Now seven seasons removed from its last national championship, UConn women’s basketball is in its longest title drought since winning its first in 1995. Last season, the Huskies reached the final after four consecutive losses in the national semifinal but fell to South Carolina, 64-49 — their first loss in a national championship game.
Even though UConn has struggled to get over the hump in recent years, Geno Auriemma is confident banner No. 12 is coming eventually.
“We’re gonna win another one, it’s just a matter of when,” he told reporters ahead of First Night. “I don’t know when that is, but we’re gonna win another one. Sooner rather than later would be good for me.”
It doesn’t help that prior to this six-year stretch without a championship, UConn won four consecutive national championships and six of the previous eight.
“I think the further you get away from it, the more you realize it was a fantasy land that we created,” Auriemma said of the Breanna Stewart Era where UConn won four titles in four years.
It’s not like the Huskies haven’t been close, either. They’ve been to the Final Four every year and the championship game last season. Each time, they’ve lost in different, but equally heartbreaking ways.
In 2017 and 2018, UConn entered the Final Four undefeated but lost on overtime buzzer-beaters to Mississippi State and Notre Dame, respectively. In 2019, the Huskies led by as many as nine in the fourth quarter before the offense went cold and the Fighting Irish came storming back to win. In 2021, UConn overlooked 3-seed Arizona and was beaten in a game that was never particularly close. Last year, the Huskies broke through with an upset win over Stanford in the semifinal before injuries and illness caught up to them in the final against South Carolina.
The past six years have shown just how difficult it is to win a national championship. They’ve also made UConn’s domination of the sport that much more impressive.
“Now I really appreciate the opportunities that we get,” Auriemma said. “We’ve been to what? 14 in a row — Final Fours? The next streak is two? So it’s hard as hell to get there, much less how hard it is to win it.”
This season, the Huskies haven’t adjusted expectations even though Paige Bueckers will miss the entire campaign due to a torn ACL. It’s still national championship or bust.
“We’re a national championship contender until we get knocked out. If and when that day comes, then we won’t be anywhere,” Auriemma said. “But today, October 14, we have as good a chance of winning a national championship as anybody else and we’ll see where that takes us. Not as good a chance as we had in June, but we still have a chance.”
Other news from First Night
UConn will play a closed-door scrimmage on Oct. 22, though Auriemma said he couldn’t give any details until after it’s played. This is the second straight year the Huskies will play a secret scrimmage after hosting Boston College last preseason.
In terms of injuries, Ayanna Patterson didn’t participate in the dunk contest due to an ankle injury. Luckily, there doesn’t seem to be any long-term concern about the freshman.
“She tweaked her ankle a little bit last week,” Auriemma said. “As with most young kids, she’s not going to try anything that might force her to miss a couple of days of practice.”
UConn is also being cautious with its players who are returning from surgery: Aubrey Griffin (back), Dorka Juhász (wrist), and Caroline Ducharme (hip). They’re participating in practice, but the team is just limiting their time on the floor.
“We have everybody on the court, it’s just not everybody’s out there all the time,” Auriemma said. “So that might take a little bit of time to get caught up...they’re doing a lot, but they’re doing it in a short period of time.”