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Adverse conditions: what do Connecticut's close losses say about the program?

Is one close loss by Connecticut a sign of decline for the Huskies? We look at Connecticut's record over the last 10 seasons to see if there's a dark lining in the Connecticut silver cloud.

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Stanford might have saved the NCAA women's basketball tournament last night by beating Connecticut 88-86 in overtime.  Connecticut came in with an aura of invincibility, which had turned me off from following college women's basketball this season - foregone conclusions are not compelling.  The loss makes the season interesting.  It is now a season where any team can lose on any given night, even if Connecticut wins every game for the rest of this season.

Some folks out there have questioned whether or not Geno Auriemma has still got it.  Someone figures if there's smoke, there must be fire.  They point to "no overtime game wins by the Huskies in x number of years" or "record X by Connecticut in time frame Y" and filter the data down to paint an unflattering picture.  People who hate UConn will be made happy by these assertions; those that love them too much might be distraught.

So what does this loss really mean?  A blip, or the shape of things to come?

It is incredibly difficult through looking at box scores to find out how much a coach contributes to any given win or loss.  I've tried to do this a few times for the WNBA, evaluating the statistics of a team over which the coach should have the most influence.  But college basketball is different.  Teams don't have the same level of success recruiting, there is no draft in college basketball and schedules depend to a large degree on who a team wants to play as opposed to the balanced schedules of pro ball.  Is there something we can look at?

I decided to look at games decided by five points or less.  Five points or less means that the game outcome can shift through two possessions.  A coach should be able to have control of at least two possessions of a game.  When the team is down by one or two baskets, and the coach draws up those critical plays, does the team listen to the coach?  Do they tune out?  Does the team seize up like a car with a bad radiator?

Let's look at Geno Auriemma's records over the last 20 games in games decided by five points or less.

Connecticut: Last 20 games decided by five points or less

11/17/14 - Stanford 88, Connecticut 86
3/12/13 - Notre Dame 61, Connecticut 59
1/5/13 - Notre Dame 73, Connecticut 72
2/8/12 - St. John's 57, Connecticut 56
12/8/11 - Baylor 66, Connecticut 61
3/27/11 - Connecticut 68, Georgetown 63
1/8/11 - Connecticut 79, Notre Dame 76
11/16/10 - Connecticut 65, Baylor 64
3/1/08 - Connecticut 77, DePaul 76
2/25/08 - Connecticut 74, LSU 69
2/5/08 - Rutgers 73, Connecticut 71
2/11/07 - Connecticut 72, LSU 71
2/3/07 - Connecticut 52, Marquette 48
3/28/06 - Duke 63, Connecticut 61
3/26/06 - Connecticut 77, Georgia 75
2/7/06 - Rutgers 60, Connecticut 56
1/16/06 - Connecticut 51, LSU 48
2/26/05 - Boston College 51, Connecticut 48
1/8/05 - Tennessee 68, Connecticut 67
3/8/04 - Boston College 73, Connecticut 70

Final results: 9-11

The first thing you should notice is you have to back ten years before you find twenty UConn games decided by five points or less.  It's a testament to your team that you have to go all the way back to Diana Taurasi to find that 20th close win or close loss.  In 2009 Connecticut had no games decided by five points or less.  The list above is a testament to great recruiting, if nothing else.

The second thing you should notice is who those losses are against. They are losses against either in-conference teams or against heavily ranked teams. And look at the coaches!

Three games against Muffet McGraw
Two against C. Vivian Stringer
Two against Kim Mulkey
One against Tara Vanderveer
One against Pat Summitt

That's a murderer's row of coaches.  And are there any real surprises in the losses?  Maybe the loss to St. John's.  The two losses to Boston College aren't within recent memory.  (If you remember either of those losses, you are a serious UConn fan.)  Anyone coaching against those coaches in close games should be very happy with a 9-11 record. 

Summary: Close games are very infrequent at Connecticut, and the losses were to the best coaches and best teams out there.  Anyone interpreting a loss to Stanford in a game played at Stanford at the beginning of the season as a sign of decline of the Connecticut program might want to look elsewhere.