The season has not ended the way that the UConn women’s basketball team would have liked the past two years. Consecutive losses to Notre Dame in the national semifinals have denied the Huskies a chance to earn for an NCAA record-tying eighth national championship.
Former UConn All-American and current Hartford coach Jennifer Rizzotti joked this week that it has been three years since the program has celebrated a national championship. She may look at the current void in an off-beat manner, but there are many fans that do not.
The Huskies, themselves, expect to annually win the national championship too. With this in mind, UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey developed a mantra for this season during the preseason. Simply put, it is “Chasing 8.’’
“We were trying to come with something for the locker room,’’ Dailey said. “And between (assistant coach) Shea (Ralph), (assistant coach) Marisa (Moseley) and I, we were talking and I think I may have come up with the title just as a reminder … We’re just not big on a lot of stuff. Talking about it is not what we want to do, but having that as a reminder when you walk out to the lounge every day and you see it it’s a good reminder to know what the goal is.’’
“Chasing 8’’ is etched on a photo of the Huskies running side by side on the court at Gampel Pavilion. “Chasing’’ is above the players; “8’’ is below.
The photo was taken in early September during team photo day. Dailey joked that getting the picture right probably took longer than the season.
The Huskies cannot miss the picture, which is hanging on a wall, each time they exit the lounge.
“It definitely means a lot,’’ UConn junior Bria Hartley said. “I remember when we were taking the picture at the beginning of the year. That national championship is something that we’ve been striving for, particularly like me and Stefanie (Dolson) and Kelly (Faris) and everyone that’s been here the last two years. We’ve been pretty close. We didn’t make it to the national championship game, but we made it to the Final Four the last two years. And I think we’re just trying to go out there and prove that we can win because both of those years we were there we felt like we could win a national championship.’’
UConn will look to avenge the losses to Notre Dame and end a run of seven losses in eight games in the series overall Sunday night in the national semifinals at New Orleans Arena (8:30; ESPN).
Among their first 13 appearances in the Final Four, this is the first time that the Huskies have made two trips without winning a national championship. They lost in the national semifinals in 1991, 1996, 2001 and 2008 and won the national championship in their return trip in 1995, 2000, 2002 and 2009.
“We’re chasing eight. It’s exactly that,’’ Dolson said. “Every year we strive to win the national championship and we have goals set each year. They’ve won seven here at Connecticut, the coaches. For us, this team, this year we want that eighth one. We want to be a part of this dynasty and this program.’’
Dailey cautioned not to read deeply into the “Chasing 8’’ photo. She thought it was appropriate for this team and “it was just a way to tie it all in together.’’
The Huskies have taken the subtle reminder to heart this season. It is something tangible and something to help them keep their eye on the prize.
With two wins in New Orleans over the next four days, UConn will have effectively completed its chase.
“That picture will definitely be down by the time I got back in the locker room if we lose,’’ UConn sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said. “Yeah, definitely, we want to make sure that we live up to that poster and make sure that it wasn’t put up for nothing.’’