UConn ... 'simply' the best

People like to make sports seem more complicated than they are. Watching UConn beat Tennessee's Lady Vols in the NCAA women's basketball title game last night, the underlying cause was painfully simple: UConn played well ... Tennessee didn't.

The Big Orange probably had more talent. Certainly, it had more size and athleticism (hence a 40-22 advantage on the backboards). The Lady Vols definitely had more experience. They even had something of a homefloor advantage at The Georgia Dome in Atlanta. But all of these things take a backseat to execution.

The Huskies ran their offense skillfully and usually generated good shots. The fact they hit 51 percent from the floor underscores the point. The Lady Vols got some good looks but also jacked up some off-balance shots that Michael Jordan couldn't make in his prime.

Perhaps UConn's defense was that good. Perhaps UT's execution was that bad. Either way, UT's offense lacked poise and consistency, and that was crucial.

Sometimes, a few big plays can offset mediocre execution. But it was the Huskies who made all of the clutch plays on this night. Diana Taurasi's 3-pointer that broke a 30-all tie just before halftime was huge. And, whenever UT made a second-half run, UConn always came up with a clutch basket or a big stop to halt the surge.

The Lady Vol-Huskie game reminded me a lot of the Tennessee-Florida football games during the 1990s. Phil Fulmer's teams usually had better talent but Steve Spurrier's teams usually played better. Each time the Gators would find a way to win, UT fans would scratch their heads and say, ''Why can't we beat those guys?''

Again, the answer is simple: An athletic contest is confined to one brief segment of time -- usually three or four hours. A rich tradition, heralded athletes, a deep bench, a high-profile coach and a vocal home crowd are all nice attributes to have on your side. But the outcome still boils down to who plays best during that three-to-four hour window of opportunity.

UConn played well ... Tennessee didn't.

Did Geno Auriemma outcoach Pat Summitt? Maybe. Did Geno do a better job preparing his team than Pat? Maybe. Did Geno get inside Pat's head with his pre-game remarks? Maybe. Did the Lady Vols play tentatively because they have a mental block about facing the Huskies? Maybe.

Those are questions Summitt will ponder countless times between now and next season. But the bottom line remains the same: Her team didn't play well enough to win.


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