After a stunning loss to St. John's over the weekend, the UConn women are now No. 4 in the country, lofty real estate the men haven't occupied since the preseason. But these are different teams with different agendas so late in the season.
Geno Auriemma's crew still has one goal in mind: a national championship. The men are hoping to qualify for the NCAA, and yes, this is a year after they were national champs. The men kept hope alive Monday when they beat Villanova on a last-second Shabazz Napier bomb, and the women will have their first shot at redemption on Tuesday when they travel to Pittsburgh.
"We have to focus," senior Tiffany Hayes said following the loss. "Coach said a loss is probably good for us because we were making mistakes in other games. He was saying it would cost us in other games and (Saturday) it happened. I think it will make us focus even more."
As we wrote Monday, in the scheme of things, the loss to St. John's doesn't mean much for the Huskies. They're still well-positioned to win the Big East Tournament if they play well, and earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tourney. Still, that doesn't mean that Auriemma didn't practice his team hard in the days since the loss, nor does it mean that the Panthers, the conference's worst team, shouldn't be concerned about what they could be in for Tuesday night.
But perhaps there is a bigger takeaway from what happened over the weekend. It's something Auriemma spoke to recently: the perception that there were only a handful of "elite" programs in women's college basketball.
"If you watched us play Oklahoma, and saw what happened to Notre Dame last week [losing to West Virginia at home], you saw two of the four teams people are talking about looking pretty mortal," Auriemma said according to the Hartford Courant. "I don't think the perception that no one can beat [Notre Dame, UConn, Baylor and Stanford] is correct.
"There is an incredible difference, I would admit. But everybody has some issues. The first thing for upsets to happen in the tournament is that people need to learn how to beat teams in the regular season they've never beaten before, or teams they aren't supposed to beat.
"Maybe some of the mystique has worn off with the teams that have beaten people just because of the uniforms they wear. Now it's just, let's play the game and see what happens. And I think that is very good."
Parity is almost always a good thing, and that certainly holds for women's basketball. That said, we fully expect Auriemma's club to be fully prepared not only for Pitt, but for Marquette and Notre Dame.