March Madness jacked up the intensity as second round play began on Saturday. There will be a new men’s basketball champion crowned this year as Villanova fell to Wisconsin. Purdue blew a nineteen point second half lead as Iowa State charged ahead before the Boilermakers made enough plays down the stretch to pull out the victory to advance.
Then there was “the kid” from Northwestern, who epitomized the emotions of March Madness. National TV cameras zoomed in on a distraught boy in the stands, sobbing and pleading while his Wildcats were getting trounced by Gonzaga throughout much of the contest. As Northwestern rallied late in the second half, jubilation set in as he jumped up and down. In the end he was reduced to tears as top seeded Gonzaga advanced to the Sweet 16. I bet he’ll have a hard time living that performance down at school come Monday morning. Oh by the way, the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team won another game. Ho-Hum!
UConn’s 116-55 rout over Albany, who if you remember a week ago beat Maine to win their fifth straight America East championship, marked their 108th consecutive victory. It’s a streak that has dated back to November 17th, 2014, when the Lady Huskies dropped an overtime decision at Stanford. Success has become so common in Storrs, Connecticut that for most who follow women’s basketball either casually or intently, winning has become the default setting.
For those inside the program, the feeling is otherwise. While fans see the results on the court, they don’t witness the process. You don’t achieve the kind of dominance that UConn has obtained by taking outcomes for granted. Think about this: if it was so easy to produce the kind of success Connecticut has achieved, why aren’t other programs able to do it? As head coach Geno Auriemma points out, other programs have thirteen scholarships just like we do. There is not an inherent advantage built in by being UConn. In reality, as far as location is concerned, there are probably more interesting places to spend four years than Storrs, Connecticut.
Yes, UConn has been able to amass talent over the year but it goes beyond that. There has been a culture which has been established which is like no other. How do I know this? It is because they win like no other. That culture starts at the top with the leadership of head coach Geno Auriemma. Auriemma on the surface seems like the brash, arrogant guy who you just want to go out and beat. What on the cover may appear to be arrogance is a supreme confidence in who he is and what he is doing.
This belief filters down to every member of the program. When ESPN was promoting the women’s tournament a year ago, Auriemma exclaimed in the promo “we don’t want to survive and advance, we want to conquer and dominate”. Such is the mindset and dominate they do.
Speaking of the UConn culture, in a recent ESPN interview with Auriemma, he spoke of recruiting to the culture. If a player is asking what their role is going to be with the program, he isn’t interested. He wants players who will come, buy in, and trust in the process.
I tend to watch UConn very differently than I do other teams. When I turn on one of their games, it’s not so much to watch a competitive contest, more than likely I will not see one. During the streak, only two games have been decided by single digits. You see, UConn not only competes against the opponent but the standard they set for themselves. Can UConn on this day live up to that standard? On the vast majority of occasions, the answer is yes.
So what is the standard? They play with a consistent tenacity others simply don’t match. It doesn’t matter if they are up fifty against the cellar dweller of the conference, if there is a lose ball they are on the floor. This is why they are prepared to play at a high level against a top level team. They don’t cheat the process, they are the same team regardless of the opponent.
There are so many life lessons to be learned and so many ways this team can inspire us. Imagine what our lives would be like if we embodied the ideals and principles of this program. What if we lived everyday to our fullest potential, treating every activity with drive and urgency? In business, what if we filled our organization with people who held these ideals of excellence? What if we surrounded ourselves with those who were more concerned with the end results than what was in their best interests? I think if we were completely honest with ourselves, very few of us achieve the level of success with whatever we do with our lives as they do.
Sometimes the greatest obstacle to success is overcoming human nature. The natural tendency of humans is to settle, to fall short of our best. Laziness and complacency take root. Let this team be a shining example to all what hard work, a winning culture, and holding each other as well as self to high standards can produce.