DALLAS, TX - I don’t think anyone is shocked to see UConn in the Final Four for the tenth time in the last ten years. The Huskies have been dominant, to say the least with 111 consecutive wins and counting.
Mississippi State is looking to knock off the defending champs on their quest to the championship, though they know it is not an easy task. In the tournament alone, UConn has an average margin of victory of 36 points.
The Lady Bulldogs can certainly relate to those teams who have been – simply put – completely obliterated by the Huskies. In last year’s Sweet Sixteen, Mississippi State lost to the Huskies by a gut-wrenching 60 points.
Mississippi State Head Coach Vic Schaefer said, “It was a humbling, embarrassing experience for all of us.”
That loss is typically something that anyone would like to forget and move on from. Instead, Coach Schaefer used it as motivation.
Junior guard Morgan William said, “We did watch the film. [Coach] made us remember that. It's staying in the back of our minds so we don't be complacent.”
Though the personnel is not the same from last year’s team, UConn is still the same brand of basketball.
Coach Schaefer said, “Let me tell you, this team is no different. I know the names have changed with some of them, but the team is no different. Great chemistry. Great defensive team. Great offensive chemistry. Great skill sets. They are fast.”
UConn’s loss of their three best players, who happened to be picks one, two, and three of the WNBA draft, caused many to doubt the continued success at the beginning of the season.
UConn Head Coach Geno Auriemma touched on the subject, saying. “What happened this year was really remarkable in that the unknown was what everyone talked about in October. Then throughout the whole season, it became really evident that you know, this was a really, really good team, made up of really good players. They proved it every night. This is where they belong.”
The Huskies have certainly silenced those who doubted them early on, but Coach Auriemma admitted that he himself has even wished a loss upon his unbeatable team.
Smiling, he said, “They haven't become what I hoped they would become, like edgy and really pissy, just walk out there and grab you by the throat and choke you, like some teams that I've had. They just walk out: ‘Yeah, we're probably going to win, so let's just play’. They just have this attitude like everything will be fine, don't worry about it.
“Yet they keep winning. You know how many times I go home and go, “Man, I hope we get our butts kicked the next game so bad.” But it just doesn't happen. I'm happy for them that it doesn't, but I'm pissed for me.”
The obvious pressure of keeping the UConn legacy alive don’t seem to be phasing any of the players.
Junior guard Kia Nurse said, “What you learn from the moment that you get here, from the coaches and from the vets who have been here before, is you learn how to deal with it, how to handle it, how to put it aside when it's not needed.”
And though that Final Four feeling is familiar, it’s not taken for granted. They’re here to play, but still, want to celebrate the moment.
Gabby Williams said, “It's just a blessing in itself to be here. This is our last few days together, just this team. So we're just going to try to enjoy it.”
The Bulldogs, on the other hand, are taking part in the program’s first trip to the Final Four.
As far as how they will approach the game, Coach Schaefer mentioned that it is very difficult to prepare for a team like the Huskies with so many threats. However, he wanted to get the focus off of what UConn does and back on what his team needs to do.
“Now, we've got to go play. That's it in a nutshell. We just have to go play. Control what we can control, win the minute, win the hour, try to win the two hours.”
Let’s just hope this isn’t yet another UConn blowout.