By Arnie Leshin
Geno Auriemma said the right thing, the NCAA women’s ranking committee did the wrong thing.
The Hall of Fame coach, winner of a record 11 national championships, had just watched his UConn women demolish the University of Central Florida, the second place team in their conference, 78-41, in Orlando Sunday afternoon, and he was in a good mood for a team he has said still needs a lot work.
The Huskies are 23-2. They have lost at No. 1 Baylor. They have lost at No. 2 Louisville. They had just won their 112th straight American Athletic Conference game, with not one single defeat.
They are playing as a team. He has perhaps the number one point guard in yhe land in 5-foot-5 junior Crystal Dangerfield. She runs the show, she suores, she passes off, she even rebounds against the taller players.
His two mainstays are among the best he’s ever had, and he’s had a ton of elite players, too many to name because too many would be overlooked. They are seniors Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier. The latter is 6-2, Samuelson is 6-3. They are the leaders, they both do all it takes to win.
Lacking depth, which is not unusual for a coach who’s won championships with 6, 7 players due to late-season injuries. But he’s overaly pleased with his young backcourt of sophomore Megan Walker and freshman Christyn Williams, both back-to-back high school players of the year.
The 6-1 Walker has matured into the player Auriemma recruited. She’s hitting from the outside, rebounding, defending and just make great contributions.
The 5-11 Williams got off to a slow start, showing her inexperience in the college game. But she’s rolling now. She scored 28 in the domination of top-ranked Notre Dame on the road, and she’s just doing everything better.
But Geno is Geno, and when he was informed that No. 2 Louisville had lost at home to No. 20 Miami, that No. 3 Mississippi State had lost at home to unranked Missouri, and reminded that the Canes had also won over Notre Dame the week before, he shrugged his shoulders, looking like he’d prefer a South Philadelphia cheese steak sandwich.
“Well, maybe that will get us a higher ranking,” he said, “but to me it doesn’t matter if we are No. 1 or No. 21, what matters is how we finish.”
It didn’t even bother him that Louisville remains No. 2 despite Miami coming from behind and stunning the huge crowd. Nor that Mississippi State was named as the top seed in the east when the unofficial early rankings were released. That would mean that UConn would be the second seed for the opening round in Albany, N.Y.
No, it didn’t even get a rise from him. He did smile and say that he has the best offense in the country, that they now have the balance they didn’t have before, that it has become the kind of team he likes, and he’s had super teams since winning the title for the first time in 1995.
Those that conduct the rankings probably figure the other schools play in stronger conferences, except that the Huskies load up with a strong overall schedule year in and year out. They have knocked off defending national champion Norte Dame in South Bend by a sizable margin before a full house. They dominated 2017 champion South Carolina at home, and only a good Cincinnati team tested them in conference play.
That’s what Geno the genius has molded. He has five stellar starters and off the bench he can call on 6-5 freshman Olivia Nelson-Ododa, 6-2 junior Kyla Irwin, 5-9 junior Molly Bend and 5-8 sophomore Mikayla Coombs. He lost the 6-7 junior Azura Stevens to the WNBA, and if he still had her, the Huskies would be an odds-on favorite.
They have five more regular-season games, all in the conference, before the conference tournament that they also dominate.
Their next stop is at the Harford XL CenterWednesday night versus Memphis, and that is one of three venues in the state that they call home, but Storrs’ Gampel Pavilion is number one and it sells out quickly. The other is the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville.
It’s a highly acclaimed, respective program. Home or away, they bring applause, they bring large crowds, they come to play. They are smartly coached of course and have yet to have a player foul out this season. Against UCF, they were called for only seven fouls while the home side committed 22.
And they don’t make much of a fuss on a call they thought should have gone their way, and taunting is not their game. Winning basketball games is, and right now they are playing Geno ball. They will likely move past Mississippi State as the top seed in the East unless the ranking committee thinks the Bulldogs can bring more fans.
Never happen, for UConn supporters travel well and Albany for them is a short trip.
THE TOP 25 RANKINGS:
1. Baylor 23-1
2. Oregon 24-1
3. UConn 23-2
4. Louisville 23-2
5. Notre Dame 23-3
6. Mississippi State 21-4
7. Stanford 22-2
8. Maryland 21-6
9. North Carolina State 22-2
10. Iowa 21-61
11. Marquette 18-6
12. Oregon State 19-6
13. South Carolina 21-8
14. Miami 23-3
15. Gonzaga 19-5
16. Kentucky 20-3
17. Arizona State 21-6
18. Syracuse 18-6
19. Texas 19-6
20. Iowa State 21-5
21. Texas A & M 23-3
22. Florida State 19-6
23. South Dakota 22-3
24. Drake 19-7
25. Rice 21-6