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Silver Lining: UConn Will Be Back

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Geno Auriemma walks off the court after UConn's loss to Notre Dame in Denver.

    With 11 seconds go to in regulation and the Huskies leading the Fighting Irish by two points, we had already in our mind written the lead to the inevitable "UConn is headed to the NCAA Tournament Championship" post: "It's the highest compliment to say that a player looks like they learned the game growing up in Indiana where basketball truly is a religion. After Kelly Faris' performance in the closing minutes of the Huskies' Final Four matchup with the Fighting Irish, it should go without saying that she's from Indiana where she helped lead her high school to four straight state titles."

    And while the sentiment still holds -- Faris was amazing during those final seconds, including a huge steal and four straight free throws -- Notre Dame's cadre of standouts did what they've done to UConn on three other occasions this year, first tying the score with seconds left in regulation and then pulling away in overtime.

    It's a bitter defeat for UConn, a team used to administering the beating not being on the receiving end. And it's particularly tough for the team's lone senior, Tiffany Hayes. After scoring 22 points against Kentucky in the Elite 8, Hayes struggled in the Huskies' biggest game. She'll be unfairly criticized for it -- it's become a meme during her career, not showing up when the spotlight is brightest -- although she's not the reason UConn lost. Of course, none of that matters now. The season's over and for the second year in a row, it comes at the hands of the Irish in the Final Four.

    "We put ourselves in a position to win the game," coach Geno Auriemma said after the game. "The last two minutes, minute and a half of regulation, were pretty amazing. As most games do, it turned on one great play by a great player."

    "In overtime, we didn't have enough. We took a chance on making it difficult, but Mallory made two huge shots. That's who we wanted to take the shots and ... she made them."

    Not having enough refers to playing at 5,000 feet above sea level in Denver. Both teams were gassed long before the game went to overtime. By that point, the final score was decided by sheer will and a little bit of luck. For UConn, they were short on both. Despite the defeat, which will gnaw at Auriemma all offseason given the opponent and the number of times they had his team's number in 2012-12, there were bright spots Sunday night.

    Center Stefanie Dolson was the best player on the court. She spent much of the second half next to Auriemma after picking up her fourth foul, but she ended the night with 20 points, nine rebounds and four blocks.

    And while the pain of losing makes it too soon to look for silver linings, the Huskies will be fine going forward. Kiah Stokes looks more and more comfortable, Dolson and Bria Hartley are superstars in the making -- as is Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis -- and Auriemma's incoming recruiting class is the nation's best. It includes Breanna Stewart, who Auriemma has already said has the potential to be the best player to ever come through Storrs. So feel sorry for the Huskies today because tomorrow they'll begin preparations for next season.

    "[Auriemma] thinks we'll be back here next year," Faris said after the loss.

    And so do a lot of other people.