MINNEAPOLIS — Connecticut has spent almost three many years as probably the most formidable threat in women’s college basketball, dangerous even when not ranked No. 1 in Division I for weeks at a time — which is where the Huskies spent a good portion of that point.
But after losing to South Carolina on Sunday night, the Huskies not have an ideal record in N.C.A.A. championship games. In a rarity within the Geno Auriemma era, some UConn players will graduate without having won a national title. And this system, so often regarded as a dynasty, is enduring its longest championship drought since winning the primary of its 11 championships in 1995. Though it has been a fixture within the Final 4 lately, its last championship was in 2016.
“That is UConn, so it’s a national championship or nothing,” the star sophomore guard Paige Bueckers said after the sport, searching at reporters with red-rimmed eyes. “I’m obviously upset, frustrated and upset.”
Her coach, Auriemma, was uncharacteristically subdued while speaking with reporters after the sport. As a substitute of ascribing the defeat to his players’ “immaturity,” as he did after last yr’s national semifinal loss to Arizona, the second-winningest coach in Division I women’s basketball history insisted he was pleased with his team for making it this far.
Auriemma went through the laundry list of hurdles the Huskies had overcome through the season — most of them related to staying healthy — and added that forward Olivia Nelson-Ododa had played with an injury sustained in Friday’s game against Stanford, and that the freshman guard Azzi Fudd had fallen ailing overnight and hadn’t gone to the shootaround.
The team definitely faced loads of adversity. Most notable amongst its various setbacks was Bueckers’s midseason knee injury, which contributed to the Huskies’ worst regular season in 17 years.
Even that injury, though, still doesn’t account for the questions that loom over every move Auriemma makes at this point in his storied profession: Is the fabled UConn Huskies dynasty losing its power? Is that this loss, greater than any of the previous Final 4 defeats, the one which signals the tip of an era?
“It’s one other reminder of how hard it’s to win here,” Auriemma said. “Normally the higher team wins while you get here, and we just weren’t adequate.”
Hearing Auriemma say that it’s hard to win can sound almost unbelievable, considering how easy he has made it search for the past three many years. Connecticut has long had the higher team in its games — it has spent entire seasons blowing out teams by 30 or 40 points, and nearly cruised to its 11 championships.
UConn’s dominance can have begun to recede, however the stretch and not using a title can also be a testament to the expansion of programs built to challenge its position at the highest of the heap. South Carolina, for instance, is now a two-time champion whose claim to powerhouse status is made stronger by the undeniable fact that, unlike in 2017, the Gamecocks needed to undergo the Huskies to win this championship.
“A variety of what we’re in a position to do and get is off the backs of their success,” South Carolina Coach Dawn Staley said before the championship game. “I believe the people up at UConn treat their women’s basketball team as a sport. They’re forced to due to all of the winning and all of the success, but you may take a page out of their book.”
Whether this loss is attributable to the Huskies not being what they was once, the event of even stiffer competition or simply a slew of bad breaks — perhaps all three reasons are valid — Auriemma is optimistic that his young team could have much to supply next season.
“I like our probabilities,” said Auriemma, who will return his two A-list recruits in Fudd and Bueckers and add Ayanna Patterson and Isuneh Brady, each ranked in the highest five of the 2022 class by ESPN.
“Provided we don’t need to navigate a season like we did this yr, and — knock on wood — if we stay healthy,” Auriemma said, “I expect to be back here next yr.”