2013 NCAA championship game celebrates the greatness of the Big East

You’ll excuse fans of the Big East conference if they are feeling nostalgic this week, flashing back to 2009.

Louisville “crashed the party” to earn a spot in the women’s national championship game. No, not this year’s Cardinals, the 2009 version.

Led by All-American Angel McCoughtry, in the regional semifinals, Louisville knocked off Baylor (yes, Baylor) before upsetting top-seeded Maryland to reach the Final Four. There, the Cardinals upset top seeded Oklahoma to move into the national championship.

In the finals, they ran into their Big East rival, number one-seeded University of Connecticut, who had defeated their opponents in the tournament by an average of 23 points per game.

The championship game was no different for the Huskies, as they defeated Louisville by 22 points, 76-54, earning Geno Auriemma his sixth championship. Tina Charles was the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.

While the situation may be similar to 2009, a Louisville versus Connecticut championship game, a lot is different as well.

The similarities begin with Jeff Walz, the head coach of Louisville, who continues to show he is a master of both pre-game strategy and in-game adjustments. He has perhaps no bigger fan than Auriemma, his Tuesday night opponent. He will need to continue to push all the right buttons for the Cardinals to win the championship.

UConn is still a juggernaut, one of the top programs in the country, a potential national champion every year. In 2009, it was Tina Charles, Maya Moore and Renee Montgomery leading the charge; in 2013 it’s Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Stefanie Dolson, and Breanna Stewart. Only the names are different.

The biggest difference is the Big East conference, the dominant conference in many ways for many years in women’s college basketball, will no longer have either of these schools as members come July 1st.

The Big East will be around, and the record book may show eight championships in women’s basketball, but they all belong to former members UConn and Notre Dame. It will now consist of ten schools with not a single national championship among them in women’s basketball: Villanova, DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall, and newcomers Xavier, Butler, and Creighton.

The “American Athletic Conference,” a new conference with no history, will have the defending champion next season in women’s basketball. Think about that for a minute. No record book, no past, and a whole lot of new schools without a great deal of NCAA tournament winning tradition, except for one-year member Louisville, and Connecticut. Rutgers, Temple and South Florida have won some tournament games, but Central Florida, Memphis, Houston, Cincinnati, and Southern Methodist will be the balance of the conference, and with no disrespect to the respective schools, that is just not the same.

The rivalries and matchups that made the Big East one of the most watched conferences have ended. No more Connecticut versus Notre Dame, who will join the Atlantic Coast Conference next season, along with Pittsburgh and Syracuse. Friends Auriemma and Harry Perretta of Villanova will no longer face off, nor will Auriemma and his USA Basketball assistant coach Doug Bruno of DePaul. Rutgers versus St. John’s was a virtual border war that will no longer exist on the court. That’s just the beginning; there are many more.

So, when the ball goes up on Tuesday night, and Connecticut and Louisville begin their final quest for the title, enjoy not only what it is, but what it was. For the Big East conference, it is a bittersweet farewell, one that celebrates its glory, while lamenting what might have been.

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