NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It happens as if on cue with another great UConn women's basketball season. The pundits who marvel at the depth and talent of the team's starting lineup ask Geno Auriemma if he thinks it's the best he's ever had.
Auriemma knows this is an impossible question to answer. It's like comparing Babe Ruth to Derek Jeter. Generational shifts change the game.
Auriemma understands his players can play. But asking him if the starting five he takes to the national semifinals Sunday against Stanford is the best he's ever had is like asking him to compare apples to oranges. It all depends on one's taste.
But in reality, it's more like comparing diamonds to rubies.
"You could get better than what they have [historically], but in terms of who they are playing, their contemporaries, it is absolutely the best starting lineup in the country," ESPN's Kara Lawson said. "In terms of all-time greats, I'd say no, but they are very good and I would certainly say their strengths complement each other."
What the Huskies have had at their disposal has helped them to a 38-0 record.
UConn has held opponents to just 47.3 points and a 30.7 field goal percentage, figures that threaten national records set by its 2009-10 national champions.
It has won its 38 games by an average of 35.0 points, beating 13 ranked opponents by 22.0. It has set a national record for blocked shots with 313.
It placed five players on Associated Press All-America teams (Breanna Stewart a unanimous choice). Stewart, Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley were named WBCA All-Americans on Saturday.
Take a look:
•Moriah Jefferson, the error-free point guard, the team's leading field goal percentage shooter, a stifling defender.
•Hartley, the essence of a combo guard, a good point, a better scorer with emerging defensive skills.
•Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, the crossover shooter and small forward, one of the nation's best point-up scorers and free throw makers.
• Stewart, a generational player, one who presents offensive match-up nightmares while possessing ejector-set defensive skills.
•Dolson, the ultimate facilitator, a player who works tirelessly to get teammates open, finds them with perfect passes, then swats shots away on defense.
"There have been similarities with most of the good teams that we've had have," Auriemma said. "They've obviously had good players at every position, which we do. Moriah Jefferson had a great, great year, and she and Bria Hartley in the backcourt have been just really solid all year long.
"We've got, I think, the best center in America, Stefanie Dolson, and certainly that's huge. And then we have a couple players that are just dominating the game, but I don't think we win games the way we want without having more than just one way to win games.
"All the great teams that I've had could beat you a lot of different ways. That doesn't necessarily mean they're going to. That doesn't mean they can't lose …
"Some teams that I've had, if you did one or two things, it would be difficult for us to overcome those things."
Rebecca Lobo, who played on UConn's first national championship team in 1995 with Jen Rizzotti, Kara Wolters, Nykesha Sales and Jamelle Elliott, believes time must pass before a true opinion can be offered.
"It could be one of the best lineups ever when you think back on it in years," Lobo said. "Right now, when you think of the 2001-02 team [Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Asjha Jones, Tamika Williams and Swin Cash], you think of Diana as only a sophomore. Well, Moriah Jefferson is a sophomore now. What is she going to be like in two years? What will Breanna Stewart [a sophomore] become. I think when we look back in 10 years, you might look it and think it would be a good debate.
"But the key to this group is Stefanie Dolson. What she brings makes everyone better. She is the linchpin, the reason this team can do what is does. She spends more time than anyone else in women's college basketball getting people open. She makes her teammates better more than any player in the game. She will get you open [with screens] and pass you the ball in a place where you can do something with."
For Stanford, the obvious task revolves around deployment, the successful use of its top-flight resources to quell the quake UConn can cause.
In their meeting in November at Gampel Pavilion, a 76-57 win for the Huskies, the Cardinal did not do so well. But Stanford is a much different team now, one that lost only two other games.
"We didn't really know who was going to be in our rotation," Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer said. "We were looking at a lot of players at that point, and I feel like I understand our personnel a lot better. It's a tough way to start.
"Connecticut was clearly better than we were then. Our goal from then on was to put ourselves in position where we would improve a lot, and I think that we have. We've lost some games and we've improved because of our losses, including that loss."
Stanford's lineup, while not has deep, is a mirror image of UConn's in many important ways. The Cardinal has senior Chiney Ogwumike, perhaps the most forceful player in the nation this season. She is averaging 26.4 points, 12.1 rebounds and plays with such boundless energy that it's a sure bet the Connecticut Sun will take her with the first pick in the draft.
Lawson believes Stanford's chances of beating UConn are greater than either Notre Dame's or Maryland's, the winner of whom will play the Huskies or the Cardinal in the championship game
"The biggest question one has when playing UConn is what are you going to do with Breanna Stewart," Lawson said. "That is the one matchup, even for Notre Dame had it had a healthy Natalie Achonwa … what do you do with Stewart?
"I think Chiney can do something with Stewart. And I think Stewart with need to do something on the other end [offensively] with Chiney. The frontcourts match up well.
"The question then shifts to the backcourt; limit turnovers, make enough shots."
While thankful for the praise, Ogwumike said it wasn't going to be all about her.
"Anyone who believes that if you stop Stewart, you win the game, will soon discover they have Dolson, Hartley, Jefferson and Mosqueda-Lewis," Ogwumike said. "It's like pick your poison. We just need to play confidently."
Stopping UConn and its team of options will require thought.
"This particular team, [an opponent] needs to have answers for a lot of things that come up on the court, and I just hope that continues," Auriemma said.Copyright © 2015, CT Now