COLUMBUS, Ohio - UConn coach Geno Auriemma and the Huskies have dropped two of their last 149 games.
Last-second overtime shots ended their season each time. At the Final Four.
A year after their 111-game winning streak was stopped by a historic shot by Morgan William and Mississippi State, the Huskies fell Friday night on a jumper by Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale with a second remaining in the Irish’s 91-89 victory.
“I would say it’s hard to believe. Obviously, much harder than the first time,” Auriemma said. “Each team had a chance to prove what kind of team they were. There was no backing down either way. Just like last year it came down to one play, one shot. They made it.”
UConn’s locker room was mostly silent after its latest heartbreaking loss. Some players held their faces in their hands, and others stared at the ceiling. Their eyes were red from crying. A couple of them hugged and comforted each other.
“There’s nothing you can say to a college kid after experiencing this two years in a row that’s going to make them feel any better about, you know,” Auriemma said. “We had an amazing run for five months. That’s just the way it is. One weekend in March gets to decide your season.”
The underlying theme all season was redemption and they fell short.
“Probably more painful. It’s the same kind of situation,” UConn All-American Katie Lou Samuelson said. “Went into overtime, they got a last-second shot. It happens.”
The defeat ended the stellar careers of seniors Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams. The duo finished with 148 wins - fourth-most in school and NCAA history.
“Obviously it hurts. It’ll sting, but it may not sting for every player the same,” Nurse said. “It probably varies in levels, but it’s inevitable. At some point, it’s going to come to an end. Unfortunately, it had to be this game.”
The latest edition of the greatest current rivalry in women’s basketball was quite a show, featuring impressive comebacks from each school.
The stars carried over into the stands, with Lakers great Kobe Bryant watching with his wife and daughters.
UConn was down five with under a minute to go in regulation before Napheesa Collier hit a 3-pointer and Nurse turned a steal into a tying layup. After Notre Dame turned it over with 3.6 seconds left in regulation, Williams’ runner was short, sending the game to overtime.
The teams traded shot for shot in OT before Jackie Young made three free throws to help Notre Dame open a five-point lead with 43 seconds left.
The Huskies didn’t quit. Collier scored to make it a three-point game. Ogunbowale missed two free throws and Dangerfield tied it before Ogunbowale’s game-winner.
“The amount of times that we had to come back tonight, both at the end of the regulation when we were down and it looked like it was over, then in overtime when it looked like it was over and we tied it,” Auriemma said. “We kept fighting back and fighting back. I think it stings a little more when you have it happen after you experience that part of it.”
For pretty much every other women’s basketball program, UConn’s season would be considered a smashing success. But the Huskies have created a nearly impossible standard.
“That’s where we live. That’s the world we live in,” Auriemma said. “That’s the world that we created. I’ve been saying for the last 15 or 20 years that winning national championships is hard. And I don’t think anybody ever believed me because it just seemed so routine for a while. These last two years is a big reminder that this is really hard to do.”