Expectations are always high for UCONN Women’s basketball. In the past four years, the Huskies won four national titles and built a record-high winning streak. However, in the transition from 2016 into the 2017 season, UCONN fans were not expecting the same level of success out of this year. Having lost Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck, the 2017 team did not possess the same star power as previous years. In fact, many predicted losses for the Huskies early on in their schedule. Thus, Auriemma and his coaching staff were faced with the challenge of a relatively inexperienced, young team. Fans termed this year a rebuilding year for UCONN, anticipating moderate success in comparison to previous years. Nonetheless, the Huskies ended their season in the NCAA tournament semi-final round on the night of Friday, March 31st. The 66-64 loss to Mississippi State dealt the women their first loss of the season, the first program loss in 111 games. The 2017 Huskies ended their season with a record of 36 wins and 1 loss.
Despite the tournament disappointment, the women achieved far more than expected this season. Hartford Courant reporter Paul Doyle explains that “against Mississippi State, many of the team’s flaws were on display.” During the semi-final game the women lacked their usual comfort as they ran into foul trouble early in the game. Auriemma then began to rely on his bench, and UCONN’s lack of depth began to show. Yet, for the entirety of the season Auriemma and his team were able to minimize their weaknesses and play to their strengths. According to Auriemma, it all started with a little creativity.
Auriemma has coached a total of 1,126 games in his career. Of those 1,126, 135 of them have ended in defeat. He eloquently offered some wisdom following the tournament defeat, stating that losing is real life and a vital college athletic experience. Gabby Williams, UCONN’s 5-11 post player, took on a new role this season and established herself as one of the best all-around players in the country. Serving the team as a reserve player in the previous seasons, Williams worked to become a leader and anchor of her team. Originally coming into UCONN as a guard, she was asked to fill a different sort of role with the Huskies. While a height of 5-11 is typically on the short end for post players, Auriemma saw her smaller size as an advantage. She caused match-up problems for many teams as her athleticism and sharp movement became hard to handle for larger post players. Collectively, the UCONN roster undoubtedly lacked size this year, a fact that many would consider a weakness. However, in the example of Williams especially, Auriemma took what some coaches would consider a weakness and turned it into a strength. While the Huskies always rely on an unpredictable, fast-paced offense and a calculated, controlled defense, every year, the approach is a bit different. The greatness of the program stems from the adaptations made every season, from the ability of Auriemma and his staff to carefully construct success.