9:33 AM EDT, April 2, 2013
On Sunday night, we saw the past and it was Baylor.
On Monday night, we saw the future and it will be UConn.
Between the "was" and the "will be," of course, is the "is." The present is a fickle matter in competitive athletics, although over the years it has been considerably less fickle in women's college basketball.
With the earth-shattering result in Oklahoma City still being digested and with UConn's demolishing Kentucky, 83-53, in the Elite Eight at Webster Bank Arena, the women's game is suddenly confronted with two fascinating turn of events.
One is obvious. As much as the defenders of the game like me like to sometimes pretend otherwise, few legitimate national championship contenders have been knocked out before the Final Four and almost none have been knocked out in the Sweet 16. Louisville's victory over Baylor stands as one of the great upsets in the sport's history. Down went Griner. Down went Kim Mulkey, although not without a spasm of vitriol.
Yet something else is at work here. Few women's college teams have been able to significantly change their competitive complexion, to change the direction of their course late in a season. Barring horrific injury, the cards a team is dealt by the first week in March are generally played out by April.
This UConn team is different.
Yes, the Huskies advanced to their sixth successive Final Four. And that is a tribute to the monster program the Hall of Fame coach and his staff have built. And that is a tribute to the remarkable players they have recruited.
Yet something has happened in recent weeks, especially since that final 18-second debacle against Notre Dame in the Big East Tournament championships.
The freshmen have happened. That's what.
Moriah Jefferson, that little bolt of Texas lightning, happened. And especially Breanna Stewart, the multi-talented Stewie, happened. That's what.
This was going to be Baylor's year just as last year was Baylor's year. I thought it. So did virtually everyone else. The present said otherwise. Louisville, in the most dramatic of fashion said otherwise.
"It's harder to get parity in women's basketball because everybody stays four years," Geno Auriemma said. "The best teams are always around. What happened [Sunday night] could have happened tonight. It happened to Stanford, too, out West. Those are all good signs that other teams are making in-roads that you don't necessarily have to be the team that everybody talks as inevitable.
"That's the way everybody was talking about Baylor. It's inevitable they're going win. Nobody can beat them. Nobody can win a national championship until Brittney Griner graduates. That was the common theme you heard. But those kids from Louisville, both on the men's and women's side, it was just awe-inspiring to see what they did. People who follow this stuff said they were like a 27-point underdog against Baylor. It's one of the biggest wins in the history of the NCAA Tournament."
Asked if she was stunned, Doris Burke of ESPN, a pre-eminent voice in the game, answered, "completely stunned.
"That they would lose in the fashion they did, going down by 19 points, that Brittney Griner would essentially become a complete non-factor in her last college game.
"I also thought the officials were awful. I'm fine with [Mulkey's reaction]. I thought Brittney Griner took what looked to be things outside the rule book in terms of contact in the post. And when I called Rebecca Lobo and said, 'Am I crazy? Was I misinterpreting what I was seeing?' she said it was actually worse in person."
Here's my one gripe with Mulkey. She ripped the officials. She knew she was going to get fined and she said she was more than ready to pony up. Fine. In my mind, she had the facts on her side. This is where she went too far.
"I thought that all three of them, if they go past this round of officiating, it will be sad for the game," Mulkey said.
It's not up to Kim Mulkey, no matter her two national titles, no matter how feisty she is, to dictate who officiates the next set of games. What if those officials decided to rip her for returning an undefeated team with the most dominating 6-8 player in the history of the college game and failing to get to the Final Four?
"To me, Brittney Griner will still be listed amongst the great players, because she probably has impacted more possessions on both sides on the floor maybe than anybody ever has in history," Burke said. "I still put her on the list of most impactful players I've ever witnessed. She's the most dominant center I've ever seen.
"But the reality is when you define greatest champions, I still look at someone like Diana Taurasi. She's got three. Not only does she have three, but think about who she won it with her final two years … it's the all-time trick."
Brittney Griner is a lot of things. She's no Diana Taurasi. And as far as college greatness goes, that's past, present and future. At any rate, what's past is past.
Next year was going to be UConn's year and maybe the year after that, too. And maybe they will be. But this year may be UConn's year yet, too. Yes, Notre Dame has plenty to say about it. Forget the Fat Lady, at least with UConn it ain't over until Skyler Diggins tweets. Still, the present may shout out UConn in New Orleans.
And that's because Stewart, who scored 21 points against Kentucky on top of her 17 against Maryland, is playing brilliantly. She's blocking shots. She hitting inside, outside. And that's because Jefferson is disrupting offenses. She's so quick.
"Look at Stewie," Kelly Faris said. "She's a freshman and she's Most Outstanding Player [in the Regional]. And she deserves it."
"With Moriah, you have a freshman guard who's harassing anybody player who gets near her. She gets so many steals and a lot of our momentum comes from our defense, especially points off the other team's turnovers. She just stopped worrying about everything. She's fun to watch. She's one of those players you don't want to take your eyes off."
Auriemma would say something similar about Stewart. She's spending less time being afraid and more time making the other team afraid.
"Fear is not part of Stewie's makeup as much," Auriemma said. "There was a fear of not being able to live up to other people's expectations of her, not living up to her own expectations. I do think she was all of a sudden overwhelmed by, 'What if I'm not good enough?' Her mind went to a bad place.
"Once the season ended, the air came out of her balloon and it was OK let's start over. Now we're seeing the Breanna we all know existed."
The future has quickly become the present for UConn.
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