And Then There Were Two
by Tracy Granzyk
With one more day of basketball left in the 2001-02 season the question still remains: “Can anyone beat UConn?” The Huskies, sporting a pristine 38-0 record, take on the Oklahoma Sooners in this year’s championship game. For Connecticut, this was the expected icing on a cake-walk season. The Huskies have been here, done that. They’ve won National Championships, appeared in the Final Four. Not much about Sunday’s final will be novel for the UConn women, except maybe the venue.
The Huskies line up includes four seniors, Ashja Jones, Swin Cash, Tamika Williams and Sue Bird. Sophomore, Diana Taurasi completes the roster. Of these five, four have been named All-Americans (Bird-1st team, Taurasi and Cash-2nd team, Jones-3rd team) and the fifth, Williams, received an honorable mention. Sue Bird has been named National Player of the Year, Naismith Award winner, Kodak All-American and ESPN The Magazine Point Guard of the Year. Taurasi and Cash were also named Kodak All-Americans, with Cash also picking up ESPN Magazine Swing Forward of the Year.
While there may be additional awards this team has accumulated, that is not the point. I mention it to emphasize the caliber of player behind this UConn team. But what is more impressive is that these elite athletes come out every game to play basketball. They don’t rest on their rankings or their accolades. They play the game with passion, finesse and a commitment that is reassuring. You see it in their seriousness as they show respect for each opponent. You see it in their smiles when they attain yet another lead that is comfortable.
Pick any sport or any top team, men or women, and show me the same consistent ability to back up the hype. In a time when many athletes’ goals take on a financial or celebrity slant, the Lady Huskies are a refreshing and encouraging departure from the new age athlete. They play without cockiness or pretense, though they have accomplished more than enough to inflate weaker egos. Keep an eye on these women, they are special. If they can take only some of what they’ve exemplified through basketball into the world their potential is limitless.
With players of this quality, it’s easy to forget to credit the coach. Or maybe it is just Coach Geno Auriemma’s style to pass on drawing attention to himself. It could be that his players are so grounded because they are being led by someone who teaches by example. While guiding the Huskies to an almost complete perfect season, Coach Auriemma has also picked up a few national recognitions along the way, including the Naismith Award and the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association/Russell Athletic Division I National Coach of the Year. Whether or not the Huskies cap this season with a National Championship they have proven all season long that they are indeed champions.
For Oklahoma, this is a season of firsts. The Sooner women reached the Final Four for the first time not only in the school’s history, but in the history of the Big 12 conference as well. The women’s basketball program, which was almost dropped from the school’s NCAA sport repertoire, has been turned around, to say the least, over Coach Sherri Coale’s six year career. Oklahoma’s current 32-3 record is a long way from her first year’s 5-22 team. But can the Sooners complete the season with a National Championship and major upset of a team that is easily the best in women’s NCAA basketball?
Oklahoma is directed on court by repeat All-American point guard Stacey Dales. With her precision passing and crafty way of seeing the whole floor, Dales can easily create scoring opportunities. When she isn’t finding the open player she can also hit net, evidenced by a 16.9 point per game average. While the Bird-Dales match up is an easy one to draw attention to, Oklahoma is not just Dales.
Backcourt-mate LaNeishea Caufield is also a scoring threat, averaging 17.5 points per game. Some of those baskets may be a result of her team leading 93 steals. Caufield, one of the NCAA’s most recognized freshmen in 1999, has maintained that high level of play over her career at Oklahoma. The Sooner roster is rounded out by forward, Caton Hill, also scoring in double figures with a 12.8 average, guard Rosalind Ross, averaging 11.4 and coming off a career-high 26 point game against Duke, center Jamie Talbert and reserve Dionnah Jackson.