Call it the year of the shot, perhaps? Jenkins-Nat’l title, Kyrie-Game 7 NBA Finals, Luke Maye-Elite Eight and now Morgan William, a five foot five junior guard for Mississippi State, who exploded for 41 points on 13-22 shooting just a week earlier in the regional final against perennial women’s hoops power Baylor, hit a buzzer beating dagger versus the Huskies 66-64. I take my hat off to Morgan William. She is fearless and deserves all the praises and celebratory interviews with former Mississippi State QB and current 2nd year signal caller for the Dallas Cowboys, Dak Prescott, but my attention still gravitates to UConn head coach Geno Auriemma, the conductor of the symphony orchestra better known as the Lady Huskies.
Why, one might ask? It wasn’t the ESPN interviews that have been running all week or the stories about how he motivates his players, and disciplines them, or even how long they could continue the streak. It’s not a coaching philosophy or a pep talk he gave his girls. The Huskies coach caught my attention just seconds after William sunk the oppositions dream of being the winningest team in all of women’s sports—again.
When the buzzer sounded and Mississippi State’s bench started mobbing Williams, Auriemma did not sink his head in his chest, utter any curse words under his breath, or put his hands on his hips in disbelief. He charged right towards the scorers table along the baseline and did what any reigning AP coach of the year is trained to do in accepting defeat—shake hands. It came as a surprise to me that someone could show so much poise and reveal zero emotion in that moment, and I wish more sports fans took note of that moment for UConn instead of rushing to their phones to update the new crying Jordan memes.
Sportsmanship is not dead—even from a coach who frankly has probably forgotten what a loss feels like at this point. Auriemma did just what he teaches his players in times of frustration, he exhibited perfect body language. The game before his team could have potentially won its fifth straight championship and third straight undefeated season, ended in a thrilling OT buzzer beater, by an unlikely hero.
But without hesitation, Auriemma, in an instant, looked, turned and walked over to Mississippi State head coach, Vic Schaefer and said “Great job, man.” After 111 games of sweet victory and numerous awards and achievements for himself and his players, Auriemma remains a class act.
After watching the press conference two weeks ago where Auriemma detailed how bad body language is the one thing he does not tolerate from his players, it made me respect this man even more for sticking true to his word, and showing every athlete and coach watching this monumental moment in collegiate athletics that you don’t disrespect the game. You keep your composure at all times. You shake hands, look your opponent in the eye, say ‘great game,' and take the wins with the losses as they come because that’s “real life.”
I hope his calm and collective demeanor after that loss can teach every competitor out there, in whatever you do, one lesson: In life you aren’t gonna win ‘em all, but it’s the way you win and the way you lose, most importantly, that will define your legacy.
Because sometimes, out of 112 games, you may fall a bit short of your goal, you may finish 111 and 1.