PORTLAND, Ore. — In just the third week of the women’s college basketball season, six preseason top-10 teams have already lost. The Tennessee Lady Vols, in fact, have four losses. In the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend tournaments, more upsets won’t be surprising.
Coach Geno Auriemma, whose No. 3 UConn Huskies will play the Duke Blue Devils in the Phil Knight Legacy tournament Friday at 6 pm ET, says this is how things should be.
“You’re going to see that happen more and more,” Auriemma said. “Hell, that’s what everybody’s saying we need, right? It happens all the time in men’s basketball.
“What we don’t need is when that does happen to go, ‘Ah, that team’s not any good. How could they lose to that team?’ Well, damn, you can’t have it both ways. Either the favorites win all the time and there’s no parity, or the other guys win and you go, ‘Let’s celebrate those guys that won and don’t bitch about the guys that lost.’ That’s what we’re all striving for.”
The Texas Longhorns, Tennessee and the Louisville Cardinals were Nos. 3, 5 and 7 in the women’s preseason poll. They now combined have nine losses, five to teams unranked at the time. Both Texas and Tennessee fell out of Charlie Creme’s Bracketology this week, although it’s expected they will earn their way back in.
There is plenty of time for all three teams to regain ground because of the quality of schedules they play. But the losses have created a lot of early-season buzz. The 3-0 Huskies, No. 6 in the preseason poll, are coming off victories against Texas and the NC State Wolfpack, who were both in the preseason top 10.
Also in the Phil Knight Legacy tournament are the No. 9 Iowa Hawkeyes, who lost at then-unranked Kansas State last week. They meet the Oregon State Beavers at 8:30 pm ET Friday on ESPNU.
In the Phil Knight Invitational, which starts here Thursday, the No. 8 North Carolina Tar Heels meet the No. 18 Oregon Ducks (5 pm ET) and the No. 5 Iowa State Cyclones face the Michigan State Spartans (7:30 pm), with both games on ESPNU. All four of those teams are undefeated.
“I don’t know if there’s as many great teams as there used to be back in the day, but there’s certainly more good teams that are capable of beating the other good teams,” Auriemma said. “And they come from places that you wouldn’t expect in years past.”
Auriemma said the extra year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic affecting the 2020-21 season, the immediate eligibility of transfers and the constant activity of the transfer portal have impacted women’s basketball, as they have the men’s game.
“I think there’s a combination of things,” he said. “Coaching has gotten a whole hell of a lot better, and players are more confident. There’s no conceding anything or [thinking] ‘We’ve never beaten them.’ Creighton proved it last year [making the NCAA Elite Eight as a No. 10 seed.] It doesn’t matter. You’ve just got to be good, man.”
Auriemma also gave an update Wednesday on longtime UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey, who collapsed before Sunday’s Huskies game in Hartford, Connecticut. Dailey was taken to the hospital but released that afternoon.
“I think she’s on a flight tomorrow to get out here,” Auriemma said. “She stayed back just to make sure that they checked everything out. They said, ‘You’re good to go, clean bill of health.’
“We’ve stayed in touch the whole time, [her texting] with everybody on the staff and certainly the players. She hasn’t been here physically, but she’s been ‘here.'”