NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The basketball was crisp and beautiful.
The spacing, the backdoor cuts, the handoffs, the lob passes for easy layups -- spectacular, all of it. The Connecticut Huskies were like one of those computer chess games, but programmed instead with X's and O's, capable of wickedly outsmarting and outplaying every other collection of basketball players. Including the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. On Tuesday night, the Huskies shot 46.6 percent from the field with 25 assists on 34 field goals en route to an easy 79-58 victory in the national title game.
They outrebounded the Fighting Irish 54-31 and outscored them in the paint 52-22.
Afterward, Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw shook the hand of UConn coach Geno Auriemma, offering him a few words. "I said something like, 'I thought we were playing the Miami Heat for a while -- you guys are just that good,'" McGraw said. "I thought they were just missing LeBron. That was the only thing they were missing."
Millions of people tuned in to watch the two best teams in women's college basketball, both unbeaten through 76 combined games, play for all the marbles. An epic showdown, the greatest women's basketball game ever played, one for the ages. It was supposed to be all of that. But it ended up being one thing: a clinic, put on by the Huskies, the outcome obvious well before the buzzer. Notre Dame was the second-best team this season -- by a long shot. But still, McGraw wasn't being entirely hyperbolic with the Miami Heat comparison; UConn was playing in a different league.
And therein lies a conundrum facing women's college basketball. One of the sport's biggest assets, UConn, also routinely clobbers opponents and produces games that are duds. This spectacular dominance will likely continue, as reigning AP Player of the Year Breanna Stewart is only a sophomore and has her sights set on winning two more national titles before her eligibility runs out.
"I think the final score probably, maybe, if that had been different, maybe it could have been even better for women's basketball," Auriemma said of the much-anticipated title game. "Notre Dame is the best team we played all year. No one else is even close -- that was an unbelievable team we played."
An unbelievable team -- which lost by 21 points.
The Huskies are a household name, with a fan base that fills arenas. Auriemma is a celebrity, and his teams play beautiful basketball the way it's meant to be played. But the games are rarely competitive. This season, UConn beat teams by an average of 34.6 points. Connecticut is 9-0 in national title games and has a 72-7 record in the NCAA tournament since 2000. And after Tuesday's game, Notre Dame -- itself one of the best teams in history -- looked and sounded like kids who had been chased off the playground. "It's hard right now to remember what a great season this was," McGraw said. "Connecticut just overpowered us. They killed us."
"We just came out undermanned," said senior guard Kayla McBride, whose team was without injured star center Natalie Achonwa. "I don't think anything could have changed that. We weren't playing the normal way we've been playing the past 37 games. I think that's what made it look so bad."
And then a few minutes later, from McGraw again: "We had no answer for anything they did."
For example, there was a possession in which the Huskies whipped the ball around from one to another, as if trying to make imaginary triangles, then finished with a sharp pass to a cutter for an easy bucket. Everyone inside Bridgestone Arena could appreciate the execution. And, unfortunately, they could also predict the game's result. Maybe some folks in attendance convinced themselves this time would be different, that Notre Dame would find some magical gear never before seen. But as the score turned lopsided early in the second half, the same feeling crept in:
Here we go again. Another blowout.
Casual fans watch women's basketball only at its biggest moments. Tuesday night was one of those moments. And it was a great one -- until it wasn't anymore. The lack of tension, the game unraveling like yarn in the final 15 minutes, nothing hanging in the balance -- this is what happens, no matter who the Huskies are playing.
Connecticut has won its ninth national championship in program history, pulling ahead of Tennessee, which has eight. Since 2000, the Huskies have won eight titles.
UConn needs some competition again.