There were screams coming from the Embassy Suites hotel in Lincoln, Neb. late Sunday afternoon. The UConn men’s basketball team has just defeated favored Michigan State 60-54 in the regional final at Madison Square Garden and the UConn women’s basketball team did not temper their emotions one bit.
The Huskies yelled and jumped around in excitement. Soon after the commotion had ceased, they knew it was their turn. They needed to defeat Texas A&M Monday to once again make a dual Final Four run at UConn.
Led by Regional Most Outstanding Player Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, UConn took care of business with a 69-54 win at Pinnacle Bank Arena. For the fourth time in school history, both teams are headed to college basketball’s Promised Land.
“That’s awesome,’’ senior Bria Hartley said. “There’s just so much pride at UConn right now I think. All the fans, all the students and everyone’s just really rooting for us. So it’s a really good time for UConn basketball.’’
It is the fourth time in school history that both teams have reached the Final Four in the same season. It occurred previously in 2004, 2009 and 2011.
This is a feat that has been accomplished a total of 11 times since the origin of the NCAA women’s tournament in 1982. However, UConn is the only school that has done it more than once.
“It means a lot,’’ UConn athletic director Warde Manuel said. “I was told it was the fourth time that we’ve done this and it’s an amazing feeling. I can’t be prouder of both of these teams and it’s special to be a part of.’’
Duke (1999), Georgia (1983), LSU (2006), Louisville (2013), Michigan State (2005), Oklahoma (2002) and Texas (2003) have sent both teams to the Final Four once.
UConn is also the only school to win dual national championships in the same season (2004).
“It’s unbelievable,’’ Manuel said. “We take a lot of pride internally in being the only institution to ever win both in the same year.’’
Further adding to the level of success that both programs have enjoyed over the last several years, the UConn men’s (five) and women’s (12) teams have made a combined 17 Final Four appearances since the men advanced for the first time in 1999. Duke is second with eight – four by the men and four by the women.
UConn also has won a combined 10 national championships in this span, with the women winning seven (2000, 2002-04 2009, 2010, 2013) and the men winning four (1999, 2004, 2011). No other school has more than two combined in the last 15 tournaments.
“What’s happened and what’s happening I think is just nothing short of remarkable,’’ UConn women’s basketball Geno Auriemma said. “And I think the only people who probably don’t celebrate it enough are the people in Connecticut. Us. We at times take this stuff for granted that, yeah, we’re UConn and we’re supped to be there. And I like that. Don’t get me wrong. But I think every once in a while we should sit back and look back and go, `What we’ve done has been absolutely remarkable.’’
What makes this journey more special is the relationship between both teams. Just as the women were cheering for the men, the men were excited for the women, too.
Senior Stefanie Dolson said that there were text messages exchanged in the aftermath of their win over Texas A&M.
“We see each other’s practices and they work so hard in practice,’’ Dolson said. “I don’t think a lot of people expected them to get as far as they have and I think that’s why we’re so proud of them. They just play with so much heart and leave it all out on the floor. That’s exactly what we do in practice and in games, too. We were texting each other. It’s just a camaraderie between the two teams. I think it’s something pretty special that not a lot of schools have.’’
There were questions when the Big East dissolved and The American was created about the future of UConn basketball. What has happened over the past few weeks has proven that the Huskies are doing just fine.
Auriemma said in the past that UConn is in a league if its own. Both teams now stand two wins away from winning a national championship.
“UConn is just a different part of what’s going on around the country,’’ Auriemma said. “There are a lot of teams in a lot of great leagues that have never been to a Final Four. There are a lot of really good teams playing in some of the best leagues in America that have never won a national championship. So being in a great league does absolutely nothing for them. We do what we do because of who we are and not because of where we’re located.’’