Commentary

UConn one win shy of a perfect season

March to title game started nearly immediately after loss in last year's Final Four

Originally Published: April 6, 2009
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

Geno AuriemmaDavid Butler II/US PresswireGeno Auriemma and UConn were also perfect in 1995 and 2002.

ST. LOUIS -- Connecticut's players act as if perfection is just about as easy as the old Christmas cartoon song, "Put One Foot in Front of the Other."

At 38-0, they need a national championship victory over Louisville on Tuesday (ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET) to become the fifth team in NCAA women's basketball history to have an undefeated season. To get that win, they'll do what they've been doing since the season began: Play each game without mentally connecting the dots of what it could eventually mean.

"We've made it real simple," senior point guard Renee Montgomery said. "We haven't really looked too far in the future."

Sophomore Maya Moore echoes the same thing.

"I think that's the key to our success all year," Moore said. "Not getting too wrapped up in being afraid of, 'What if we lose?' Just getting excited and showing up and playing UConn basketball for 40 minutes."

Renee Montgomery
Elsa/Getty ImagesRenee Montgomery says three previous losses in the NCAA tournament have motivated this year's run.

Actually, it's a process that started not long after the Huskies lost to Stanford in the 2008 national semifinals.

"Right when we got back, we had a meeting," Montgomery said of coach Geno Auriemma and the team. "Like, as soon as we landed, the bus took us to the gym and we went straight down and had a meeting.

"Coach was talking to us about what we did wasn't good enough and how we needed to change some things. They set a date for two weeks from the day after the Final Four that we would start postseason."

But even that wasn't soon enough for Montgomery.

"I went into coach's office like four days after we had lost, and I was talking to him," she said. "I was like, 'It's very depressing sitting in your room thinking about the loss and what you should have done.'

"He said, 'Why don't we just start earlier?' So we ended up starting postseason workouts a week after the Final Four game. That's where we began to change our chemistry, our focus, our personality."

Considering the Huskies made it to the Final Four last season, it doesn't seem like there should have been that much to change. But Montgomery thought there was.

"Team chemistry is everything, and last year I think we had people working on different levels," she said. "This year, everyone in every drill is going as hard as they can go."

That has paid off with the Huskies nearing something done previously by Texas (1986), UConn (1995), Tennessee (1998) and UConn (2002).

"I think it's easy when you have things motivating you. For instance, losing three years in a row," Montgomery said of falling short of a national title her previous seasons. "You don't get complacent or you don't lose your hunger -- because you've never won before."

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.