UConn women's basketball's defeat in national semifinals was worthy of ESPY award

Published on Sunday, 16 July 2017 23:34
Written by Carl Adamec

Journal Inquirer

Over the 25 years of the ESPYs, the UConn women’s basketball team - from Rebecca Lobo to Breanna Stewart - has had more than its share of time on the red carpet.

The Huskies, though, were on the other end during the annual awards in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

Mississippi State’s 66-64 overtime win at the NCAA Final Four semifinals on March 31 that ended UConn’s 111-game winning streak and four-year reign as national champion won the ESPY as “Best Upset” of the past 12 months. The Bulldogs were considered about a 21-point underdog.

Of course, the ESPYs were far from the first time - or the last time - UConn will be reminded of that night at the American Airlines Center in Dallas when guard Morgan William hit a shot at the buzzer to send Mississippi State to the title game against South Carolina.

Four days after the loss, HBO showed its final episode of “March to Madness” that chronicled the Huskies’ bid throughout the season to make more history.

“I thought HBO did a great job,” UConn All-American Katie Lou Samuelson said. “They really showed what we did and what we did accomplish. It was definitely tough to watch. It was hard to have to relive that moment.”

Not all of the Huskies could.

“I didn’t watch the whole thing,” UConn All-American Napheesa Collier said. “Kia Nurse was watching it in her room and obviously the loss was still fresh. I only saw the end when we were all crying in the locker room. I was like, ‘I don’t want to watch this.’

“It’s motivation, sure. Whenever we’re going to do conditioning or work out or play and maybe there are times that it’s hard to do, you think back to how you felt after we lost and in the locker room. We don’t want to feel that way again.”

Each player said there was some thing or things they could have and should have done differently that could have changed the outcome.

They also agreed that the most difficult part of the show to watch wasn’t the game, but the scene in the locker room as they waited for coach Geno Auriemma to talk to them.

“It was sad,” Nurse said. “Obviously the sting of things was still there, like very heavily there. It still stings now. That was kind of soon after, and obviously it just added more fuel to the fire. It incites an anger in you that if used the right way can be productive.

“For me personally, I feel like there were more things that I could have controlled. But there are also things in basketball that you’re never going to be able to control because of the way anything in life goes. I feel like the things that I probably could have controlled I might not have controlled as best as I could have.”

All-American Gabby Williams watched the show as well.

“Even though you know what’s going to happen, you’re still wishing for a happy ending,” Williams said.

“It sucked to relive it. It sucked that America had to see us that way. That’s how it is. I remember the first thing I said after was to run off (the court). You don’t want to look like you’re a bad loser or you’re pouting. Once you get to the locker room it’s a different story. But you don’t want to look like that.”

In Auriemma’s locker room talk, he said the Huskies would “handle losing the way we handled winning.” The loss was their first since Nov. 17, 2014, and only the second in 154 games for seniors Saniya Chong and Tierney Lawlor.

Among those impressed with how UConn responded to the loss was Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors.

“I loved the way they ran to the locker room,” Green said in an interview posted on YouTube following the Warriors’ April 1 practice. “It says a lot about them. It shows why they win. To lose that game like that and sprint to the locker room heads up? I respect that.”

“It was nice to hear that and nice those kinds of things did get noticed,” Williams said. “It encourages you to keep carrying yourself like that.”

Also up for the “Best Upset” ESPY were the Clemson football team for beating Alabama in the BCS national championship game, and tennis player Denis Istomin, who beat six-time champion Novak Djokovic in the second round of the Australian Open.

How many of the Huskies watched the ESPYs Wednesday is unknown. But the loss, no matter how many times they have to see it replayed, will sting.

“I’ll never get over it,” Samuelson said.

Having the Huskies’ number?

There may not be many connections between UConn’s loss to Mississippi State that ended its NCAA record 111-game winning streak and the Huskies’ loss to St. John’s five years ago that ended their NCAA record 99-game home winning streak, but Mike Thibault - the coach and general manager of the WNBA’s Washington Mystics - knows one quite well.

Thibault’s son, Eric, who is now an assistant with the Mystics was a second-year graduate assistant at St. John’s when the Red Storm pulled off the 57-56 surprise at Gampel Pavilion on Feb. 18, 2012. His daughter, Carly, was in her first year on Vic Schaefer’s staff at Mississippi State last season when the Bulldogs pulled the upset.

“That will probably be an answer to a trivia question, being the only siblings to have done something like that,” Mike Thibault said. “They’ve been fortunate. It was exciting - both times.”

The St. John’s win came when Shenneika Smith made a 3-pointer with 8.1 seconds left. Bria Hartley, who played her first three WNBA seasons for Thibault in Washington after graduating from UConn in 2014, missed a final shot from the corner.

Mississippi State’s William beat the Huskies with her hoop at the buzzer.

Thibault was sitting in the stands at Gampel Pavilion and at the American Airlines Center for both upsets. His heart was on the benches.

“Oh boy,” Thibault said with a laugh. “You know, I get just as nervous sitting there watching my own kids coach as when I was watching them play or coaching my own team.”

Posted in The Bristol Press, General Sports, UConn on Sunday, 16 July 2017 23:34. Updated: Sunday, 16 July 2017 23:37.