As Auriemma approaches 1,000 career wins, here is a look back at his top 10 victories along the way

Published on Monday, 18 December 2017 19:52
Written by CARL ADAMEC


While the UConn women’s basketball team looks forward to giving Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma his 1,000th win, it’s given people who have followed the program a chance to look back at what the Huskies have accomplished in 33 seasons.

Trying to pick out the 10 biggest wins in Auriemma’s tenure is tough when he has 11 national championship. Which one do you leave off? So the take here will be 10 personal favorites. They may have little to do with the game but with something Auriemma did or said, or something that happened.

So here it is, listed in chronological order:

1. vs. Providence in Big East Tournament final, March 4, 1991

Providence was UConn’s biggest rival in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This 1991 game, played at Georgetown’s McDonough Arena, would mark the third straight year they would play in the Big East final. Back then, no one in the country played at a faster tempo than PC. It was the third game in three days and UConn’s bench was short. At the start, Auriemma had point guard Debbie Baer hold the ball out at center court until 15 seconds remained on the shot clock. The first two possessions end in shot-clock violations and it seems like everyone (about 500) in the stands is yelling at him. But UConn builds a double-digit lead. On one second-half possession it gets three offensive rebounds. As the Huskies milk the clock, PC coach Bob Foley yells out, “This is ridiculous, it really is.” After two minutes with the ball, Meghan Pattyson gets a layup. UConn holds on, 79-74.

2. at Tennessee, Jan. 6, 1996

UConn makes its first trip to Thompson-Boling Arena in a rematch of the previous year’s national championship game. The Lady Vols have won a NCAA record 69 straight games at home. In the first half, UConn guard Rita Williams is trapped by two Tennessee defenders in the corner and appears to be pushed out of bounds. The referees call traveling and give the Lady Vols possession. As some laughter breaks out on press row, Auriemma looks over and goes, “Now you see why they’ve won 69 in a row.” UConn wins 59-53.

3. vs. Villanova, Dec. 2, 1997

The tradition of UConn fans standing until the Huskies get their first points is tested. Five minutes into the game - through a 20-second time out and the first TV time out - the sellout crowd at Gampel Pavilion has still not taken their seats as Villanova leads 8-0. After UConn’s Paige Sauer misses a free throw, which followed two misses from the line by Stacy Hansmeyer, Auriemma turns to Chris Dailey on the bench and goes, “We’re going to get shut out.” Sauer hits a 3 with 5:15 gone to get UConn on the board and it eventually rolls to a 67-27 win.

4. at UCLA, Nov. 17, 1998

UConn had opened its season with wins over Duke and Arkansas in San Jose but forgot to bring its defense on the ride down the Pacific Coast Highway to Pauley Pavilion. UConn maintains a slight first-half lead, but when UCLA gets to 50, Auriemma turns to Dailey and goes, “Fifty points, 50 gawd-da(r)n points.” The Huskies lead 60-54 at the break and win 113-102, marking the only time in Auriemma’s 1,134 games an opponent has reached triple figures. The game has two other historical highlights: (1) Sue Bird picks up the only technical foul of her college career; (2) It was the first UConn game that Diana Taurasi attends. She signs with the Huskies 12 months later.

5. at Holy Cross, Jan. 20, 2000

The Hart Center is sold out (4,000) for the first time and upstart Holy Cross goes right at No. 1 UConn and stays within striking distance for 25 minutes. In the second half, UConn’s Shea Ralph and Holy Cross’ Anna Kinne come together and seem ready to fight. As the confrontation finishes, Auriemma is on the bench laughing. He admired both players’ grit and determination. But the highlight came near the end after UConn broke the game open en route to the 89-51 win. With Auriemma sitting on the bench, a Holy Cross student stood behind him with a sign that had an arrow pointed at him and read, “He just farted.” Dailey and assistants Tonya Cardoza and Jamelle Elliott could not stop laughing, and neither could the fans across from the bench.

6. vs. Penn State in NCAA Mideast Regional semifinals, March 23, 2002

Prior to the Sweet 16 game in Milwaukee, Auriemma recalled how UConn wanted to play Penn State when he first started. “They didn’t want to schedule us because we weren’t good enough,” he said. Penn State coach Rene Portland responded that she had not followed UConn much because Auriemma wouldn’t schedule the Lady Lions. Auriemma’s final answer: “Maybe we’ll play them when we get to be as good as they are.” UConn wins 82-63. Scoreboard is now UConn 11 national championships and 18 Final Fours. Penn State 0 and 1.

7. vs. Oklahoma in national championship game, March 31, 2002

Auriemma’s relationship with Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale goes back to when she coached Hansmeyer at Norman High. Six years later, they met in the national championship game at the Alamodome in San Antonio. As Auriemma walks over towards the Oklahoma bench during warmups, he puts out his right hand as to shake hands with Coale, but instead sidesteps her to hug Hansmeyer, who was in her first season on Coale’s staff. Coale looks at him and shakes her head. But it would be a couple weeks after the Huskies’ 82-70 win that he’d land a final jab at the WNBA Draft in New Jersey. While UConn had four of the top six picks, Oklahoma had three players taken in the first round, led by No. 3-choice Stacey Dales. As Coale prepares to do an ESPN interview, Auriemma goes up to her and jokes, “Three first-round picks and you can’t win the national championship?” It took all of Coale’s strength to keep her head from exploding.

8. vs. Tennessee, Jan. 4. 2003

Remember Auriemma saying, “We have Diana and you don’t” back in the day? Well, with 11.4 seconds left and the Huskies down three to Tennessee, Auriemma calls time out. While the 16,294 in the Hartford Civic Center were sure the ball would go to Taurasi, Auriemma made Taurasi the decoy and designed a play for Maria Conlon. But Conlon could not get open and Taurasi inbounded the ball to Jessica Moore. Taurasi raced towards Moore, took her pass, and found nothing but net on a 25-footer to force overtime. UConn wins on another Taurasi hoop, 63-62. Ever since, Auriemma has told the story about how other coaches would ask him for that inbounds play.

9. at St. John’s, Jan. 2, 2005

St. John’s had just renamed Alumni Hall to Carnesecca Arena to honor the Redmen’s Hall of Fame men’s coach Lou Carnesecca. Auriemma, who would always wear a dress shirt or shirt and tie to coach, showed up wearing an ugly sweater like the ones Carnesecca wore in his later years to mark the occasion. Carnesecca bursts out laughing and says later, “I have plenty more sweaters at home for him if he wants.” St. John’s coach Kim Barnes-Arico asks afterward, “Did he do that on purpose for Looie?” UConn wins 60-32.

10. vs. Syracuse in national championship game, April 5, 2016

When she committed to UConn in January 2011, Breanna Stewart told Auriemma that her goal was to win four national championships. It had never been done until Stewart, Morgan Tuck, and Moriah Jefferson career finished off their careers with an 82-51 rout of Syracuse at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Mission accomplished.

Posted in New Britain Herald, UConn on Monday, 18 December 2017 19:52. Updated: Monday, 18 December 2017 19:55.