He may have captured 11 national titles and been a part of two separate win streaks that topped 90 games, but through his 32 years as a college head coach, Geno Auriemma has been on the losing end 135 times, too.
And so when Morgan William drilled an overtime jump shot Friday that beat the buzzer, put Mississippi State in the national title game and handed UConn its first loss in 865 days, the Huskies’ coach could do nothing but muster a smile.
A big one, with a slight shake of a head and a long embrace with friend and Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer.
Even Geno Auriemma couldn't believe Morgan William's buzzer-beating shot. pic.twitter.com/9H9jMt1zbH
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) April 1, 2017
How did he not collapse at the reality of his team’s record 111-game win streak coming to an end? What was going through his mind as the 5-foot-5 Bulldogs guard let it fly with seconds to go, giving MSU the 66-64 upset of all upsets?
“Kind of some of the things I already said about how many times that’s happened going the other way, you know?” Auriemma said at the podium afterward. “Things happen for a reason, you know? So I just kind of shook my head. This kid’s had an incredible run, so when it went in it was almost like, of course, of course it’s going to go in.”
How else could you capture a moment more than a year in the making, after UConn sent Mississippi State home in last year’s Sweet 16 in embarrassing fashion, 98-38?
How else could you deal with an experience foreign to six of your players, freshmen and sophomores who have never dealt with defeat at the college level?
How else could you process a game that featured deficits your team never faced before, comebacks your team never had to make before?
Through the perspective of a 1,126-game coaching career, for one. Perspective that leads to appreciation, something you try to impart on players who know only winning.
“It’s been quite a fun ride,” junior guard Kia Nurse said at the podium. “It’s been a challenge. I think we handled it pretty well. It was something that we hadn’t — roles we hadn’t been in, circumstances we hadn’t been in. Unfortunately, it came short.
“But the people that we did it with, the help that we got from the coaches, that’s irreplaceable.”
It was more than just a win streak coming to an end, of course — it was the end of a season, and with it, the end of a stretch of four-straight national titles.
So seniors Saniya Chong and Tierney Lawlor close their careers on losing notes, while the rest of the roster gears up and tries to start another streak.
Even if that’s not, as Auriemma puts it, real life. Losing is real life, he says. Friday was real life. What his players had just gone through was a normal college experience. How they respond, he adds, will be the most important part of all.
“She’s had an amazing run so far,” Auriemma said of William, who scored 41 in the game before this one. “And look: Nobody’s won more than we’ve won. So I understand losing, believe it or not. We haven’t lost in a while, but I understand it, and I know how to appreciate when other people win.”
With that, Auriemma was finished with the lessons for the night, ready to go about figuring out how to avoid Loss No. 136 for as long as humanly possible.
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