No Matter Where They Play, The Huskies Will Be Tough To Beat

UNCASVILLE — Greatness has no boundaries. Greatness needs no favors.

As the UConn women pulled further and further away from an over-matched No. 3 Louisville women's basketball team on Monday night at Mohegan Sun Arena it grew more and more apparent that the Huskies need no help from the NCAA Tournament selection committee this March.

As the Huskies' lead of 10 points grew to 18 by halftime and ultimately became a 72-52 cruise to their first American Athletic Conference championship, it became more and more apparent that Huskies fans should have zero fear of their team's playing an NCAA Elite Eight game before a packed house at KFC Yum! Center. Or anywhere else for that matter.

Not this March.

The Mohegan Sun held up its end of the bargain for the first AAC tournament. The site figured to be terrific. The site proved to be terrific. The problem going forward, of course, will be the competition for Geno Auriemma's team in this league and this league's tournament. The problem isn't this March. The problem could be a March of years ahead.

With four perfect seasons already feathering their crown as the predominant program in women's college basketball, nobody wants to hear that their fifth could in any way be jeopardized by what some might see as an unfavorable assignment.

With 34 victories by an average margin of 37 points, with 12 victories over ranked teams by an average of 22 and seven victories over top 10 teams by an average of 18, nobody outside our state's borders is going to cry that the Huskies might have to play an "away game" at Louisville in the Elite Eight.

"Somebody is going to have to do it," Auriemma said. "Somebody is going to Notre Dame. Somebody is going to Louisville. Somebody is going to Stanford. You're going to end up playing the home team.

"Do I like it? No. We had that situation in 1995. We had a regional in Gampel. Back in the day it was called buying your way into the Final Four. You put in a bid. You know a lot of people aren't going to bid, so you get it. I don't like it. That's why we didn't bid this time. I'm not in favor of it. I don't think we're going to do again, either. I don't think it will happen again. It's a one-year deal, I think."

Auriemma is certain that regionals should be played on neutral sites. It could be argued, of course, that the XL Center and Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport haven't exactly been neutral over the years. Still, he's right. At some point, the sport is going to stand on its merit or risk that the integrity of the game is smudged by regional home cooking.

"I understand going to places where the game is popular," Auriemma said. "But I think the three home [seeds] probably are in position to get a No. 1 seed. If they are, the absolute best 2-3-4 team in the country should all be in those regionals, to make them a little pissy about having the Final Four at home. They did that to us in 1995."

That would be UConn's first perfect season.

"Us, Virginia, Louisiana Tech and Alabama, it was actually better than the Final Four we went to," Auriemma said.

Louisville coach Jeff Walz, stung three times now by UConn, by 17, 20 and 20 points, was feisty after this game. After Shoni Schimmel said after the loss to UConn last week that Louisville "would get" UConn this year — "I promise you that" — she caught some flak including in this space.

"I had a reporter ask my player last time do you think you can beat UConn, they said yes and then they blasted them for it," Walz said. "What the hell are you supposed to say, no? What kind of a reporter would bait a kid into a question like that and then write crap like that? We play the game to win. If nobody thinks [UConn] can be beat let's save a bunch of money and give them a trophy now."

Wow. I was in that room when the question was asked. Walz wasn't. Schimmel wasn't baited by anyone. The initial question that started her was about trading baskets in the early going and getting a sense the Cardinals could play with UConn. Shoni took off herself, three times talking about how Louisville would get UConn.

Walz is a heck of a coach. He also proved to be a marching band that refused to yield Monday night. When the moderator attempted to end the Louisville media session, Walz took control and insisted on fielding more questions.

He was kind of funny. He was kind of prickly.

When asked where he thought he tell fell in the NCAA selection order …

"How am I supposed to answer that question without getting reprimanded," Walz said. "I'll lose my per diem money. I'll lose everything. I'll be in a T-shirt to coach in. It all depends. If you're trying to put a true NCAA Tournament together, and I think we're at that point now, if we're the fourth 2 [seed] and UConn is the first 1, then they should come to our place."

He said he has no problem with that. He also doesn't think Louisville is fourth No. 2. And, while the selection committee is looking to put the No. 1 seed to its closest geographic site, Walz also argues that hedoesn't think many people from Connecticut will be driving to Louisville or Lincoln, Nebraska. It's a flight to both sites.

Look, we can go round and round on who deserves that final first-seed bid. Louisville doesn't have any "bad" losses to lower-rated teams. Of course, the Cardinals don't have as many quality wins as teams from other conferences either.

"We can only play who's on our schedule," Walz said.

He's right about one thing. AAC teams can only play teams that are on their schedule. It is fully apparent now that the UConn women's program must grab hold of its own destiny. Let's put aside all the suppositions, accusations and debate about conference realignment, let's put aside football and men's basketball, too.

With Louisville and Rutgers leaving, UConn heads into an AAC that has teams currently ranked 57, 84, 99, 131, 177, 210 and 233 in RPI. That's an average RPI of 141.6. The AAC is adding Tulane (90 RPI) East Carolina (78) and Tulsa (196).

Auriemma called Sunday a special day in which USF took Louisville down to the last possession in the semifinals. He was raving about USF, saying nobody wants to play the Bulls and if they don't make the NCAA there should be an investigation. Good stuff. It's called being a loyal teammate. What the AAC can do for the UConn women is another matter.

It'll be fascinating to watch as UConn continues hard to schedule elite non-conference opponents. Next year the Huskies play at Stanford, at Notre Dame, against Duke, Penn State and DePaul at home and Rutgers on a neutral site. Tennessee doesn't want to play. Duke and Maryland evidently aren't interesting in renewing.

Whether it's because UConn has beaten their brains out for too long, or Geno has gotten under their skin, some of these coaches want no part of UConn. That's a factor. For in the coming years, the strength of schedule, the sites, the seeds will become much more important.

We complain a lot about starting times with ESPN, but ESPN is UConn's biggest friend in this. As the sport's great benefactor, ESPN will be the one pressing for the top schools to play UConn.

In the meantime, UConn fans shouldn't worry much about where their team will play this March in the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies should be perfect.

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