UConn Men Advance; Women Fall
STORRS, Conn. _ This is a campus in conflict, with delight and disappointment going head-to-head. The Connecticut men’s basketball team is heading to its first Final Four. The women’s team, a national power for so long, has been eliminated.
For much of this year, they traveled parallel paths.
Both are perennial Big East beasts and captured the conference crowns. They shared the No. 1 national ranking for a short spell. They were top seeds in their NCAA regionals.
That all changed Saturday.
The men’s 67-62 squeaker over Gonzaga boosted the program to its first Final Four in 21 tries. Hours earlier, dismal shooting doomed the women, who were upset 64-58 by Iowa State. The loss was the first regional semifinal loss for a program which won the national title in 1995.
``It was an up and down day,″ said Jim Patrick, a season ticketholder for the men and women. He was among the scores of fans streaming into the campus bookstore Sunday for Final Four merchandise.
Patrick said the men’s win brought a lot of relief.
``It felt good for them to finally get it off their backs,″ he said. ``They definitely struggled (Saturday). They played tight in all the close games this year. But they had character to win them.″
Jim Calhoun’s team advanced on the strength of its rebounding. Scrappy Gonzaga, the No. 10 seed in the West Regional, wouldn’t go away. But the Huskies (32-2) had 10 second-chance points in the last eight minutes and outrebounded the Bulldogs 47-33.
Post players Jake Voskuhl, Kevin Freemen and Edmund Saunders decided early on in the second half to get every rebound.
``I just looked at Kevin, Kevin looked at me,″ said Voskuhl. ``It’s time to do it, time to turn it up a notch.″
The women couldn’t find the hoop for most of the game. They shot 11 percent on 3-pointers and were just under 30 percent from the field. Scoring leader Shea Ralph was 2-of-12 from the field. Geno Auriemma’s team finished 29-5, missing out on its sixth straight 30-win season.
Bookstore employee Cheri Majnich juggled jubilation and sadness on what was to be her day off Sunday. The men’s win meant a change in her schedule, the women’s loss was ``heartbreaking.″
Fans of both programs were lined up outside the store before its doors opened at noon.
``It’s been crazy,″ said Majnich. ``The phone hasn’t stopped ringing. We knew if they won, we had all this stuff coming in.″
Carole Levin showed up to support both teams. A Connecticut native who moved out of state for many years, she measures her years back home in basketball time. The 1994-95 season was her first year back and was the year the women jumped into the national spotlight with a 35-0 record and the national title. The women have been to the Final Four three times.
Both programs, she said, help get her through the bleak New England winter.
``Winter in Connecticut so gray, so drab, the men’s and women’s basketball, make winter tolerable,″ said Levin.
On this rural campus where the passing of the year is measured in snowfall, rainfall and basketball, the first day of spring _ Saturday _ may have ushered in a season of change.
Instead of the Husky men watching the women, it will be just the opposite. But that doesn’t mean fans have forgotten about Auriemma’s squad.
``The women have the whole team back,″ said Patrick. ``There’s no reason why they won’t do better next year.″