The Real Big East Beasts

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Now all the Madness is in the annals for another year.

The Big East Conference was supposed to be the best in the land. What it was going to send three, maybe a quartet to the Final Four. Well, it didn’t work out that way.

MSU clipped Louisville in the Midwest regional final and then UConn (one game before at least one prognosticator had them going home) in the national semifinal. Syracuse fell victim to Blake Griffin and the Oklahoma Sooners in the South regional semifinals.

In the East regional final, Villanova and Scottie Reynolds, in the tournament’s best game, surged pasts Pitt to reach Motown. But ‘Nova ran into the buzzsaw of Tyler “Bumpkin” Hansbrough and the rest of his returning mates at UNC.

Yes, the Tar Heels proved what many had suspected all season long: sending the Spartans home on their shields in proving they were unquestionably the best team in men’s college basketball in 2009.

But they weren’t the best in all of college hoops this season. Geno Auriemma’s army, for the third time was perfect (one behind John Wooden’s four with the UCLA Bruins). UConn was 39-0 and brought a sixth national championship back to Storrs, four more than Jim Calhoun’s crew. Tenacious on D, electric in transition and quick-striking in the half court, the Huskies were relentless in their pursuit of perfection.

As ESPN analyst Doris Burke said shortly after the coronation Tuesday night, UConn was “unbeaten and unchallenged.” The Lady Huskies became the first team to win all of its games by double-digits — the closest contests were an 11-point win in the third game of the season against Georgia Tech and then a 10-pointer versus Rutgers in the Big East regular-season finale.

They trailed for all of one possession in the second half — all season — against Notre Dame. Perhaps they had a scare in the regional semifinal of the tournament, down eight to Cal deep in the first half. But they put their Bears into hibernation by a mere 24.

Avenging its last defeat — in the 2008 Final Four to Stanford — by caging Jayne Appel’s Cardinal in the national semifinal 83-64, UConn also faced a familiar foe in the title tilt in Louisville, which the Huskies had mushed over by 28 and 39. Yes, the Big East had its props, after all, with a duo in the national championship game in Saint Louis. Suffice it to say, the third time wasn’t the charm for the Cardinals.

After a fast start by Louisville star Angel McCoughtry , the Huskies, behind a dominating performance by Tina Charles in the pivot, pulled to a 14-point lead by half and were never challenged in their 76-54 triumph.

Scouts say UNC might have six players drafted by the NBA, but stars Hansbrough and point guard Ty Lawson, a sub 6-footer, don’t figure to be top-flight pros. The same can’t be said for Charles, player of the year Maya Moore and point guard Renee Montgomery. They will be outstanding WNBAers and players abroad.

Truly, UConn was the beast of the Big East and all of college ball. Now, all that’s left to discuss is their legacy among the sport’s all-time best.

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