LINCOLN, Neb. -- Just as we assume Meryl Streep never has trouble getting in character, we tend to think Connecticut's women's basketball team doesn't really have to "grind" in the sports sense of the word. You know, the extra effort you have to put into doing something when you don't have your best stuff, when things seem clunky and off-kilter.
There are so many times the Huskies make precision on court seem automatic, you can be surprised when that doesn't happen. A far bigger surprise, though, would be if they didn't adjust accordingly to being less than their spectacular selves.
"We can grind it out," UConn guard Moriah Jefferson said after the defending national champs' 70-51 victory over BYU on Saturday in the Lincoln Regional semifinals. "The thing people don't see is practice. Because there, every day is a struggle. We have to grind and grind."
OK, but UConn's "grind" is still more glamorous than your average grind. To say the top-seeded Huskies survived a scare from the No. 12 seed Cougars would be pushing it too far, even if UConn did lead by just one point, 30-29, at halftime.
It was more like the Huskies proved to themselves how scare-proof they are in this undefeated season. At halftime, they took a calm look at what had gone wrong in the first half. Then they steadily seized control early in the second half, as the grind eventually became more of the standard glide.
Of course, not all UConn watchers will feel this way. They will point to the first half and be worried by an overwhelmingly favored team that missed shots it normally makes and seemed flustered by the big shots that BYU was hitting. They will dread the potential gloom and doom if the Huskies play like that against No. 3 seed Texas A&M, UConn's foe in Monday's regional championship game (ESPN, 9:30 p.m. ET). The Aggies won Saturday's second semifinal here 84-65 over DePaul.
As in the first game, Texas A&M's victory was by 19 points. But the two games "felt" different, despite the identical margin of victory. The Aggies appeared in control pretty much the entire time in the nightcap. UConn was frustrated just enough in the first half to put some fleeting demons in coach Geno Auriemma's head.
"I thought, 'How in the hell am I going to answer these damn questions these guys [are] going to ask me after the game?'" Auriemma said wryly of an interrogation that didn't end up happening.
But had Auriemma actually wound up in that position, it would have been an even bigger upset than last year's Sweet 16 shocker, when Louisville stunned Baylor. However, things never got anywhere near that tense Saturday. In the second half, the BYU carriage became a pumpkin, thanks in part to the Huskies' just-enough-improved shooting in the final 20 minutes and a better showing on defense.
What if it had been regional host and No. 4 seed Nebraska taking on the Huskies? Of course, we'll never know, since Nebraska fell in the second round and didn't get to test its mettle against UConn.
Yet even without the beloved hometown team here at Pinnacle Bank Arena, the Huskers fans showed up in admirable numbers. The attendance was 9,585, and they got to see UConn eventually go into beast mode.
"They are bigger and stronger," BYU coach Jeff Judkins said of the Huskies. "And they just ended up wearing us down."