In the Sweet 16 round of last year’s NCAA women’s basketball tournament, Connecticut beat Mississippi State en route to its fourth consecutive national championship.

UConn won the game by 60 points, prompting plenty of recycled conversations about how Coach Geno Auriemma and his Huskies are bad for women’s basketball as a whole, bad for a game still waging the long-range fight for relevancy in a crowded sports calendar, bad for a casual fan who won’t engage if they already know who’s going to win.

To which I say: Stop it.

Stop buying the easy sell, stop falling for shallow narrative, stop knocking the greatness of a singularly extraordinary program to make a point about perceived shortcomings in programs elsewhere. What Connecticut has done, and continues to do, deserves to be celebrated, not simply for the exceptional success it has brought to its own campus, but for the effect it has had on the entire sport.

As the women’s Final Four approaches this weekend in Dallas, Connecticut will indeed be there, for an unprecedented 10th straight time. But guess who awaits the Huskies in Friday night’s second national semifinal, in the prime-time game following the first semifinal between Stanford and South Carolina?

Mississippi State.

For the third year in a row, the Final Four features a first-time participant, and this year it’s the Bulldogs out of the SEC, the same team that got blown off the court in last year’s second weekend.

Don’t tell me teams aren’t getting better in the Connecticut era.

“Mississippi State has, if I’m not mistaken, almost their entire team back. And they’re better,” Auriemma said during a conference call Tuesday, just hours before his team departed for Texas. “You know, we haven’t gotten to where we are by pretending that anybody is not as good, or is not good enough to beat us. That’s not how we’ve gotten to where we are.

“If we’re not going to take Oregon lightly, we’re certainly not going to take Mississippi State lightly.”

Auriemma was talking about the Oregon team his Huskies beat in the Elite Eight, the same 10th-seeded Ducks who reminded us the women’s bracket no longer runs almost exactly to form, shattering another one of the tired attacks on the overall game. No, Oregon couldn’t stop Connecticut from winning its 111th straight game – you read that right, one hundred and eleven straight wins — but the focus should be on one team’s greatness rather than another team’s shortcoming.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to be in the Final Four, this is our 10th year in a row. It just seems like it gets harder and harder to believe because it is getting harder and harder to accomplish this,” Auriemma said. “The teams that you have to beat year in and year out are getting better and better.”

Unfortunately for them, so is UConn. Back when this thing really took hold, back in 1995 when current ESPN commentator Rebecca Lobo was anchoring the school’s first undefeated national championship season, back when she and the likes of Jen Rizzotti, Jamelle Elliott and Kara Wolters turned the world onto the full beauty of a women’s game replete with pinpoint passing, deft shooting, fluid ball movement and a throwback appreciation for under-the-rim athleticism, Auriemma was only beginning to build his reputation as a great coach. Since then, his prowess at recruiting has increased in kind, and unlike the subsequent years to that first title, when it might have taken some time to replace that kind of talent, he has it ready and waiting now.

And still, this season might be Auriemma’s best coaching job. This was supposed to be a down year. After winning that fourth straight title a year ago, he watched three All-America players walk out the door, eyed a 2016-17 schedule that took no breaks or made no concessions to that roster turnover, and figured, at the very least, the winning streak would end. Instead, his team is 36-0 and two wins away from a fifth straight title, 12th overall.

“Now, the fact of the matter is, UConn may not have the same personnel, but they’re still the same, you know, dominating UConn program. They’re a well-oiled machine. They have tremendous chemistry,” Mississippi State Coach Vic Schaefer said. “Even though the numbers or the names may change, the program itself just keeps rolling. So I think our kids understand that. At the same time, we know we can’t really get caught up in the whole UConn thing. We’ve got to do what we do. We’ve got to be more concerned, I think, about Mississippi State than we do about anything else.”

That’s the true UConn effect. Respect what they do, admire what they do, but most of all, emulate what they do. Schaefer has a senior class trying to do just that, already bringing the program to its first Final Four.

“Those four seniors, they’ll go down in history as the all-time winningest … class to date in the history of the program, and four of the greatest players to ever play here,” Schaefer said. “They deserve a lot of credit, obviously, for where we are today, the turnaround of how we’ve accomplished this in such a short period of time.”

And he wasn’t just talking about a Sweet 16 blowout to a Final Four berth.