Bryant. Jordan. Bird. Iverson. James. Moore? Hayes?
Some of the best and brightest that have ever played the game played their best while under the lights of Broadway. And the Connecticut Huskies did not disappoint posting a 81-50 victory over Ohio State in front of 15, 232 at an electric Madison Square Garden, on Sunday.
Who can forget Kobe Bryant’s 61 point performance at Madison Square Garden? How about Patrick Ewing scoring 24 points and 22 rebounds in the 1997 playoffs? Or Jordan’s 55 point performance after coming back from retirement?
I have been to ‘The Garden’ many times in my life. Perhaps an effect of growing up in Connecticut where there is just confusion on who to root for. Boston or New York? Jets, Giants or Patriots? Celtics or Knicks?
I still remember my first time walking in to MSG. I was 12 years old and a huge Reggie Miller fan. I liked his swagger and how he played his best on the biggest stage. I can still remember the smell and the feel of electricity in the air. I begged for weeks to go to a game to see this guy that I saw on television.
Not understanding the idiosyncrasies of the game, quite yet, I just yelled and yelled loud. Mostly for what the Knicks were doing because that is what everyone else was doing. Then I just remember it all changing and getting kind of eerily quiet as Miller did what he always did, silenced the crowd, in a come from behind victory. I didn’t realize at the time that I was witnessing history.
That game was Game 1 of the 1995 Eastern Conference playoffs. Miller scored 8 points in about 11 seconds, shocking the Knicks 107-105. On Sunday there was no such drama that was needed, but the lights shined just as bright.
You have read by now the game analysis, the perception of UConn’s place in history and a myriad of opinions on if we should be talking about it. The fact is, I’m not going to talk about any of that stuff, partially because the story isn’t finished.
You don’t walk away from ‘Snow White’ while she is still comatose from the apple nor do you turn off the big game when it’s tied with a minute left. So while I won’t dive into a discussion on what UConn’s place is in the hierarchy of sports, feminism, or the game itself, I will talk about this amazing team.
Sometimes in life you make things look so effortless that people think it’s easy. Nothing that they have done has been easy. I can’t think of anything that I can do 88 times in a row, without coming up with an excuse on occasion number 10 or 12, why I don’t have to do it this time.
88 times of playing defense. 88 times of learning a scout. 88 times of having to compete as hard as you can. 88 times that you open yourself up to failure or a letdown.
All they have done is disappoint opposition 88 times in a row.
UConn is 30-0, during this streak, against Top 25 teams. They have won the 88 games by an average of 33.3 points. They have only allowed two opponents within single digits during this 88 game span. They have simply been unstoppable and Sunday was no different.
They were coming off a 10 day break, had the sniffles running through the team and the pressure of winning the previous 87 games. No problem.
They got over a rusty first half where they missed lay ups and turned the ball over 10 times. Their rusty led to a 14 point half time lead. Led by their most experience players Maya Moore (22 points) and Tiffany Hayes (26 points).
Ohio State was done in partially from their own success. They were so used to having their stars Samantha Prahalis and Jantel Lavender carry the majority of their offensive load, when that was taken away they didn’t know how to react. What they got in return were 6 turnovers each, from their star players, trying to make plays.
Ohio State in the second half just appeared to stop competing. Included in that was the OSU coaching staff.
Connecticut drove into the lane at will. No adjustment was made. Connecticut pressured the Buckeyes experienced guards forcing them to turn the ball over. No adjustment was made. UConn was physical with post Lavender and Sarah Schulze. No adjustment was made.
Ohio State head coach Jim Foster shoulders as much as the blame as anyone. While sometimes you get outplayed, you should never be outworked. Lots of things can be coached come game time, effort is not one of them. Effort must be demanded every day.
"They played a lot harder than we did," Foster said. "We've got to run harder. We've got to get down the floor and have a sense of urgency. It isn’t like we have to reinvent the wheel. It’s the small things.
"Maya Moore made a play, blocking a shot, when they were up by 30 points. She could have not even involved herself in the play, but she did and blocked the shot. Another time, they gave up an uncontested basket and she gathered the group and aired them out again, ahead by 30 points. To beat them, you're going to have to match their intensity."
Intensity is something that UConn has an abundance of. The only time I actually saw it from Ohio State on Sunday was in the post game press conference. Too late to help determine the outcome.
Or perhaps the lights were too bright on the big stage.
UConn will attempt to do the same thing today to Florida State (#22) that it has to the last 88 opponents and bring Broadway to the XL Center.
ESPN is also bringing some big lights, cameras, a few alumni, a sell out, and the notion to some that the UConn Huskies are going for history. Agree or not, it’s remarkable to watch.
"One thing that is non-negotiable is the one thing we have in common," Auriemma said. "We settle for nothing less than the absolute best that we can give you every single night and day, and there are very few people that do that.
"They did it and we're doing it. Everything else is meaningless."
The first time I walked into the Garden, I was naive to the big lights, the big stage, the big implications. This time not so much. Tonight at the XL Center, UConn and women's basketball are all at centerstage.