David Ramsey: Kylee Shook, Oliana Squires embark on holy crusade to end UConn's dominance of women's basketball
Oliana Squires grew up in Colorado Springs enjoying a long-running TV show. Most winters, she watched the Connecticut women's basketball team pulverize the rest of America.
"Growing up, I was a UConn fan," Squires said. "I was always watching them just dominate."
Here's the problem: This dominance is harmful to the women's game, which is growing and thriving. It could grow and thrive much faster without UConn's Huskies dominating almost all attention while seizing title after title.
UConn has won 10 national titles in this century. I'm hoping, without much reason, the number remains stalled at 10 in 2017. Please, basketball gods, let another team rule America.
Squires is part of the campaign to topple the Huskies. The former smooth, clutch star at Sand Creek High is an emerging force at Montana State. The 14th-seeded Bobcats will play Washington Saturday in the NCAA Tournament. Squires, a freshman, averaged 6.6 points and 2.2 rebounds this season.
Kylee Shook, Squires high school rival, is part of this holy crusade, too. Shook led Mesa Ridge to a state title as a sophomore who barely shot the ball. She's now a versatile 6-foot-4 freshman forward for Louisville. She averaged 5 points, 3.3 rebounds and shot 39 percent from 3-point range for the 4th-seeded Cardinals, who will play Chattanooga Saturday.
Jeff Walz coaches Louisville and Shook. He's an expert in the effort to halt the UConn dynasty. Walz and his Cardinals lost in the 2009 and 2013 finals to Geno Auriemma and UConn.
"We have a wonderful group of players," Walz said in a phone conversation.
Still, he struggles to persuade his players to "jump to the ball" on every defensive possession and to box out every time a shot is taken.
When Walz watches UConn, he notices the Huskies wide collection of superlative talent, but he's more impressed by their relentless discipline and effort. The Huskies play a stalking brand of defense and box out for rebounds without exception.
"It doesn't matter what the score is," Walz said. "They never play to the scoreboard. That's what is so impressive to me. I always give the utmost respect to Geno for what he has done. It's not easy. They have a huge target on their back. Everyone is coming for them."
Shook could eventually help the Cardinals do more than merely come after the Huskies. Shook could help Louisville pass the too-mighty Huskies.
She ranked among the nation's top 20 high school prospects, but only hinted at her potential at Mesa Ridge. The hinting continues at Louisville. She can block shots and score from point-blank range. She can also drop 3s and dribble through a crowd. Hers is an exceedingly rare blend of skills.
"She has the potential to be special," Walz said. "That's one thing that I've talked to her about. I want her to play with a bit more swagger. I want her to try to take some things over and dominate.
"It's taking some time. She's a little reserved, but she wants to be good."
Walz paused to correct himself.
"She wants to be great. She knows that I'm challenging her to be great, and we're not going to settle for anything less."
UConn will almost certainly win the title again this season, continuing a depressing string of repetitive annihilation. The Huskies have won the last four title games, all snoozers, by an average of 23.25 points.
Auriemma, a genius/grump, bellows whenever anyone dares suggest his reign harms the game. He wonders if anyone complained when UCLA and the Boston Celtics dominated the men's side of the game in the 1960s and '70s.
Well, Geno, somebody should have complained. UCLA and Celtic dominance revealed a sport that needed to mature. After the men's game grew up, boring domination became rare instead of the norm.
Squires wants to rule America along with her Montana State teammates, but she's not bothered by the UConn dynasty.
"If they earn it, then they deserve it," she said.
That's true, Oliana. The Huskies deserve all their victories and titles.
But fans of the women's game deserve a better TV show. Repeats get old, quick.