Ratto: UConn. Never. Led.

Ratto: UConn. Never. Led.
December 31, 2010, 6:49 am
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Dec. 30, 2010


Ray Ratto
Jeannette Pohlen, meet John Shumate. Tara Van Derveer, wave at Digger Phelps as you move down the road.Stanford, meet Notre Dame.
In an unusually dominant performance by a team used to dominating, theCardinal jumped on Connecticut early, and stayed on the entire evening,leading from beginning to end in ending UConns 90-game winning streakat Maples Pavilion, 71-59.Thats right, leading from beginning to end.As in, the best womens basketball program in the known universetrailed for all but 85 seconds to the team that had become the gamesnew silver medalist.In short, unlike Notre Dames win over UCLA to break the mens recordin 1974, this was a comprehensive beating, one in which there was nodoubt about who played better and who stayed better.Im just glad we defended Maples, was Pohlens most inspiring quote,a notion that implies that UConn was the interloper, the outworldertrying to upset the natural order of things.Which, strangely, is exactly how it played out. Tara Van Derveersweeks of summer tape study, which ranged from UConn to Tennessee toeven the Lakers triangle offense, paid off, double time and a half.Maya Moore, the new best womens player ever, was crowded out of thegame offensively by all nine Ogwumike sisters, plus Joslyn Tinkle andLindy LaRocque. She missed 10 of 15 shots, and got only clean looks atthe basket four times all night. Pohlen, on the other hand, swallowed the game with 31 points, ninerebounds and six assists as part of an oppressive evenings work by theentire Cardinal lineup. And while the obvious focus will be on the way Moores influence wasminimized throughout the evening, the game actually turned whenStanford had the ball early in the game. A diabolical 19-7 break early,punctuated by a series of back-cut layups against the defensively soundHuskies got the Cardinal a 22-9 lead that never got within four pointsthe rest of the evening.In short, you may be surprised if you choose, but leaving room forwonderment at the precision and control the Cardinal exhibited is alsorequired.Remember, UConn NEVER LED.Nobody can remember the last time that happened, but the safest guesswould be the early 90s, when they were still a good but nototherworldly program. They even had leads in the 23-point loss to LSUthree years ago in the NCAA Tournament.But not Thursday. For the most part, they werent close to a lead.Honestly, its December, and I just hope it will help our teamimprove, Van Derveer said, but this isnt like something . . . itsnot a national championship, but it will help us. She also told the television audience, Im glad nobody got hurt, sowe can say without hesitation that Van Derveer enthuses poorly. But away from her players and in the safety of her office, she probablyblocked out some time jumping up and down and cracking holes in theceiling sheetrock from the proximity to perfect her team played. Theywere challenged often but never truly endangered, a tribute to eithertheir own brilliance, UConns weariness defending the number 90, or acombination thereof. I thought we showed moments of fight where we came together and playedtogether at times, Moore said, and then wed do something to hurtourselves, or theyd get a layup and momentum would shift right backtheir way. In the real world, when you dont play well, and other team playswell, youre supposed to lose, a gracious and thoroughlynon-distraught Geno Auriemma said after all. It takes a really goodteam on their home court to play really well and you to struggle. Itcould happen again next week at Notre Dame. It probably wont, of course, because UConn is still UConn. But therevelation that we maybe should have seen when Baylor lost to theHuskies by one earlier this month came into full high-definition view. Weve seen these things a lot, but finally a team took advantage ofthe mistakes we made, Auriemma said. In the past, weve made ourmistakes but the other team couldnt take advantage and finally we wentout and whacked em. Today, they had their opportunities and tookadvantage of them. Everyone who knows me knows Im a little over the top, Van Derveersaid of her summer preparation, which included an exhaustiveexamination of the Lakers famed triangle offense. But we spent a lotof time on this, no question. Van Derveer noted that since UConns last loss, Stanford has lost eighttimes, including games at Baylor, Tennessee and UConn, and whistled heradmiration at the 90-win streak her players just torpedoed. But preparation only helps so much, and not nearly as much as statistics like: UConn, four second-chance points. UConn, outscored 28-14 in the paint. UConn, two fast-break points. UConn, three bench points. That covers all the rebounding, defensive and hustle components, andPohlen, Petersen and a balanced support effort finished the deal. On ascale of 1 to 10, Van Derveer, who is bad at putting single games inhistorical context, this will last awhile. Well have them at practice tomorrow, she said, but this can onlyhelp our confidence. UConn doesnt need to work on its confidence. Thisis a statement game for us, though. And the statement is, UConn never led. Make of that what you will.