Swin Cash is one of the most decorated female basketball players to ever put on sneakers. She’s a two-time Olympic gold medalist, a two-time WNBA MVP, a three-time WNBA champion and, yes, a former NCAA champion at Connecticut, where she was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player in 2002.
So if anyone knows how to prepare for the Sweet 16 – or any big game – it’s her.
“This is a time where the first two days – Monday and Tuesday – everyone’s just trying to wrap their mind around it, starting prep and getting prepared and everyone’s excited,” Cash said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “But then on the eve of when the games are about to start, everyone is really just trying to lock in and making sure you’re keeping your routine the same. There’s no surprises. (You have to make) sure everyone’s staying loose and staying focused on what the task is at hand.”
But how do players calm their nerves the night before a game? Or the day of a game? Fans get so nervous watching; how do the players actually stay calm enough to play?
“At the end of the day, there’s always nerves,” Cash said. “It’s a good nervous. You’re excited about the opportunity to win a championship and you understand there needs to be steps before you can get there. So you’re just excited. You’re ready for the game to start. Think about it. A lot of the players – I know for me personally – I took exams sometimes going to the Sweet 16 and even at the Final Four. There’s a lot of different things that are going on, and you’re just trying to make sure you can limit all distractions.”
Cash, who played for Geno Auriemma, knows how important a head coach is in March, and this year is no exception. The Sweet 16 offers coaches such as Mike Krzyzewski, Rick Pitino, Roy Williams and Tom Izzo who have won national championships. It offers coaches like Bob Huggins, Bo Ryan and Gregg Marshall who have been to the Final Four. It offers Mark Few, who has turned Gonzaga into a powerhouse. It offers Lon Kruger, who has led four different programs to the Sweet 16.
The list goes on.
What impact will coaches have on their teams this weekend?
“It’s amazing if you think of the caliber of coaches that are going to be in the Sweet 16,” Cash said. “This is really going to be a chess match. I’m excited to just really see not only how the players play, but how the coaches are making adjustments on the fly. Because you never know what’s going to affect the game. It could be rest, it could be injuries, it could be sickness – you just never know.
“So it really takes somebody that’s at the helm that is seasoned enough to already know what they’re going to do in case anything happens or arises. That’s one thing that Coach Auriemma always used to do. He was always preparing for what could possibly happen.”
Izzo is the same way. That’s probably why he’s led Michigan State to 13 Sweet 16s since 1998, including seven in the last eight years. The No. 7 Spartans face No. 3 Oklahoma this Friday at 10:07 p.m. ET.
“It just seems like they have that magic whenever March just comes rolling around,” Cash said. “It’s really surprising for a lot of people to see them here, but I thought that they would be in this position just because they’re a team that constantly plays defense, and he’s just a masterful coach.”