There was a moment late in Monday's 88-86 overtime loss at Stanford when UConn coach Geno Auriemma had this pragmatic "OK, so this is how it is," expression on his face.
It wasn't anything like a look of despair that his Huskies' 47-game winning streak might be about to end, or that maybe they weren't going to have yet another perfect season. Nope, it was, "I can't wait to get home and show these jokers what they just did on that play. And then show it to them again. And again. And again."
The point here is not to kill the buzz from Stanford's victory. Good grief, no. Apologies to UConn, but it was exactly what women's hoops needed this November, and Stanford deserves a lot of credit for pulling it off.
However, as much as it helped the Cardinal ("There IS life after the Ogwumikes!") and all those fans nationwide who suffer from the seasonal disorder of UConn Fatigue Syndrome, guess what? The Stanford-UConn result almost certainly helped the Huskies, also.
It gave Auriemma and his staff several video clips to use as teachable moments. It gave the UConn players a mini-dose of adversity -- the competitive equivalent of a flu shot -- perhaps to inoculate them against future upset bids. And it reminded all of UConn Nation -- coaches, players, former players, fans -- just how incredibly impressive every single one of the program's five perfect seasons have been.
The coaches' poll, which came out Tuesday, reflected Monday's Stanford upset win, bumping the Cardinal to No. 1, followed by Notre Dame, South Carolina and UConn. We'll have to wait to see what the media poll -- which is voted on every Sunday -- will look like next week. Might the Gamecocks, No. 2 now in the media poll, move up to No. 1? Perhaps.
South Carolina doesn't have an especially challenging nonconference schedule in November and December. But the Gamecocks could face Syracuse in the Junkanoo Jam later this month in the Bahamas. And they will play at Duke on Dec. 7. The Gamecocks' final -- and biggest nonconference -- game will be Feb. 9 at UConn.
As for Stanford, the Cardinal will face Texas this week, North Carolina in a tournament in Hawaii on Nov. 28, and Tennessee in Knoxville in December.
Notre Dame has upcoming nonconference tests against ranked teams Michigan State, Maryland, UConn and DePaul.
Obviously a whole lot could happen at the pinnacle of the polls the next few weeks. But with UConn having lost already, the odds have gotten better that South Carolina at some point this season might ascend to No. 1 in women's basketball for the first time. And that could be beneficial for South Carolina when it comes to March Madness.
The Gamecocks are still breathing rare air with their SEC preseason favorite status and their lofty perch at No. 2. That ties the highest ranking the program has ever had; South Carolina was also No. 2 during the 1981-82 season -- which might as well be 500 years ago for all the relevance it has to today's kiddos.
What the Gamecocks are experiencing is still very new to them, although they had a good taste of life near the top last season when they won the SEC regular-season title and were an NCAA No. 1 seed.
Getting to the top ranking during the season would be another milestone for South Carolina (even if the polls don't really "mean" anything). It would also be part of the program's maturation process. Because once you are at the highest spot in the poll, there is only one direction to move: down.
So you have to focus on maintenance, and that is something UConn has been astoundingly successful at doing for many, many years. Maintenance at No. 1 actually doesn't mean you stand still, though. It just means you don't fall.
Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley has traveled this road before, during her playing days at Virginia. So she knows that No. 1 in the rankings can be a cool thing, a distracting thing, a "we try to ignore it" thing. But it is always "a thing," even when coaches say it isn't.
What Staley wants to build at South Carolina is a program that isn't going to be intimidated by rankings or expectations, but rather becomes comfortable with all of that.
So Stanford's victory over UConn might have nudged open the door just a tad more for South Carolina to continue its growth.