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Know Your Opponent: A Q&A with The UConn Blog

I sat down with Daniel Connolly of the UConn Blog to discuss MSU’s upcoming matchup with arguably the most dominant dynasty in sports.

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Bridgeport Regional-Connecticut vs Mississippi State David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

1. First and foremost, what on earth is it like to root for what is one of the most dynasties in all of sports? I can't even fathom rooting for a team that is that dominant for so long.

This is a tough question to answer because I, personally, don't remember a time they weren't THE program in women's college basketball. The expectations for this program are so ridiculous. For most teams, getting to the Final Four is an accomplishment by itself. For UConn, the Final Four is a foregone conclusion. I think some parts of the fanbase have gotten a bit apathetic but for the most part the core fanbase has managed to enjoy the incredible success.

You have to keep reminding yourself how special this all is. I try not to take winning the national championship each year for granted because it's a huge achievement, no matter how many they've won. For all we know, Geno could get tired of doing this and could theoretically retire or coach elsewhere. Once he leaves, they'll never have this level of success again. That's for sure. Just take it all in and savor the special moments.

2. What separates this UConn team from previous championship winning, dominant UConn teams? In what ways, if any, is this team better than those in years past?

Unlike years past, this team doesn't have a transcendent talent such as Rebecca Lobo, Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore or Breanna Stewart. But they have four players that are all really good and can kill you on any given night. In the AAC Tournament final, Katie Lou Samuelson went off for 10-of-10 from three with 40 points. A week later, Kia Nurse hit 9-of-12 from deep en route to 29 points. Napheesa Collier scored 39 in a game this season. Gabby Williams is one of five players in program history to earn a triple-double.

While this team isn't as good defensively as years past, they excel passing the ball. Their center, Gabby Williams, is a converted guard and they like to run the offense through her. Geno Auriemma said after second round that this team is "as good as any we've had." There's some times where they've gotten a rebound on the defense and they make five passes to all five players and score without the ball touching the floor. They rarely take bad shots because they can usually pass it until the find the open player.

3. Some of our fans have convinced themselves that this year's UConn team is considerably weaker and more vulnerable than those in the past. In what ways, if any, is this true?

Considerably weaker and more vulnerable? No. But they can be beaten. It's not like last year when nobody had any chance of beating them and the national championship was a foregone conclusion. This year, they have a weak bench, with Geno typically only using six, maybe seven players depending on the matchup. If Napheesa Collier and Gabby Williams get into foul trouble, UConn has tended to struggle. I think there's something to be said that during the streak, only three games have been within single-digits and they've all come this season. So, yes, if you're going to beat UConn this is the season to do it. But if they were that much weaker, they wouldn't be 36-0 with the toughest non-conference schedule in the country.

4. Obviously no fan wants a 111 game winning streak to end at any point ever, but would you rather the streak end to a team like Mississippi State, a relative newcomer to women's basketball success, or Stanford/USC, teams that have had more recent success?

I think it would be a much better story if an up-and-coming program does it (Or Tulane). Since the 2007-2008 season, UConn has only lost two games to teams not named Stanford, Notre Dame or Baylor. If it were to be a newcomer, it would be a better storyline but I think it would also thrust that program into the national spotlight as a top program. For Mississippi State, they've been an program on the rise but it still feels like they aren't considered part of the upper-echelon of women's college basketball. If they took down the Huskies, it could get them there.

5. Is there anything about Mississippi State that makes you nervous going into tomorrow's game?

Mississippi State as a team doesn't worry me too much, no disrespect. I've been saying for a long time now that Maryland was the biggest and only threat to UConn in the tournament. Since they got knocked out by Oregon in the Elite Eight, I don't see another team knocking them off.

However, what does concern me is the two games they've played this tournament coming off a break (First round vs Albany, Sweet Sixteen vs UCLA0, the Huskies haven't played well. Their defense has been below par in both games and overall they've looked sloppy. Whether that's a trend or just a coincidence is yet to be seen, but if UConn comes out slow for a third time, it's going to be a ballgame.

6. How do you see the game playing out?

I think UConn wins, first and foremost, but I think Mississippi State keep it somewhat close and it won't be a blowout. At the same time, I don't think it will go down to the wire, either, where the last few possessions decide the game. I'll say UConn wins by 14, but the Bulldogs make them earn it.

Shoutout to Daniel Connolly of the UConn Blog for reaching out to me and doing this. Go check out their good work detailing the destroyer of worlds and devourer of dreams, the UConn women’s basketball team.