THE HEART OF AN ASSASSIN
There was a defining moment last night at Gampel Pavilion, a moment that defines the UCONN women’s basketball program.
With 32 seconds left in a second round NCAA tournament rout of St. Joseph’s, UCONN in possession, associate head coach Chris Dailey came off the bench, tapped head coach Geno Auriemma on the shoulder and pointed down the sideline. Four St. Joe’s players who hadn’t seen action in the game were crouched in front of the scorers table, hoping for a chance to get their names on an NCAA tournament score sheet. UCONN controlled the ball, St. Joes couldn’t call time. Geno quickly called it for them. Four players will now have a memory for a lifetime, the night they played against the greatest team in the nation. The moment defined the heart of a program that, on paper, appears to be heartless.
The black and white of UCONN women’s basketball writes a story of court assassins of the first order, striking fast and taking names, but no prisoners. The numbers are demonstratively dominating. On a schedule that included several of the top teams in the nation no one has stayed within single digits.
The post season has brought out a new level of killer instinct in the Huskies. Since toying with Cincinnati in the quarterfinal round of the American Athletic Conference tournament before putting the Bearcats away by a 30 point margin, the pattern has been remarkably similar. Against Rutgers in the conference semis UCONN scored the first 13 points of the game, forcing the Scarlet Knights to call a timeout ahead of the first scheduled media time out. UCONN won by 26. Against Louisville in the final the Huskies opened the game on an eight point run and forced the Cardinals to call a timeout before the first scheduled media time out, on the way to a 26 point win.
They opened the NCAA tournament Sunday night at Gampel by scoring the first 13 points of the game against Prairie View A & M, forcing the Panthers to reach for their first timeout, again, ahead of the first scheduled media timeout. Last night UCONN put up the game’s first 10 points and, you guessed it, timeout St. Joe’s, before the first scheduled media timeout.
On paper they’re cold, calculating and ruthless, drawing a void where the meaning of the word “Mercy” should be. “This is what we expect of ourselves every night”, said sophomore forward Breanna Stewart, as coldly as any true mercenary on a mission, “And we’re going to Nebraska now to take care of business”, a chilling message for anyone still in their way on the road to Memphis, as coldly chilling as the message from senior Stefanie Dolson, “When we play like we did tonight it’s going to be hard to beat us. It all adds up and it’s tough for other people to defend.”
It was late and it was great, junior Kaleena Mosqueda Lewis was one assist shy of just the third triple double in program history, just the 14th in tournament history, and then she got it. Mission accomplished. Only then, with a milestone she’d broken out of a late season slump to take aim at, could Geno take her out of the game, showing once again the heart that beats under the merciless exterior that dominates this program on game night, any game night.
And then came the tears, the end of a Gampel era for seniors Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley, who leave the cozy confines to lead their team toward unprecedented territory.
This team has spent an entire season proving that to be as dominant a force as they have been you have to have the cold, calculating persona of a basketball assassin, but, above all, “Ya gotta have heart”.
With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.