Remembering the ones that got away
Editor's note: While covering the UConn women's perfect run in 2001-02, ESPN.com revisited each of the previous undefeated seasons -- and close calls -- in women's college basketball history.
More than most people, Nancy Lieberman lives in the moment: Here she is, breaking down the NCAA women's bracket for ESPN's selection show. There she is, chatting for ESPN.com. Next, she's running off to do a SportsCenter hit. How, then, can she possibly remember something that happened back in the dark ages (1979) with such astonishing clarity?
"We were playing at South Carolina and there was a blizzard," Lieberman. "So what was usually a 2½-hour ride turned out to be a nine-hour ride. We had to change into our uniforms on the bus. There was a foot of snow on the ground and something like 100 people at the game. To make things worse, we had lost our All-American center the day before when she turned her ankle and we had to face our former ODU coach, Pam Parsons, who had recruited seven of us kids. There was a lot of angst.
My first pass -- now, this is pretty hysterical -- there's nobody pressuring me, no one within three feet, and I hit the lady keeping stats. Not even close. I just started laughing. The stars were not in the right orbit. The game ended with my roommate getting into a fight. We lost by like 24 points and I think I was 3-for-50 from field."
ODU, which was undefeated going into the game, exited at 24-1. It would be the only loss of the season for the Monarchs, who won the AIAW national title with a 35-1 mark. ODU won the championship again the next season with a 37-1 record -- the lone loss coming to Louisiana Tech at Madison Square Garden.
Lieberman was the national player of the year for both of those seasons, but it didn't ease the pain of those two losses. Losing is never easy, but when a season ends and the record is 30-something-and-one that loss can be particularly difficult to process
Here are some precise memories of perfect seasons with a single lapse:
Coach, 1990 Stanford national champions (32-1)
"I think we beat (Washington) by 40 the first time we played them. We flew up and played Washington State first and on the way to the hotel the bus got stranded in a snowstorm. We had to borrow blankets for sleeping. We had a great team that year, but we didn't played well against a hungry Washington team. We lost a three-point game. Afterward, I talked to Dick Gould, our great tennis coach. He said, 'This is something that can help you.' And he was right. We were never No. 1 that year. Every team we played was happy to play us. Hey, sometimes the stars are in alignment.
Forward, 2000 U.S. Olympic team, gold medalists (62-1)
"The Olympic team always does a big tour to get ready for the Games. We lost one game that year, at Tennessee. I can still remember parts of that game. That was embarrassing for us. We're supposed to be the best team in the world and we couldn't beat a college team -- a good college team, but a college team -- that night."
Coach, 1982 Louisiana Tech national champions (35-1)
"We had won the national championship the year before, the AIAW title in 1981, with a 34-0 record. We came into ODU with a 54-game winning streak, the longest in women's basketball history. We're 20-0, and we just didn't have it that day against Old Dominion. We had three shots at it. One of them was right there on the rim. We had a very good team, but we lost the game, 61-58. But for that game we would have been undefeated twice in a row."
1980 Old Dominion national champions (37-1)
"It was my senior year and we were playing Louisiana Tech at Madison Square Garden. Now, I'm from New York, so the Garden was my dream arena. We lost to Tech by a couple points. I don't know what happened. Maybe we stayed up too late running around the city."
Coach, 1999 Purdue national champions (34-1)
"We lost to Stanford with no time left on the clock. They called a foul at the buzzer and they made the free throws. It was just before Thanksgiving. I remember because my grandmother passed right after that. You sort of prove to yourself that you're beatable when you don't take care of business -- and that's not always a bad thing."
Greg Garber is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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