ST. LOUIS - With 71 seconds left in this final study in perfection, Renee Montgomery raced into the tight embrace of her coach. Twenty seconds later, Maya Moore and Tina Charles, a tower of power on this Tuesday night in April, followed.
For Montgomery, it would be her last game and her first national title. For the other two, there is more work to be done.
So there the three of them stood arm-in-arm on the sideline - as fine a trio ever assembled for a women's college basketball team - and watched the final seconds of the 76-54 rout of Louisville. After the confetti fell from the rafters of Scottrade Center and the UConn players engaged in their silly, wonderful dance in front of the school band, they gathered on a podium at center court for the trophy presentation. And when that was done, they pulled out the ladder and one by one they snipped down the net.
But not before Charles, the Final Four MVP, delivered a message to the Big Man. No, not Geno Auriemma.
"President Barack Obama," said Charles, who had 25 points and 19 rebounds, "I'll be seeing you soon."
Count on it.
The Huskies won every game, all 39. Unbeaten seasons, of course, had been accomplished a number of times in women's college basketball. This team won every game by at least 10 points. And that never has been done in either the men's or women's game. And with that, within that pantheon of perfection, the 2008-09 UConn Huskies will make their claim to greatness.
"Somebody was saying they ought to have two tournaments this year," ESPN analyst Doris Burke said. "One for UConn and one for everyone else. It's true."
The Cardinals were going to make this one closer because they had stuck around for 15 minutes in what became a 28-point loss at Gampel Pavilion. They were going to make this one closer than the 39-point embarrassment in the Big East tournament final because their legs were tired that night at the XL Center one day after a double-overtime game against Rutgers.
And it was closer. They only lost by 22.
"I tried to explain to my players it's impossible to be perfect, but we can try hard every day to be as close as we can," Auriemma said afterward. "If you could only see all that goes into this, it's unbelievable."
Believe in perfection.
"Being undefeated is a big deal to everybody else as you go through the season," Auriemma had said before the game. "For us it only becomes a big deal if you finish the regular season and the tournament undefeated and look back and go, 'Wow, that was unbelievable!' "
And now it is a big deal, a very big deal, one that will send those who love women's basketball to the archives of their mind to argue where this team ranks among the best in UConn history.
"Most places in America they would go, you know, big headline: 'UConn Going For Sixth National Championship.' Like that's a big deal, right?" Auriemma said. "I think Connecticut [goes], 'UConn, which hasn't won an NCAA championship since 2004, and you go Holy Jesus. You're like that is a drought. Like, how dare you. When you win three in a row and you go four years without one, it's like your program has fallen off a cliff. That's what we created and that's what we've got to live with."
Praise Geno and pass the basketball, the long, miserable drought has ended.
The UConn women's basketball program fell off a cliff and into cool, deep water of another fruitful period of dominance. Four-year drought or not, Auriemma finishes the decade with five national titles. If Moore can pull a Diana Taurasi, he could have seven national titles in 12 years and tie Pat Summit's record of eight by 2011. That's damn near Wooden-like.
Moore, of course, will have more around her next season than Taurasi did. They surely will No. 1 at the start.
So it has come to this. As the players carried Auriemma off the court at 11:02 p.m., we're left to compare his greatest teams. Here's my ranking:
*2002 (39-0) - Perfect team. Four of the top six picks in the WNBA draft, Diana Taurasi a junior.
*2001 (32-3) - "The greatest collection of UConn talent before Svetlana Abrosimova and Shea Ralph went down with injuries," Burke said of the team that lost to Notre Dame in the Final Four.
*2009 (39-0) - Burke and I had this season's perfect team a notch above the 2000 champs. Former UConn champion Rebecca Lobo, working for ESPN, says it's a draw. As a matter of comparison, Mike DiMauro from The Day of New London has 2000 second and 2009 third.
*2000 (36-1) - One midseason loss to Tennessee before redeeming itself. The Journal Inquirer's Carl Adamec, who has covered the team longer than anyone, likes the 2000 team as the best. If not for Semeka Randall's heroics in Gampel, that team is unbeaten. Everybody, however, agrees Geno outcoached Pat Summitt badly in the national championship gam,e in Philly.
"Oh, yeah, the backdoor palooza," Lobo said.
*1995 (35-0) - The year the UConn women became our state's princesses with the first perfect team. "I would put up more of an argument that we should be higher, but I just watched the game on ESPN Classic," Lobo said. "Man, the game looked slow compared to now.
"But I'll tell you one thing we definitely had."
"The best-looking coach," Lobo said.
Of course, that's because Auriemma was only 41 and Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale was still coaching a high school team in in Norman.
*1997 (33-1) - The Elite Eight loss in Iowa City against Tennessee ruined a perfect season.
*2003 (37-1) - It's a tossup with 2004.
*2004 (31-4) - Only because I thought Taurasi had a better junior year. It's pretty sad when you rank national champions as low as seventh and eighth in a program's history, isn't it? But this only goes to show the power, the dominance of what Geno Auriemma has built. Damn, you can get used to their perfection thing.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times