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UConn WBB Weekly: Comparing the Huskies’ championship “droughts”

This isn’t the first time UConn has gone a handful of years without winning a national title.

Arizona v Connecticut Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Welcome to the UConn WBB Weekly, a recap of everything that happened in the world of UConn women’s basketball over the past week.

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Headlines

UConn in the WNBA: Previewing the 2021 season (Weekly Premium)

Hidden Huskies: Saylor Poffenbarger got some valuable experience as an early-enrollee (Weekly Premium)

Though Saylor Poffenbarger never cracked the rotation after coming to UConn as an early-enrollee, she showed brief flashes of the versatile guard that Geno Auriemma promised in her 33 minutes of action. We looked at the tape in part three of our “Hidden Huskies” series.

UConn in the WNBA: Taurasi and Stewart shine in season openers (Weekly Premium)

Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Maya Moore picked for WNBA Mount Rushmore in GM Survey (The UConn Blog)

UConn signee Azzi Fudd makes US U19 World Cup team, Amari DeBerry named a finalist (The UConn Blog)

Former UConn guard Anna Makurat signs with club in Poland (The UConn Blog)

Connecticut Sun hire Morgan Tuck as Director of Franchise Development (The UConn Blog)

After Helping Her Husband Gain Freedom, Maya Moore Savors Her Own (New York Times)

The latest update on Maya Moore and Jonathan Irons, including a funny quote from Irons about Moore watching UConn games.


How does UConn’s current title drought compare to its previous dry spells?

When Arizona stunned UConn in the Final Four, it marked the fifth consecutive season that the Huskies went home without a national title. That’s now UConn’s longest stretch without winning it all since it captured its first championship in 1995. The only other times the Huskies went more than two years without winning it all were from 1995-1999 and again from 2004-2008.

This is, of course, the definition of a champagne problem. Since 2000, only four programs have won multiple championships: UConn (10), Baylor (3), Notre Dame (2), and Tennessee (2).

Ignoring the Vols, who won back-to-back, the Huskies’ droughts are far shorter than everyone else’s. Baylor went seven and six years, respectively, between trophies while Notre Dame waited 17 years to reach the top again. Or look at Stanford, where Tara VanDerveer went 29 (!) years between national championships before finally winning this year’s title.

So things could always be worse. Still, let’s look at how UConn’s current drought compares to its previous two.

The injury-plagued years (1995-1999)

Earliest exit: Sweet Sixteen
Losses: 13 (avg. 3.3 per year)
National Player of the Years: 2
WBCA All-American Selections: 5

The Huskies of the late ’90s were decimated by injuries.

After winning the program’s first national championship in 1995, UConn came close to a repeat. That next season, Jen Rizzotti emerged as a national player of the year while Kara Wolters also earned First Team AP All-American honors alongside the point guard. The Huskies lost their season opener to LA Tech in overtime and then fell again to Georgia in January but went on to reach the Final Four for the second consecutive season.

But in the NCAA Tournament opener against Lehigh, Shea Ralph tore her ACL, ending her season.

“Shea’s injury will have a huge impact on us,” Auriemma said at the time. “What you lose is versatility. Losing Shea is not like losing just one player. You lose a point guard, a scorer, a rebounder, an excellent passer.”

Without her, UConn struggled in the Sweet Sixteen against Illinois and won by just five before meeting a 10-loss Tennessee team in the Elite Eight. The Vols jumped on the Huskies early and then never trailed, surviving a late comeback bid from UConn to earn a 10-point victory.

Ralph missed the next season due to her knee injury but the Huskies still cruised along to a 26-2 record when the injury bug struck again. In the second to last game of the regular season, Nykesha Sales tore her Achilles. Even then, UConn won the Big East Tournament and advanced to the Elite Eight against NC State, only for Svetlana Abrosimova to go down in a 60-52 loss.

In 1998-99, the Huskies added a legendary freshman class that included Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Asjha Jones, and Tamika Williams. That didn’t stop the injuries, though, as Bird tore her ACL in December and missed the remainder of the season. UConn fell in the Sweet Sixteen to 4-seed Iowa State before finally winning its second national championship in 2000.

The post-Diana Taurasi years (2004-2008)

Earliest exit: Sweet Sixteen
Losses: 19 (avg. 4.8 per year)
National Player of the Years: 0
WBCA All-American selections: 2

These were the dark ages of UConn women’s basketball when the Huskies simply didn’t have enough talent to reach the Final Four, let alone compete for a national championship. Not one player won Big East Player of the Year between Diana Taurasi’s departure and Maya Moore’s arrival in 2008 while UConn had just one All-Conference First Team selection each year from 2005-07.

In 2004-05, UConn lost a now-unfathomable eight games, fell out of the AP top 10, and dropped as low as 16. Though the Huskies won the Big East Tournament title, they were unceremoniously bounced in the Sweet Sixteen by Stanford.

Tina Charles and Renee Montgomery came in the year after, which improved the team. UConn only lost five games, won its second straight Big East Tournament, and came tantalizing close to reaching the Final Four in a 63-61 overtime loss to Duke in Bridgeport.

During the 2006-07 campaign, the Huskies claimed the Big East regular-season trophy but were upset by Rutgers in the conference tournament final before getting walloped by LSU in the regional final, 74-50.

Moore’s arrival proved to be a turning point. UConn lost just one game in the regular season and returned to the Final Four for the first time in four years. Moore and Montgomery were both named All-Americans and Moore won Big East Freshman and Player of the Year.

Though the Huskies couldn’t get by Stanford in the Final Four, that year set the stage for their run as back-to-back undefeated national champions in 2009 and 2010.

Current drought (2016-present)

Earliest exit: Final Four
Losses: 10 (average 2.0 per year)
National Player of the Years: 1
WBCA All-American selections: 9

While there are clear themes in UConn’s previous two droughts (injuries in the ‘90’s, a lack of high-end talent in the ‘00’s), that’s not the case with the Huskies’ current dry spell.

UConn seemed destined to win in 2016-17 and 2017-18, reaching the Final Four with a perfect record both years only to be knocked out by a last-second buzzer-beater in overtime. The latter squad almost certainly would’ve cruised to a national championship had Katie Lou Samuelson not been dealing with an ankle injury that hampered her all season.

In 2018-19, Napheesa Collier had one of the best seasons in program history and should’ve won a national player of the year award. In a Final Four rematch against Notre Dame, UConn went up by nine in the fourth quarter and was in control until the Fighting Irish came storming back.

The Huskies simply couldn’t get their shots to fall and Notre Dame pulled off a 9-0 run to win the game. UConn hit a meaningless 3-pointer in the final seconds as the Fighting Irish earned an 81-76 win.

The next season, UConn went through its version of a rebuilding year. The Huskies played the three best teams in the country and fell by double-digits each time — including a non-competitive 74-56 loss to Oregon at Gampel Pavilion. Though the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic prematurely ended UConn’s season after the AAC Tournament, the Huskies would’ve needed a lot of help to get to the Final Four, let alone win a national championship.

This past year, UConn added an influx of talent with its freshman class, though the team’s youth, inexperience, and “immaturity” — as Auriemma put it — eventually caught up to them in the Final Four against a veteran Arizona squad.

There’s no singular reason the Huskies have been unable to win title No. 12 over the last five years. They’ve fallen victim to Cinderella teams and their own poor performances, but there have also been years they simply didn’t have the talent or were slowed down by an injury or two.


Best of social media

Geno Auriemma and Vanessa Bryant at Kobe Bryant’s Hall of Fame induction:

Sue Bird is not happy about being the same age as one of her teammate’s moms.

Geno took in one of UConn softball’s Big East Tournament games:

Diana Taurasi: Not a chef.

Breanna Stewart’s latest ring: