As I start to write this, I cannot help but think about Padme Amidala in Episode III of Star War. Her epic words still bear weight today, “And this is how democracy dies…with thunderous applause.” Of course, the new Galactic Empire fell shortly after that speech. But, this is the nature of empires- they fall. The Roman empire stood for hundreds of years and covered a large part of the known world, yet it fell. The Byzantine Empire lasted even longer, yet it fell. In China, they had called their empires dynasties. Just like empires, dynasties are also destined to fall.
Believe it or not, there is a point to this history lesson, and yes, I am including Star Wars into history (no arguments allowed on this). We are standing at a spot in history where we might see another dynasty fall, one whose downfall was met with thunderous applause. Women’s College Basketball has only had two dynasties: Tennessee and UConn. While the exact end of the Tennessee dynasty can be debated, Pat Summitt won back to back titles in 2008, which marked the end of Tennessee’s run. Even before the repeat, UConn had embarked on their own dynasty. UCONN won four titles in five years at the start of the 2000s. UCONN followed Tennessee’s repeat with a repeat of their own and then had the run of four championships around Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck, and Moriah Jefferson. A look at dynasties points to a lesson: dynasties win.
When we look at the landscape, it is easy to see that UCONN with their 11 titles and Tennessee with their eight are a class onto their own. Yet, there are some interesting developments occurring. UCONN has come up short in the Final Four the last five tournaments. During this time, only one team has brought home more than one championship: South Carolina. Dawn Staley won the title to start UCONN’s drought and the most recent championship. Coach Dawn Staley even ordered a championship banner for the COVID shortened season based on ending the year ranked first, so depending on who you ask, SC either has two or three championships. Plus, South Carolina is the heavy favorite to win the championship since they have Aliyah Boston, whom no one can contain in the post. South Carolina is poised to have three chips, four if you count the chicanery, and UConn is on their longest drought of Geno’s tenure.
At the end of day though, dynasties are judged on championships and nothing else. This is not to say that UConn isn’t a powerhouse program. They have been 14 straight Final Fours, which is unbelievable. Geno recruits at an amazing level. This last year, Geno rolled out three number one recruits out of the four years (Christyn Williams, Paige Bueckers, and Azzi Fudd). Next year, UConn adds in the 4th and 5th highest recruits, per ESPN HoopGurlz. UConn always has a top five recruiting class (2019 only had one recruit and missed the top, but this was an abnormality). UConn has even been a major player in the transfer portal, acquiring the likes of Azariah Stevens, Evina Westbrook, and Dorka Juhasz. Geno can flat out recruit.
On the topic of Geno, he is UConn. UConn was awful before him and a dynasty with him. Geno is also getting old. Anyone who watched the Huskies play had to notice that Geno doesn’t have the same energy in his step. One has to wonder how much longer he has in him. Will he leave with Paige? Will he continue until his next title and then leave? Will he defy science and live another hundred years for the chance to coach the great-great grandchildren of Maya Moore? Well, the last is unlikely, but all of the early options are viable. What will the Huskies be without Geno? Common thought is that Shea Ralph will take over, but there is no guarantee that she can replace a legend.
When you take into consideration that the architect of the program is approaching his retirement, the lack of titles for the program, and the rise of a new dynasty, you have to wonder if we are seeing the fall of a great thing. Just like Star Wars, we greet this fall with thunderous applause for the new regime’s wins. In Star Wars, the Republic was built on the Jedi and the epic struggle against the evil Sith; Women’s Basketball was popularized by Geno’s epic battles against his nemesis (be it Muffet McGraw or Pat Summit). As mentioned above, UConn will soon lose the very person that made not just the university but the sport; Star Wars lost the same when George Lucas sold it to Disney. My greatest fear is that Women’s Basketball will become ruined by this change of the guard just like Star Wars has been ruined by Disney, on which I could write a set of books. As I ponder the sad possible future, I must draw on my inner Princess Leia by saying “Help us Geno Auriemma, you’re our only hope” against the evil that wants to destroy a proud heritage.