies’ non-conference is already over-booked because of their move to the Big East and a 20-game conference schedule.

However, UConn has much more flexibility in 2021-22 with just six games on the docket so far: Notre Dame at home and Little Rock, Maryland, Oregon, South Carolina and Texas on the road.

UConn has never even acknowledged the possibility of a matchup with Louisville since the news initially broke but it doesn’t announce new dates on the schedule until contracts are officially signed.

Preseason tune-up set

Elsewhere in scheduling news, the Journal Inquirer’s Carl Adamec reported that UConn will play Fort Hays State (Division II) in one of its two exhibition games this preseason. The Huskies previously played the Tigers prior to the 2017-18 season at the XL Center. The date and location of this matchup is still up in the air and will likely be determined after UConn lands a second exhibition opponent.

Last year, the Huskies’ non-conference schedule came out on June 19 while the full slate was announced on Sep. 19.

Huskies returning to health

Two bits of good news on the injury front. First, Evina Westbrook was officially cleared after she underwent left knee surgery this past New Years’ Eve, according to her mother’s Instagram.

Kyla Irwin is also making progress as she announced on Instagram that she was cleared to shoot again after fracturing her elbow in the AAC Tournament.

KLS opens up

Katie Lou Samuelson wrote a piece for ESPN discussing her battle with mental health issues. She spoke about the learning that “it’s OK to not be OK, to have sad days, to feel down on yourself,” and seeking the help she needed. It’s a must-read for all.

Previous roundups:

UConn women’s basketball needs a uniform overhaul

‘This is your defining moment’: Geno Auriemma delivers commencement speech of UConn’s class of 2020

UConn women’s basketball’s recent transfer history

Looking back on the UConn-Notre Dame rivalry

Napheesa Collier lobbying Minnesota Lynx to draft Crystal Dangerfield

UConn women’s basketball doesn’t have a greatest player ever