Widgets Magazine

Philippou: The diminishing returns of UConn’s dominance

I will never forget the day that Stanford women’s basketball beat UConn. Going into the game, no one — and I mean no one — expected the Cardinal to come out with a win. Entering into the 2014-15 season, the Huskies had come off a 40-0 season that was capped by its ninth NCAA championship. The team boasted the best player in the nation, junior forward Breanna Stewart, the 2014 AP and ESPNW Player of the Year. Understandably, the Huskies looked like they could go another season without losing.

What Stanford did that night — the night of Nov. 17, 2014 — not only shocked basketball fans and ended UConn’s 47-game win streak, but it also marked perhaps the only game the Huskies will lose this season.

I can’t tell you what factors that went into Stanford’s victory on that fateful night. Although Stanford outshot UConn in every category and held a slight rebounding edge, there must have been something else in the air that night that worked in the Cardinal’s favor. But what Stanford did, no other team in the nation has been able to replicate. UConn has been undefeated since that day, rolling past– by at least 18 points– top-ranked teams such as Notre Dame, Duke, South Carolina, Texas, and most recently Maryland in the Final Four.

Tuesday’s championship game marks the second time UConn and the Irish will meet this season, after a matchup between the two teams in December resulted in a 76-58 Huskies clobbering. Although Notre Dame is the second-best team in the country, it is exactly that: the second-best. Excluding some Maples-like magic, the Irish will be unable to beat head coach Geno Auriemma’s powerhouse.

UConn’s dominance — it has won four out of the past six national titles and gone 71-1 since moving to the American Athletic Conference from the Big East — has serious consequences for women’s basketball.

Auriemma argues that UConn’s supremacy is good for the sport.

“The attention that comes from being really good and having a certain standard that we set and a certain level of recognition, I think it has been good in that sense,” Auriemma said last week. “Coaches around the country and their athletic directors can say, hey, look, look what happened up in a small place like Storrs, Conn; look what they’ve been able to do. Why can’t we do the same thing?”

This is simply absurd.

Yes, the Huskies have gained nationwide attention for their authority over the sport and thus have put a spotlight on women’s basketball, but it’s not the right kind of spotlight. No true fan of basketball, or even sports in general, wants to see the same team win game after game and especially by 15-point-plus margins.

After all, that’s not why people watch sports: It’s the suspense, the aura of possibility, the belief that — especially in tournament play — it’s anyone’s game that draws people in. A pre-scripted tournament run ending with a team’s 10th national title not only doesn’t faze anyone, it doesn’t excite even the most passionate fans. Thus, many basketball enthusiasts don’t give the women’s game a chance. As I’ve often heard, “UConn is going to win anyway, so why should I watch?” Current fans are begging for more parity.

Especially for a sport that has already been degraded for not being as fast or flashy as the men’s game, the women’s game cannot afford to see UConn’s dominance extend into the future — an evidently likely possibility. After all, the team will return four of its current starters next year, including Stewart, and will add the nation’s No. 1 recruit, Katie Lou Samuelson — yes, the sister of current Stanford players Karlie and Bonnie Samuelson.

To be fair and realistic, the lack of parity in women’s college basketball extends well beyond Storrs. Excluding the recent rise of South Carolina, Notre Dame, Maryland, Tennessee, Stanford, and Baylor have made up a number of Elite Eights, Final Fours, and national championships, leaving very little room for other teams to make a deep or consistent runs in the tournament. And while this lack of parity can be attributed to a number of reasons, this issue undoubtedly threatens the popularity and vitality of the game.

As a fan of the sport, I will tune into Tuesday’s championship game. Maybe the Irish will have something interesting up their sleeves — after all, Notre Dame is familiar with UConn from December’s game and has essentially been the only team that has given the Huskies trouble in the past few years. And if any team could beat UConn for the national title, it would be Muffet McGraw’s squad. But something tells me the luck won’t be with the Irish.

While Alexa also has issues with Connecticut’s dominance of both country club memberships and men named Winthrop, women’s basketball is what is closest to her heart. Contact her at aphil723 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Alexa Philippou

Alexa Philippou '18 is a former Managing Editor of The Daily's sports section. She started working for the section last year as a beat writer for women's basketball, for which she also did radio broadcasts, women's water polo and lacrosse. She intends to major in either Political Science or International Relations, and possibly minor in Arabic. Being from Baltimore, she is a die-hard Ravens and Orioles fan who cried when the Ravens won the Super Bowl. She is also very Greek and can be seen around campus wearing her 50 Shades of Shaw shirt. To contact Alexa, please email her at aphil723 'at' stanford.edu.