INDIANAPOLIS — I witnessed first hand Connecticut’s first ever national championship in 1995. Tuesday we saw the Huskies capture the program’s 11th national title here on the Indiana Fever’s court, making it a clean sweep as all three division champions finished their season unbeaten.
UConn (38-0) knocked off Syracuse, making their first Final Four appearance 82-51. Afterwards, Syracuse Coach Quentin Hillsman had to be gracious enough to offer a non-smartaleck response to at least two stupid questions: 1) Was his team’s goal “don’t lose by…”or was your goal to win and 2) Why such a slow start — Connecticut scored nine unanswered points in the first four minutes before the Orange lit up their side of the scoreboard.
“We never got anywhere to lose the game,” responded Hillsman to the first question after a short pause. To the second question he simply replied, “We didn’t score.”
“We’re not fearful of anyone,” added Brittney Sykes. “We knew going into the game who UConn was and we knew who we were.” Teammate Alexis Peterson supported Sykes and said, “We’re not going to quit regardless of the score. We’re doing what all tough teams do, and tough teams, they don’t fight and give up.”
“My kids are competitors,” reiterated Hillsman, as he pointed to his team’s 16-0 run in the third quarter.
The MSR talked to the Syracuse coach after he left the podium on how he handled the seemingly obvious stupid questions. “I appreciate that,” said Hillsman when told we would try to avoid similar missteps.
“We competed and we belong here,” said Syracuse legend and Pro Football Hall of Famer Floyd Little to the MSR after Hillsman’s post game press conference. We met before the game and he asked me who I was rooting for. I shared with Little that I always root for Black coaches because they are few in numbers and given less fair chances to succeed. “UConn is a great team. They shoot well and they pass well. We made it to the championship game and we competed.”
“We could have slowed up the ball and walked it up,” noted Hillsman. “But that’s not how we do it. We are going to press and run, and we are going to do what got us 30 wins.”
Connecticut became the first program in NCAA Division I history to win four consecutive titles, and improved to 11-0 all time in national championship games. They will go into next season with 75 consecutive wins.
In the winners’ locker room, UConn Assistant Coach Marisa Moseley, a former Minnesota assistant coach, told the MSR, “To win four in a row with these really incredible players, I just feel honored I had a chance to coach them.”
“I’ve seen other teams quit [when down big] when they play UConn. Our kids didn’t,” concluded Little. “We played the best in the country, and it’s not bad being second best… We have to build on that. This team accomplished a lot this year.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.