HARTFORD, Conn. — Before UConn’s final game of the season in Hartford Feb. 18, coach Geno Auriemma spoke to hundreds of gathered fans — season ticket holders and donors, mostly — inside the XL Center’s exhibition hall.
“This isn’t going to last forever,” he said of his program’s remarkable success over 33 years. “But while it is going on, let’s keep coming out and enjoying it.”
Fans applauded and the crowd dispersed, Auriemma off to coach the Huskies to a 51-point victory over Temple.
No, this is not going to last forever, a point Auriemma has hammered home often lately. There are no signs of a slow-down or that Auriemma is ready to walk away any time soon, but certainly we’ve reached the seventh-inning stretch of a run that includes 11 national championships and a list of accomplishments that are outlandishly ahead of most anything else seen recently in this or any sport.
The Huskies (32-0) won their fifth consecutive AAC championship Tuesday with a 70-54 victory over South Florida at Mohegan Sun Arena. They will head into the NCAA Tournament with a perfect record for the ninth time, with championships in six of those previous eight seasons (and a Final Four loss to Mississippi State last season, and an Elite Eight loss to Tennessee in 1997).
The NCAA selection show is Monday and UConn will undoubtedly be the top overall seed and play first- and second-round games at Gampel Pavilion, looking to advance to Albany for regional play and, finally, Columbus, Ohio, for what would be an 11th consecutive Final Four.
The Huskies are 101-0 all-time in AAC play and, overall, have won 143 of their past 144 games and 192 of their past 194. Their championship game victory over USF was a grind by their lofty standards, but the game that preceded it was a clobbering, 75-21 over Cincinnati. UConn went on a 38-0 run and led 43-5 at halftime.
This draws attention.
Darren Rovell, ESPN’s sports business reporter, tweeted to his 2 million-plus followers, with a screenshot of the halftime score, “Does a UConn fan even find this enjoyable?”
Later, Rovell tweeted, “Love when people send me screengrabs as evidence that I said that some dynasties in sport were good and some dynasties in sport were bad. Know it’s hard to grasp, but it’s not absolute. Bulls good, Spurs bad. UConn women and Jimmie Johnson bad. Federer and Serena? Good.”
It’s not the first time, and won’t be the last, that Auriemma has heard the bad-for-the-sport argument.
UConn doesn’t play again until March 16 or 17. The Huskies planned to take three days off, resuming practice Saturday, and the most important thing UConn can accomplish is to heal. Gabby Williams (hip), Katie Lou Samuelson (ankle), Crystal Dangerfield (shinsplints) and others could use a break.
Time off also apparently allowed for Auriemma to get back to Twitter. His only tweet of 2018 had been Jan. 17 — about the Eagles. On Wednesday, he sent three tweets in a span of 29 minutes.
His first said, “You know how you can tell how successful someone is? Just check and see how much they criticize those that are. Guarantee they come up short in their careers and envy those that succeed. #Icouldbewrong”
UConn first made the NCAA Tournament in 1989, Auriemma’s fourth season. They Huskies have made it every year since, 30 in a row.
“I didn’t know how long it would take,” Auriemma said in 1989 of making the NCAA Tournament. “Sometimes people have a way of telling you when it should be. Some said we should have made it last year. But you just have to wait. You’ve got to make sure the pieces are all in place and the chemistry’s just right. That’s exactly what happened this year.”
UConn, of course, has grown increasingly dominant, coming so close to perfection that the product is sometimes dismissed as uninteresting or even damaging.
“Success respects success,” Auriemma tweeted Wednesday. “Regardless how it’s achieved. The great ones know this. They know how hard it is to accomplish. They focus more on self-improvement. They are called “Winners”. #100”
In another tweet, Auriemma wrote, “My tweets were just my thoughts in general. Whos this Darren Ravelli person you keep referring to? Norristown High? Eve’s Zeps guy?”
Outsiders see only the final score and are probably missing the point, and the most impressive parts, of the UConn operation. There are storylines, hurdles, goals and expectations that go beyond, say, a 43-5 halftime lead or the record 43-0 run UConn put together recently against SMU.
“That is part of playing here at Connecticut,” Auriemma said after the Cincinnati victory. “You don’t necessarily base how you’re going to play on what the score is or who the opponent is. … Obviously we want to win, but we want to improve.”
The Huskies have done that and done things no other program has since the late 1980s, starting from a place their current opponents find themselves, really. UConn, which has won 30-plus games 13 years in a row, is tied with Tennessee for the most Final Four appearances (18).
Tennessee has a record 36 NCAA Tournament appearances, followed by Georgia (32), Stanford (31) and UConn and Texas (30 each).
“There have been other people who were bad for women’s basketball before us,” Auriemma said.