UConn men’s and women’s basketball teams are looking to reprise the feat of their 2004 forbears. Jim Calhoun’s crew and Geno Auriemma’s group want to bring back the Division 1 titles to Storrs. Five years ago, the Huskies of both genders, led by Omeka Okafor and Diana Taurasi won national titles, making UConn the first school to simultaneously sport both diadems.
Will that happen again this year? Calling Johnny Mac: UConn’t be serious!
Auriemma’s team is clearly the better bet on ESPN. Maya Moore, Renee Montgomery and Tina Charles are leading an undefeated squad, which is winning games by a gazillion points (actually by an average of 32) and has not really been challenged.
The last time the Lady Huskies lost was in the 2008 Final Four to this year’s opponent in St. Louis, Stanford. The Cardinal presents a big challenge in the person of center Jane Appel, who scored 46 points in Stanford’s dismantling of Iowa State. Given that performance and last year’s result, UConn won’t be caught napping. It might be a game, but the Huskies will move into the final against the winner of Louisville (which, if Rick Pitino’s team hadn’t been crushed by Michigan State, could have provided the Cardinals with their own chance for a March Madness double) and Oklahoma.
The Cardinals took out what many thought would be Auriemma’s toughest adversary, the Maryland Terrapins, while the Sooners rely on the inside presence of the Paris twins, the daughters of NFL lineman Bubba. Courtney says she’ll refund her scholarship if her team doesn’t win the national title. That could happen in either the semifinal or the final, but either way, she better get her checkbook ready.
Bank on Auriemma reigning over an undefeated team (will a chance for perfection boost the Nielsens?) for the third time and a sixth national title.
Calhoun’s crusade figures to be much tougher sledding at Ford Field on CBS. For one thing, UConn, despite its cranky coach, who has come under fire for recruiting violations, presents the worst of the four storylines - unless you consider it fitting that Calhoun retire with a third title in hand. In addition to 2004, the Huskies won in 1999, so maybe it’s a five-year itch of sorts.
Shot-blocking center Hasheem Thabeet, A.J. Price and Stanley Robinson should be able to take care of the defacto hometown Spartans — an upset by Tom Izzo’s team would be big for the beleaguered auto industry and Motown — in the Final Four opener. The final will be another matter.
Feisty Villanova and its Pat Rileyian-accoutered coach Jay Wright are looking for the Wildcats’ second-ever title behind a quick backcourt, including Scottie (no, he’s not a cousin) Reynolds, whose run to the rack eliminated Pitt in the East regional. Outside of a tough initial 25 minutes versus American, the alma mater of former colleague Simon Applebaum, Villanova has exhibited a ferocity seldom seen. And one that could make this writer go back-to-back in MCN Bracketology.
That’s still probably not going to be enough against UNC, which like Georgetown in 1985, is a heavy favorite over ‘Nova. The talented Tar Heels are led by Tyler “The Bumpkin” Hansbrough and Ty Lawson, who want to make sure their decisions to forgo NBA fortunes for another year, pay off in a collegiate king’s ransom.
The winner of the Final Four nightcap dashes the double score in Storrs.