TAMPA — The Big Blue Machine was in town Monday night.
20 Hours Ago
2 Weeks Ago
2 Weeks Ago
It is never not a show when the University of Connecticut women's basketball dynasty shows up to show everyone else how it is done. Monday, Geno Auriemma and his four-time defending national champions arrived at the Sun Dome with a preposterous, record-setting 103-game win streak. People have given up trying to put it in perspective, Auriemma included.
The USF women, who were scared out of their wits in a 102-37 loss at UConn earlier this season, put on a better fight at home, showed marked improvement — and lost by 28 points.
Make it 104 games. USF has lost to UConn eight times during the 104. USF is 0-22 all-time against UConn. We should have known the Bulls were in real trouble this time around when Geno made sure all his kids were on the plane before it left for Tampa. USF men, take notes.
The Sun Dome crowd was announced at 5,948, easily the largest gathering for USF women or men's basketball this season and just as easily half UConn fans. People ask all the time if the UConn monarchy is good for college basketball.
"I texted (Gonzaga men's coach) Mark Few the other day, and I said you guys are bad for men's college basketball," Auriemma said. "He got a kick out of it. I didn't mean to jinx him. Those suckers lost their next game."
Gonzaga isn't perfect anymore.
The UConn women are another story.
"It might look easy, but it's not that easy what these kids have done," Auriemma said.
It's good for the game. We wouldn't even be talking about women's college basketball, ever, without UConn. OK, maybe when Baylor coach Kim Mulkey opens her mouth and something idiotic comes out. But mostly we wouldn't care. The UConn women are another story.
You just have to accept that there are two worlds. There is the world of women's college basketball that is wildly competitive. "There's much more parity, that's for sure," USF coach Jose Fernandez said. Then there is UConn's world. There is the Big Blue Machine.
Two hours before Monday's game, Tony Russo and his wife were setting up a tailgate out of the back of their car.
A tailgate for a women's basketball game in Tampa.
Only for UConn.
A bus pulled up in front of the arena, Tony walked over to see if it was them – if it was Geno and his juggernaut. It wasn't. He returned deflated.
Tony lives in Spring Hill. He moved down from Michigan. He coached basketball up there – boys basketball.
"When I coached, there was no girls basketball," he said. "I don't know how this happened. But in about 2000, I just got into following Auriemma and the team. I just love the way they play. I think they play the game the way it should be played. They move the ball, they rotate, they play defense, they play together. I just love the way they play."
Tony has seen UConn win in Tampa five times during the win streak, including two games at the 2015 Final Four in Tampa.
"There's nothing wrong with a dynasty," Tony said.
UConn lost its top three players last season, Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck, to the top three picks in the WNBA Draft. The Huskies nearly lost this season's opener to Florida State, winning by just two points.
Monday, they completed a perfect 29-0 regular season.
"Obviously, I'm surprised," Auriemma said. "Going in, I never thought we'd be able to get through certainly the early part of the schedule with a group of players who hadn't been tested in that manner before. Who's to say what might have happened if we'd lost that Florida State game, or that Baylor game, and started the season 0-2? Everything might have gone completely sideways. I don't know."
The Machine never goes sideways. It has won 151 of its last 152 games.
What is UConn even chasing at this point?
"That's a good question," Auriemma said. "If you're not careful, you don't celebrate things along the way, because you've got your eyes on the end of the season. If you're not careful, the only thing that matters is winning a national championship. This great stuff that happens along the way, if you're not careful, it gets brushed under the rug. Oh, well, ho-hum, it's just Connecticut winning games again. We just finished a regular season undefeated. It's not a big story, because it has been done so many times. But I think at this point, you hate to say it, with all that we've done this season, it's all going to be determined by what happens the next four weekends."
For the 104th time — this month — Auriemma was asked if all this is good for women's basketball.
"I think a lot more people have paid a little more attention because of what we've done. It has brought more attention and more TV coverage. You try to set a certain standard and you hope that people appreciate it."
Auriemma took a deep breath and let it go.
"It's hard to imagine what's going on. I can't imagine it. And I'm in the middle of it. I think back to what has happened and it's like someone else did it. Last night, we went out as a coaching staff, and it was the first time we talked about, damn, you know what has been going on here? Before, it was the next thing, the next thing, the next thing, the next thing. When you finally sit back, you say, 'I don't believe it.' If somebody said go back and do it again, you'd say you're out of your mind. You couldn't do this again, not in a million years. I don't know. I don't even know what the hell to say anymore."
An hour after Monday's game, the UConn bus, the real one, pulled away from the Sun Dome and eased onto Fowler Avenue.
The Big Blue Machine rolls on.
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