Two weeks ago, Wisconsin excused last year's champion, Villanova, in the final seconds.
A week later, it was Wisconsin's turn to be excused, as time expired in overtime.
As March wound down in Houston, Mississippi State excused Champion-for-Life Connecticut, as time expired in overtime.
Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma used the setback as a learning opportunity.
This is real life, he told them, not the utopian basketball world the Huskies had been living in for the past two and a half years, and especially since the start of this season. Auriemma — plenty of times during the regular season — wished the streak would just end, providing him with the coaching tool he needed to get through to a young squad that didn’t know how to handle adversity, let alone losing.A year ago, Connecticut excused Mississippi State from the round of sixteen, and rather decisively at that. Their coach, and their returning players, took their education (in basketball, as in chess, the after-game analysis might be more important than the game itself) and did what they had to do.
“We kind of lived a charmed life for a long time,” Auriemma said.
This loss wasn’t a fluke. Auriemma said Mississippi State played better, from the opening tip through the critical final moments of overtime.
Barely more than a calendar year ago, UConn had dominated Mississippi State 98-38 in the Sweet 16, the biggest margin ever at the regional level in the women's tournament. The 60-point loss had become a motivating factor for Mississippi State, with the number plastered in the team's weight room for offseason motivation.Summon the echoes. In the 1940 football title game, the Chicago Bears edged the Washington Redskins, 73-0. Two years later, the Redskins and the Bears met again. Let's say that 73 was not a good number in Washington's locker room, and that year, it was Washington hoisting the trophy.
After last year's round of sixteen game, the Harrison Bergeron types were raising the possibility that Connecticut being so good was bad for the sport.
When the Huskies eliminated Mississippi State in the Sweet 16 last year in Bridgeport, they were up 61-12 at halftime and won 98-38. That was the game that ignited the controversy over whether UConn was killing the sport with its brilliance.Back to Starkville they went, and before they dismissed for the season, they spent sixty minutes breaking down the tape of the first five minutes of the game, by which time it was already well out of hand.
As Auriemma said early on this season, a lot of teams would be looking for payback this season. The Bulldogs went back to Starkville. They hung the number "60" in the weight room.
"It was personal," said Victoria Vivians, who led the Bulldogs with 19 points.
Breanna Richardson said the same: personal.
"We had our pride stepped on last year," [coach Vic] Schaefer said. "We got our tail handed to us.
Then they broke down the rest of the game. And went to work on improving their game.
The outcome is way more satisfying than it would be if this year's tournament were played by Harrison Bergeron rules. Does anybody really want to see Mississippi State 66(*), Connecticut 64.
And it's likely Connecticut's ladies will also be taking an education, and if you thought facing them was scary this year ...
There's more at Women's Hoops Blog. This year's final will be echoes of the old days of Tennessee and some other Southeastern Conference team going after it.
(*)As adjudicated by the Performance Handicap Rating Formula. Yeah, I stole a sailing term. Deal with it. Do we really want coaches to play a smaller lineup for a theoretical point advantage?