The UConn Huskies suffered a shocking 73-61 loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes in Saturday's Sweet 16 in the Seattle 3 Regional, which means Geno Auriemma's group is missing the Elite Eight for the first time since 2005.
"The problem with streaks is the longer they go, you're closer to an ending than you are to the beginning of it. It's just a matter of time," Auriemma said.
The expectations were high for UConn, even in a roller coaster of a season, with a lot of buzz about how the Huskies were trying to reach their 15th consecutive Final Four. When the season tipped off in November, they hadn't shaken off the injury bug that also bothered them last year. They had to do without star player Paige Bueckers all season after she tore her ACL during preseason. Azzi Fudd stepped up and became the leader of the team -- until she suffered a knee injury early December and wound up playing just 14 games. There were multiple other setbacks, but the Huskies had been resilient enough to make their 29th consecutive Sweet 16.
And then the pressure set in, both mentally and on the court.
No. 2 seed UConn had a small lead after the first quarter and Auriemma seemed to like what he saw for the most part, but the Huskies had a target on their back. No. 4 seed Ohio State buckled down and took over after a 17-0 run in the second quarter.
Ohio State pressed and overwhelmed the Huskies, who saw 18 turnovers in the first half -- almost the same amount they averaged per game all season. They found themselves down by double digits at halftime, 54-44, for just the sixth time in NCAA Tournament history. Although the Huskies had a few moments that looked like a potential comeback, Ohio State closed the door in the final minutes.
"Unfortunately for us after we got off to a great start and I thought things were -- we were in pretty good shape, I think Ohio State just outplayed us and took us out of a bunch of stuff that we want to do. Again, it's unfortunate that we chose tonight to play the way we did, but I think Ohio State had so much to do with that," Auriemma said.
"I thought Kevin's team was really, really good and really well prepared. They knew exactly what they wanted to do and what to take away from us. We lost our balance and we lost our equilibrium a little bit and I don't think we ever got it back."
It wasn't a lack of effort, as UConn outshot Ohio State 45.3%-38.3% from the field and won the rebounding battle 38-34. Three Huskies finished in double figures scoring. Lou Lopez Senechal registered 25 points on 9-of-13 shooting, including four 3-pointers, even after the senior forward suffered a knee injury in the second quarter and had to leave the court, in visible pain, for a few minutes.
"I think that I realized that I could potentially just have 20 more minutes in my college career, and so I just tried to push through and come back and not really think about it, and it became more of a mental part, you know, to just get over it and try to do the best I can," Senechal said.
However, the Buckeyes played confidently and were not going to give UConn a chance. They are one of the top 10 teams in scoring offense nationally, and they showed that strength with four players scoring at least nine points. Cotie McMahon stepped up with 23 points, while Jacy Sheldon -- who missed most of the season due to injury -- once again showed up big and contributed with 17 points.
Auriemma said the NCAA tournament "does incredible things to people" and it's such a big stage that it can lead to unexpected results, whether it's positive or negative.
"It elevates their game to a higher level than they have played at all year long sometimes, and it completely paralyzes some players because the moment is too big. And the moment hits you again when you're not playing well," he said.
Even though the Huskies did not end the season in the way they wanted to, Auriemma still took time to point out that what UConn has accomplished while becoming one of the biggest dynasties in college basketball can't be taken lightly.
"It's an impossibility to do what we have done already. What's the next highest streak, 9 or something like that, regionals in a row? There's a big difference between 9 and 29, right?" Auriemma said. "And you take that in stride and you say, yeah, it was great while it lasted and it's a credit to all the players that we had and all the times that you have to perform really, really well at this level."
As UConn's streak ends, the Buckeyes snapped one of their own. They started the season in a promising way with a 19-0 record and now they are heading to their first Elite Eight since 1993.