Huskies set standard of excellence
For Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma, 30 is the new 20.
While most coaches celebrate a 20-win season, the Huskies have won at least 30 games 18 times in the last 20 years (the other two seasons they won 29 and 25). UConn has played four perfect seasons, including back-to-back 39-0 marks (2008-10) and three seasons with just one loss.
Overall in postseason play, Auriemma's Huskies have made 20 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, 14 trips to the Final Four and won eight national championships, including three in the last five years. He was the first women's head coach to take a program to five straight Final Fours.
In short, Auriemma has made Storrs, Conn., the capital of Women's Division I basketball.
"We have a tradition of success because some of the best players who have ever played the game have played here," said Auriemma, a Naismith Hall of Famer and seven-time Naismith coach of the year who has won close to 87 percent of his games in 28 years (839-133). "Everybody associated with the University and Connecticut supports our program, and they want us to be great, not just good. That doesn't happen everywhere, and we are the beneficiaries of that.
"Don't get me wrong -- we've earned it because we have done some pretty special things. And because of the way people have responded to that, there is a real incentive to keep doing it. We keep trying to attract the right kind of players and coach them the best we can so we can sustain this level of success."
UConn's program boasts rock-star status, where being on the big stage is no longer a big deal mainly because any stage they're on is the big stage.
Auriemma recognizes that the Women's Jimmy V Classic is among the biggest of the big stages, and is excited to have his team entered in the 12th Classic, which will be played Dec. 17.
"It's something that we take tremendous pride in because I believe we were in the very first one," Auriemma said. "It's something that we've always looked forward to doing. Coach [Jim] Valvano had a great relationship with UConn during his career, and there are still people here who remember him. It's a great cause, and it brings a lot of awareness to a great event. We are thrilled to be a part of it."
Connecticut expects to put its No. 1 national ranking on the line when it travels to Cameron Indoor for a matchup with No. 2 Duke.
Auriemma has tremendous respect for the Blue Devils and coach Joanne P. McCallie, and realizes that even though the game is in December, the matchup could be significant should the two meet again in Nashville at the Final Four.
"Year in and year out, Duke has one of the best teams in the country, and that's a testament to the kind of program they have built," he said. "With five seniors, this might be the best team that Joanne has had since she has been there. I think some of the disappointments they have had in previous NCAA tournaments may have them in the perfect position to get over the hump this year and get to the Final Four. It's the perfect opponent for this kind of game."
The 2013-14 season is the 20th anniversary of UConn's first 30-win season, and the Huskies plan to commemorate it by adding to their already overflowing trophy case. They were a unanimous No. 1 in the preseason AP Top 25 and in espnW.com's preseason poll.
Such praise is warranted, as the Huskies return seven of their top eight scorers from last season, including Final Four most outstanding player Breanna Stewart. The sophomore forward and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis were both preseason All-Americans, though Mosqueda-Lewis is out indefinitely after suffering an elbow injury Monday.
"We are able to put players on the floor who understand winning and who have been in some big-game situations," Auriemma said. "They've gained a lot of confidence from winning that national championship, and that experience is something that you can't put a price on. Just the attitude and the way you carry yourself when you've had that kind of success has carried over, and it shows."