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Editorial: UConn women offer a lesson in defeat

April 4, 2017 GMT

As the buzzer trumpeted the end of the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team’s epic streak, Coach Geno Auriemma reacted as though he had rehearsed for the moment like an actor bracing to be on camera after losing the Academy Award.

Auriemma grinned and summoned the right words.

“They were just better,” he said of Mississippi State’s 66-64 overtime upset in the Final Four game of the NCAA Tournament. “When stuff like this happens, it kind of makes me shake my head and go ‘You know how many times this could have happened and it didn’t...?’”

Auriemma the fan managed to marvel at the Rocky that had just knocked out Apollo Creed. Since his squad was standing in for Creed, it didn’t mean he was happy about witnessing the end of a 111-game win streak.

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“It’s the worst feeling imaginable,” he confessed.

UConn sophomore Napheesa Collier was more understated: “It doesn’t feel good.”

Junior Gabby Williams pointed to the loss as evidence that “We’re not invincible.” She should know. She’s lost before in the college spotlight. Once.

Winning is boring. So we’ve heard from the UConn critics who like to pontificate that four straight national titles and an unparalleled run of victories have been the bane of the sport.

If losing builds character, we like what we’re seeing. Imagine how this might have played out in alternate-universe post-game interviews. If you’re a sports fan, you’ve seen mirror scenarios with darker reflections. Auriemma and Co. could have lamented some bad calls, or blamed injuries. Except they didn’t.

Unfortunately for eventual champion South Carolina, this may be the rare tournament where a semifinal is remembered far better than the final, akin to the United States toppling Russia in the 1980 Olympic ice hockey tournament. By losing in the penultimate game, UConn managed to pull off the trick of retaining a perfect record in championships.

It’s impossible to contextualize a dynasty before it’s over (and this one may not be over), but it’s worth pausing at this stop on the UConn timeline to look at the roads traveled, as well as the one ahead.

This program had not recorded a winning season when Auriemma took it over 32 years ago. Yes, there was a time when the mere possibility of an NCAA run would have triggered Husky fever throughout the state.

The recent bounty of success has resulted in somewhat muted applause. Let’s remember that they have raised the level of the game throughout their sport. We won’t see a run at the 111 wins any time soon. If a team does approach it, we suspect the UConn women will remain a formidable obstacle.

In defeat, the UConn women retain the title of the best Connecticut has to offer. They earned that crown this year by responding to a setback with grace.

That may be the best lesson Auriemma could teach these students. It’s not a bad one for the rest of us.