John Wooden would be proud. He would be proud of what the UConn Huskies have accomplished, what they accomplished Tuesday night at Bankers Life, beating Syracuse 82-51, winning their fourth straight national title and the program's – and coach Geno Auriemma's – 11th national title. He would be proud that they just finished off their sixth undefeated season, dominating the opposition the way Wooden's old Bruins used to dominate.
And having known Wooden a little bit, knowing his great appreciation and admiration for the women's game, my guess is he would be willing to step aside and acknowledge the following:
Auriemma and Connecticut are the greatest college basketball dynasty of all time. Men, women, aliens…it doesn't matter. The greatest.
You need numbers? UCLA won 11 titles, 10 of them under Wooden. This is UConn's 11th and Auriemma's 11th. Consider, the Huskies have won the title 11 of the 34 times it's been played. Eleven of 34. They are, quite simply, the surest thing in all of sports.
When it was over and the confetti fell, Auriemma stood on the victory platform and was asked by ESPN's Holly Rowe what it meant to him to surpass the legendary Wooden.
"The first thing I thought about (Monday) night, when you told me you would ask me that question if we won, was last night, there were something like 20-some of my former players, and we were all in one room and I just remember taking a step back and looking at all of them and thinking, 'This is just an unbelievable scene'," Auriemma said. "And they're all here today. And what those 11 titles mean to me is how many great players I've had a chance to coach and how many great people have come through the program.
"It doesn't matter whose name I'm above, whose name I'm under or next to, as long as I have those names and those players in my memory, I'm good."
Time after time, UConn broke the Syracuse trap, moved the ball up the floor with alacrity, finished things off at the rim. Rinse and repeat. The Orange didn't completely give in, going on a 16-0 run in the third quarter that helped them pull within 17 points after the Huskies ran out to a 33-point lead. That, however, didn't last long. UConn regained its composure, started eviscerating the press once again and finished the job like they have so many times before.
There's a reason why UConn has led the nation in offense and defense the last two seasons, why nobody has come within single digits of them all year. They are just that much better than everybody else. The defense was especially stifling, denying the ball, switching everything, defending the rim. It was a clinic against the fourth-seeded Orange. The Huskies are not a team; they are a machine.
One we should celebrate.
Greatness, in the end, is never boring.
And as for all the complaints that UConn is too good, too great, that it hurts the women's game…get over yourself. This has been overlooked: The other three teams in this Final Four were first-time participants. That speaks well to the growth of the game.
"We all talk about the parity," Auriemma said this week. "Look at men's basketball. You know what caused parity? Guys leaving for the NBA…So the fact that players can stay for four years makes it hard for people to break through (in the women's game)."
Auriemma made the point that many years ago, there might be 10 stud prospects, and if you had two of them, you dominated. With the explosion of the women's game – and all of women's sports – the number of top prep prospects has grown dramatically. Now the talent is more dispersed, but enough of those high-level players end up in Storrs, and they end up playing for one of the greatest, if not the greatest, college basketball in the men's or women's game's history.
"…I really do think from a historical perspective, what the UCLA men were doing in the late '60's, early 70's is where we're at today," Auriemma said. "I mean, this NCAA Tournament didn't start until 1982. So we're really, really young in our history. So we're probably where they were."
They're not where the Bruins were; they've surpassed where the Bruins were.
"Well, I don't know if I'm in John Wooden territory," Auriemma said earlier in the tournament. "But when I was a kid, I was a great admirer of the UCLA basketball program, no question about it. Tremendous admirer. Like, I met (former UCLA guard) Gail Goodrich and I got a chance to play golf with him. He lives in Connecticut…I just stared at him the whole 18 holes. Like, I'm playing golf with Gail Goodrich!
"…But when I was a kid, we used to have these discussions when I was in high school. Would you rather play for UCLA and sit on the bench or would you rather play 40 minutes someplace else and know you're never going to win a national championship. And it was an interesting discussion.
"I knew every one of their players. I watched them as much as I could. I read everything about them. Obviously, I didn't know I'd be sitting here answering this question about UCLA. I just loved it. I loved everything about them. I loved the way they played."
Auriemma met Wooden one time, but when Wooden later wrote a piece for Sports Illustrated, he said he never crossed paths with Auriemma.
"I don't think I made a big impression on him, let's put it that way," Auriemma said, chuckling.
The funny thing is, Wooden absolutely loved the women's game. I had a chance to speak with him in Denver once, and Wooden spoke glowingly of the purity of the women's game, how he enjoyed it even more than the men's game.
He would have loved this UConn team – all the UConn teams, actually. They play the game the right way. They sublimate their egos for the greater good. The play for one another, not for the scouts, not for numbers. That's about Auriemma. And that's about these players, the most prominent being the four-time Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four, Breanna Stewart. All the country's best player did was score 24 points, grab 10 rebounds, add six assists and block two shots.
Veni, vidi, vici.
Those are the words Auriemma has used this season to keep his players' eyes on the larger goal. It's a Latin phrase courtesy of Roman emperor Julius Caesar, which he used in a letter to the Senate after a swift and successful Roman campaign at the Battle of Zela. "We came, we saw, we conquered."
Perfect season, perfect team, perfect ending.
Move aside, Wizard of Westwood. The Sorcerer of Storrs has taken your place.