By Laura Pappano
Never mind that the crowd in Madison Square Garden – 15,232 the second largest in the venue for women’s basketball — were on their feet in the final minutes chanting “Eighty-eight! Eighty-eight!“
The UConn Women’s Basketball team made it look like just another 31-point win (they beat Ohio State 81-50 box score here). After the crowd’s standing O – stands remained full at the buzzer despite the blowout because, honestly, this is what they came for – the UConn women congratulated their opponents – and OK headed to center court for a few photos.
Fans were pumped to see this team tie UCLA’s 1970’s -era record of 88 wins, but the players didn’t betray giddy excitement. In fact, with minutes on the clock and a time-out called, coach Geno Auriemma was there, pushing, perfecting. Winning is work. This is simply what it looks like.
In the week before Christmas the Maggie Dixon Classic was a like a gift to women’s basketball fans: A non-March-Madness event that drew numbers and excitement. Organizers in coming years – when there is not a streak-breaking moment at hand – should seek match-ups that showcase the competition in women’s basketball.
As loud as UConn fans were during the second of the double-header games, the first match up against an out-of-synch Rutgers and a dynamic Texas A&M (watch them come March) lacked drama. Rutgers made Texas look like UConn. (Final score: 79-50).
UConn-Ohio State (#6) was the obvious event. It started with Ohio State’s Brittany Johnson putting up two threes before UConn’s Bria Hartley was called to the free throw line. Hartley sunk two to put UConn on the boards. UConn fans, who remain standing and clap at the start of each half until the team scores, could finally sit down. For fans, it was a Garden Party.
Sure, there were turnovers and – yeeks – too many traveling calls. But UConn basketball these days is about persistence, not perfection. They execute – and when they misfire, they turn right around and attack.
What does UConn do so well? What makes this team – a team that Auriemma has pointed out is not studded with stars (save Maya Moore)?