SEATTLE — The dynasty is dead, officially.
For the first time in 15 postseasons, the women’s Final Four (and Elite Eight) will not include the UConn Huskies, the most dominant program in women’s basketball this century.
In a tournament full of stunning upsets, Ohio State pulled off the biggest one yet, beating the Huskies 73-61 to advance to the Elite Eight.
Two No. 1 seeds (Stanford and Indiana) had already fallen by the time the Buckeyes and Huskies tipped off Saturday. But UConn’s surprising departure — the Huskies haven’t missed an Elite Eight since 2005 — signals a shift.
“The problem with streaks is the longer they go, you’re closer to it ending than you are to the beginning of it,” said Huskies coach Geno Auriemma, pointing out that UConn snapped another unreal streak this season when it lost back-to-back games for the first time in 30 years.
Follow the madness: Latest Women’s NCAA Tournament College Basketball Scores and Schedules
“It’s an impossibility to do what we have done already. What’s the next highest streak, nine or something like that, regionals in a row? There’s a big difference between nine and 29, right?”
Winners and losers:UConn, Diamond Miller and Cotie McMahon’s mom
Sweet 16:Ohio State ends UConn’s Elite 8, Final Four streaks
For so long, Auriemma said, “we made it look so routine and so easy, we gave the impression that it’s very easy to do.” Saturday’s loss was “a reminder that, no, it’s not.”
11 titles, but none since 2016
Auriemma has led UConn to 11 titles, with a staggering 10 coming since 2000. The Huskies’ dominance, in many ways, forced everyone else to get better. Teams like Ohio State responded.
How else do you explain Big Ten freshman of the year Cotie McMahon telling reporters the other day “we want to play UConn” in an almost nonchalant tone? After the game she explained that long before Ohio State took the floor, the Buckeyes believed they’d win.
She wasn’t cocky or aloof. To McMahon it made practical sense that her squad, which routinely forces opponents into 20-plus turnovers a game, would have success against a group that’s struggled all season with ball-handling.
Still, given UConn’s aura, it was a bold statement.
Then again, hints have been coming for eight years that UConn falling from its perch was imminent.
Saturday recap:South Carolina, Maryland, Ohio State, Virginia Tech advance
Since the graduation of UConn’s 2016 class, which won four consecutive championships, there’s been a drought in what was long considered Title Town. But because UConn kept playing in the national semifinals, or the championship game like last year, it always had a shot at bringing home No. 12.
The arrival of 2020 consensus high school player of the year Paige Bueckers was supposed to get UConn back on track. But Bueckers has spent more time injured than in uniform. Super sophomore Azzi Fudd has also struggled to stay healthy. UConn has always had a short bench, and that lack of depth hurt the Huskies more than ever this year.
Meanwhile other programs — most notably South Carolina — have risen because of a combination of factors. High school talent has increased significantly, with more program-changing players available in each graduating class. The transfer portal can transform a program immediately.
And now, it’s not a given that the top players always head to Storrs. More kids are staying close to home, like Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, to try to do something for the first time.
Additionally, more schools have financially committed to women’s basketball, giving equitable pay to their women’s coaches compared to their men’s, and investing in top-notch facilities that turn recruits’ heads.
South Carolina dynasty next? We should hope not
The Gamecocks, undefeated and the overall No. 1 seed, are heavy favorites to repeat. With suggestions already being made that the next dynasty is rising in South Carolina, people will officially install Dawn Staley on the throne and speculate on how many titles she can pile up in Columbia.
But Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff isn’t convinced UConn’s reign is done for good.
“I don’t think it’s dead,” he said. “They’ve got maybe the best player in America sitting on the bench (in Bueckers). They’re going to continue to get kids who fit their program, that’s what they’ve always done so well, and they’ve got more coming in next year. They’re going to continue to be one of the top programs in college basketball.”
But “one of” is different than “the.” And while McGuff was effusive in his praise for Auriemma and his staff, he also acknowledged what UConn has done is likely to never be replicated.
That’s a good thing. The game is better, more exciting and more engaging when multiple teams have a legitimate chance to win a title; after all, chaos is why the men’s tournament has been so fun this month.
So the dynasty is dead. And if you’re a fan of women’s basketball, you shouldn’t be rooting for another to take hold (unless you’re a South Carolina fan, and then I get why you want to start a streak of your own).
You can’t deny it: When March really is mad, everyone wins.