DALLAS — Napheesa Collier sat on a folding table in the University of Connecticut locker room, her hands idle in her lap. She stared straight ahead, still stunned.
Is this what losing feels like? How was she supposed to know?
For Collier and four of her fellow UConn Huskies teammates, they didn’t know. This was all brand new.
Before Friday night’s stunning 66-64 overtime loss to Mississippi State in the national semifinal, the Huskies had won 111 consecutive games. That’s two undefeated regular seasons. Two pristine runs through the NCAA Tournament. The last time UConn lost, on Nov. 17, 2014, Collier and fellow sophomore Katie Lou Samuelson were still in high school.
When UConn graduated its three best players after last season, this new generation of Huskies inherited a championship legacy, even if their head coach, Geno Auriemma, didn’t believe that had earned it yet. But the winning continued, to 90 games, then 100, and finally 111 as the Huskies returned to the Final Four for the 10th consecutive year.
So many of those 111 wins came easy, that even when things got hard Friday night against Mississippi State — and that happened often, as they fell behind by 16 in the first quarter, and by eight at halftime, and were tied at the end of the third and fourth quarters — the Huskies believed they’d pull out of it and win, because they always did.
But then Morgan William’s jump shot beat the overtime buzzer, the Bulldogs dogpiled on the court at the American Airlines Center, and the Huskies trudged to the locker room in stunned silence. A loss had to happen sometime, but no one believed it would happen here.