Women's Final Four: Ranking the UConn upset among the best of sports history
All together now, do you believe in mirac . . .
Hold it. That’s already been taken. But it fits the night the mighty Connecticut women went down, their 111-game winning streak t-boned by a Mississippi State team that lost by 60 points the last time they met. Miracle, and nothing but.
We’ve gasped about what happened Friday night in the women’s Final Four. We’ve picked our jaws off the floor after Morgan William buried that shot at the buzzer. Now we have to figure out where this rates among the greatest upsets in college basketball tournament history, either gender. And for that matter, in all team sports. Because it has to be up there, doesn’t it?
Keep in mind what we’re dealing with here. A Connecticut team that had not lost in 865 days, that was 36-0 this season with an average winning margin of 33.3 points, that had not dropped an NCAA Tournament game since 2012 and that met Mississippi State only 12 months before. Final score: 98-38.
These Bulldogs came in 33-4, so they didn’t just drop from the sky, but they did lose three of their last five games before the NCAA Tournament. That’s more than UConn had lost in its previous 162 games.
So we begin. The short list of deepest shocks ever in the women’s tournament would include No. 16 seed Harvard over No. 1 seed Stanford in 1998, the only time that has happened with the men or the women. P.S. Stanford lost two starters to knee injuries that very week.
Also, 2009, when Tennessee – 42-0 in the first and second rounds all-time – was shellacked 71-55 by Ball State, playing in its first NCAA Tournament game in history. But the Vols were flawed and had 10 losses. Past history made it seem more of an upset than it was.
And maybe 1997, when 33-0 UConn was beaten in the Final Four by 10-loss Tennessee.
But still, the pertinent fact: 111 victories in a row. Nope, this is the biggest upset in the history of women’s college basketball. Easy.
So go to the men. There’s Duke over UNLV in 1991, the Rebels coming in 34-0 – only two of the games were decided by single digits – and a 45-game winning streak. Plus, one year removed from crushing the Blue Devils in the championship game 103-73.
There’s 10-loss North Carolina State dunking on Houston in the last second in 1983. No. 8 seed Villanova missing one shot in the second half to stun Georgetown in 1985. UCLA’s streak of seven national consecutive championships ending against North Carolina State in 1974.
But Houston already had two defeats. UCLA had three. They were not perfect, thus could not be considered invulnerable. Villanova was a true Cinderella but had played Georgetown twice during the season and lost by only two and seven points. So what made beating the Hoyas all that impossible?
Go to other sports. The wild-card New York Giants stopping the unbeaten New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. The AFL New York Jets upending the old order in pro football in Super Bowl III by beating a Baltimore Colts team that had won 10 NFL games in a row, with four shutouts.
The New York Mets going from the laughingstock of baseball to beating the regal Baltimore Orioles in five games in the 1969 World Series. The 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates finishing off the New York Yankees in seven games in the 1960 World Series, despite being outscored 55-27. Any of the flock of No. 8 seeds taking out No. 1 seeds in the NBA playoffs.
BULLDOGS WIN!!!!! THE STREAK IS SNAPPED!!!!!!— MSU W. Basketball (@HailStateWBK) April 1, 2017
And then there is Miracle on Ice. The 1980 Soviet Union hockey team was considered impregnable, just like Connecticut. The Americans were considered hopelessly out of their league, just like Mississippi State. All logic turned out irrelevant, just like Friday.
Funny thing. Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer showed his team the movie “Miracle” last year, as motivation before the UConn game. The Bulldogs went out and lost by 60.
“This year, I wasn’t showing “Miracle,” he said at his post-game press conference. “We weren’t watching any movies. I wasn’t talking about the Philistine slaying the giant, although it was in the back of mind. Last year, I’m showing `Miracle.’ This year, now, I’m having to live it.”
This is a teams-only and postseason-only list. So never mind Buster Douglas over Mike Tyson, or Chaminade over No. 1 Virginia in Hawaii in men’s basketball, or Appalachian State football over Michigan in the Big House, or Rulon Gardner outwrestling Russian Aleksandr Karelin in the Olympics, or Man o’ War upset by a horse named Upset.
Who makes the elite of the elite in stunners? The starting five could include:
The Jets over the Colts, because it transformed pro football.
The Giants over the Patriots, because it denied Tom Brady and Bill Belichick history, and since when do they get denied of anything?
Duke over UNLV, because it was really hard to believe when it was happening.
The USA hockey team. Because it is a folk tale that lives forever.
And . . . take a bow Mississippi State. All the Bulldogs had to do was overcome 111 wins in a row, a 36-0 record, the memory of 96-36, the aura of a supposedly unmatchable, untouchable, unbeatable and historic empire. And they did. Suddenly, women's basketball was not a solo act. It all changed in one night.
Who could top that? Except for Hickory from “Hoosiers,” of course. No. 1 in perpetuity.
But this was close. Morgan William, ever heard of Jimmy Chitwood?