What pressure? UConn again seems unfazed by potential distractions

Sport Science: Breanna Stewart's dominance (2:18)

Sport Science investigates why UConn's Breanna Stewart has been so effective on both ends of the floor for so long. (2:18)

INDIANAPOLIS -- Beware of the bubble! No, not the usual bubble referred to in the NCAA tournament. But the UConn bubble. It is made of some very powerful stuff. No women's basketball team has more outside "noise" to deal with, yet nobody deals with it better.

Whether it's praise or criticism -- and UConn has been so consistently great, sometimes the praise actually sounds like criticism -- it seems to have no effect on the undefeated Huskies, who are seeking to become the first women's basketball team to win four consecutive NCAA titles.

From the "They're killing the game with their excellence!" to "It's too easy for them!" to "We're so sick of UConn!" to even the nicer but counting the chickens-before-they're-hatched things their fans say like, "I can't wait to go to the national championship parade again!" -- whatever it is, it doesn't affect the Huskies.

As they head into the national semifinals against Oregon State (ESPN, 6 p.m. ET Sunday), the one thing you can be sure of is the Huskies will be clear-headed and cold-blooded.

UConn's mascot is a dog, but the Huskies have a cat-like quality. Those words that are coming out of humans' mouths? They might hear some of it -- or nothing at all. Either way, they still attend to their business unfazed, winning 73 consecutive games, all by double digits.

"We know about it, but we do a good job of just leaving it outside the door when we come to the locker room," UConn sophomore Kia Nurse said. "There's a time to focus on basketball, and a time to get it off your mind -- even at the Final Four."

But there's really no time for the unnecessary detour of getting worked up over outside views. Just like with everything else the Huskies make look easy, it's not. Think how even pro teams at times get their heads turned about chatter that shouldn't matter.

"There's a circle that we have," Nurse said. "And we just try not to let anything that's not supposed to be in there get into that circle, so we can stay focused. When you get here, you learn it from the older players that are here: To understand what it means to be a Connecticut basketball player, and what it takes.

"So it's a bit of an adjustment, because it's a different world. But once you come in and see how they carry themselves and how the media and outside voices don't affect them, you understand this is the way it's supposed to be."

In the 20-plus years since UConn won the first of its 10 NCAA titles in 1995, so much has changed technology-wise, including the birth of what can be a monster: social media. There are so many ways to become distracted, yet it never seems to happen to the Huskies.

Coach Geno Auriemma is often credited for creating his own sideshow, when necessary, with wry or controversial remarks, in order to run a type of "misdirection play." Like, "Hey, media, come banter with me, while my players can go do their thing in relative peace."

Whether that's always completely intentional or not on his part, it still never gets in the way of the Huskies grinding through opponents.

"There's a circle that we have. And we just try not to let anything that's not supposed to be in there get into that circle, so we can stay focused." UConn sophomore Kia Nurse

This bubble's construction began a long time ago, and credit for that goes to both Auriemma, his top assistant Chris Dailey, and the players' willingness to turn down the volume of anything non-essential.

Auriemma and Dailey started this empire in 1985, when the only real "worry" about the media was whether there would be any. A decade later, when the Rebecca Lobo-led team launched "Huskymania," there was an avalanche of coverage -- but already a well-developed UConn culture that kept the adulation, hype and criticism in its place.

"To be honest, I've always been impressed with the way our kids have embraced the pressure that's on them, and how they've handled themselves," Dailey said. "It starts with how the staff approaches things, and then it trickles down. We have to count on the maturity of the older players to guide they younger ones.

"When you're first starting out, it's all on you as coaches to establish that. Then, there are some years where it's really easy for the players to do that, and some years where it's not. We've had both: with great leaders some years, and others were we've had to do the bulk of that leadership. And that's OK, too."

Dailey said Auriemma is very adept at figuring out which of his teams need more help with dealing with the noise, and which ones really don't. With three fourth-year players starting on this Huskies team, many of the marching orders don't even need to come from Auriemma and his staff. Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck see to that.

But they still credit the staff for keeping it all in perspective.

"Our coaches do a great job in keeping us from feeling too-content," said Tuck, whose personality is the most conducive among the players to being in charge. "I know people are tired of us winning, and beating teams by a lot.

"But the way we have to see it is in no other sports are people saying that somebody needs to stop playing so well. So we take it with a grain of salt, and know we also have a lot of people who are supporting us and think we're good for the game."

Most comments -- good and bad -- from outsiders bounce harmlessly off the bubble shield, or never come close to touching the Huskies anyway.

"Part of it is that when they're on Twitter or whatever and reading about things," Dailey said, "I'm not sure they're reading about what people are saying about them. And that's good thing. But we address it; Geno will talk about it at the beginning of practice, and we'll talk about it as a group."

"There's a circle that we have. And we just try not to let anything that's not supposed to be in there get into that circle, so we can stay focused." UConn sophomore Kia Nurse

For Stewart, who has been a three-time most outstanding player at the Final Four, the closer the Huskies come to the pinnacle, the less she's paying any attention to what's said about it.

"I don't read a lot of it, especially of late," Stewart said. "A lot has been coming out, and it's almost over-the-top for me to see. Everyone keeps saying kind of the same things over and over. And it's nice but ... I just focus on something completely different. And realize all of that is nice, but you have to follow through with what you need to do."

So whatever the latest "controversy" (cough, cough) over UConn's relentless success, the women who are on the court creating it certainly are not tossing and turning about it.

"Oh my gosh! Are we actually too good for our sport?"

That's not happening. And neither is this team hampered by overconfidence: the sense of inevitability that they have the title already wrapped up before they actually play for it.

So go ahead, give the Huskies your best shot. You're not going to break the bubble.

"I think we're strong mentally," Tuck said. "We go back to all the hard work that we've done. We know that becoming great isn't a bad thing. There's always going to be people that dislike it, but it's sweeter to win than have approval from outside people."