Column: Huskies are out of the spotlight
Published: Thursday, November 10, 2011
Updated: Friday, November 11, 2011 01:11
Pressure is a funny thing.
Physics tells us it's a matter of force and area, yet the growing pit we all get in our stomachs as the clock ticks tells us something entirely different.
This season, the UConn women's basketball team will have very little in the way of outside pressure, regardless of definition. For the first time in years, they're not tabbed as the preseason No. 1, and for that matter, they're not even in the top 3. The Huskies are currently being overlooked for the likes of Notre Dame, Baylor and Tennessee this season, and it is simply wonderful.
Sure, any program in the country would rather bear the burden of a No. 1 ranking rather than any stake claim other spot. Sure, the perks that come with the title of "top dog" typically include being the best team in every game they'll play. But it's about time for a break.
In his immediate reflection of the Huskies' Final Four loss to Notre Dame last year, Geno Auriemma remarked that his freshmen were caught up in the "bigness of the moment." Having witnessed the game one row up from the out-of-bounds line, I could see this plainer than the hardcourt in front of me. The pressure had indeed gotten to UConn.
Of course, this happens to all of us. But for the last few years, this remarkable program hasn't just dealt with the pressure of one Final Four appearance– but four of them. Also, try carrying the titles of reigning champions, two-time reigning champions and "best team ever." Finally, imagine shouldering a 90-game winning streak, conference championships and taking the best shot of every single opponent for 40 minutes.
No other team in the history of sport – or at least very few – has ever had to deal with the accumulation of such monumental expectations and external pressure.
The reason the Huskies were able to sustain all of this force from the outside was because they matched it with pressure they put on themselves internally. Their quest for perfection in every practice, cut, pass and shot drove them and blocked out everything else. UConn did this at a remarkable level for an even more remarkable length of time, even when looking at last season. 36-2 doesn't just happen on its' own.
However, when the spotlight got hottest and the pressure built up, there simply weren't enough shoulders to carry the load. Auriemma's short bench couldn't alleviate his struggling freshmen or replace an ineffective Tiffany Hayes. Thus, the Huskies finally fell to the Fighting Irish despite the courageous efforts of four-time All-American Maya Moore.
But this year, they're deeper. The spotlight has shifted elsewhere. And even if it were to return in full, any sort of outside force could be spread to more Huskies, thereby lessening the pressure on the overall team.
Maya Moore is indeed gone, and the chance at winning a national title is less than it has been in recent years. But it's not gone entirely. Never will a shot at victory disappear– especially in college sports. So, get excited for the season. Get excited for the start of a new chapter ready to be written in UConn women's basketball history. Let's just hope it has that same old happy, championship ending.