Geno Auriemma talks UConn ladies’s basketball at breakfast

ROCKY HILL — UConn ladies’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma stood in entrance of a crowd of about 150-plus folks and wasn’t essentially joking when he stated, “I hope we win Saturday.”

Certain, these gathered on the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce breakfast Monday morning started laughing, however Auriemma reminded them that nothing is assured in March — particularly given all of the Huskies endured within the common season.

“It’s a must to perceive in 1995 once we gained our first nationwide championship, we have been undefeated and I assumed we may by no means lose after which we began the NCAA Match and we have now Maine within the first spherical, and I did not sleep that evening as a result of I assumed, ‘We may really lose to Maine,’ ” he stated. “We ended up successful by 40, however you at all times assume within the NCAA Match, one thing silly goes to occur, as a result of that is what occurs within the NCAA Match and that is why they name them Cinderella groups, you realize, stuff occurs.”

About 12 hours previous to Auriemma’s discuss in Rocky Hill, UConn was chosen as a No. 2 seed on this yr’s NCAA Match and discovered its path to a doable 15th-straight Ultimate 4 would run via Seattle. The Huskies start the match this weekend in Storrs, internet hosting No. 15 Vermont on Saturday within the first spherical.

Auriemma spoke on the Middlesex Chamber Monday in entrance of members, elected officers, native highschool athletes and longtime UConn followers and donors.

Whereas the Huskies’ season has once more been turbulent with excessive highs and low lows, Auriemma made it clear Monday that each spring the objective is identical for UConn: a nationwide championship.

“I do know you may be with us the entire time and you will be rooting for us,” Auriemma instructed the group. “And so far as us making winter bearable for lots of people in Connecticut; nicely, this winter the climate was extra bearable than our crew. February the climate was method higher to cope with it than watching our crew play in February. It is March you bought to fret about.”

Auriemma walked the group via the previous 10 months of main the ladies’s program via one other curler coaster-like season: from first evaluating his crew final June once they all met on campus to start summer season conditioning to the gutting lack of Paige Bueckers’ ACL damage two months later and each damage afterward.

For the second-straight season, 10 of UConn’s 12 roster gamers have missed at the very least one recreation or extra as a result of damage or sickness.

“It sort of devastated our guys, particularly the younger guys who have been all trying ahead to taking part in along with her,” Auriemma stated of Bueckers’ damage. “After which it simply stored going, simply stored including and stored constructing and constructing to the place it culminated in a degree the place we needed to cancel a recreation in opposition to DePaul as a result of we did not have sufficient wholesome gamers to have the ability to play in that recreation.”

The Huskies’ battle with consistency reached its peak in February. UConn not solely misplaced back-to-back video games for the primary time in almost 30 years however ended the season with 10 straight video games ending inside 10 factors or fewer than its opponent.

But, Auriemma praised his crew for remaining calm below the strain.

“We get to February, and we most likely play our worst basketball of the yr throughout just about that entire month,” Auriemma stated. “However taking part in that worst basketball put us in a number of shut video games, put us in a number of robust conditions. And the strain to play at UConn is so intense since you’re by no means the favourite. I imply, you are by no means the underdog. You are at all times the favourite. You at all times should win. And if the opposite crew wins, it is your fault.

“It is not as a result of they have been actually good that evening. It is since you have been actually unhealthy. So, they reside with that daily. … They cope with that on a regular basis and in some way or one other they handle it, they usually maintain successful. They usually maintain bouncing again from robust stuff that occurs.”

Auriemma says successful the Huge East Match was the spotlight of the season up to now. It was the primary time since November, that his crew was entire and performed prefer it too. With the return of Azzi Fudd (who missed 21 video games complete with a proper knee damage), the Huskies outscored opponents by 23.3 factors throughout three video games to win their tenth straight convention match title.

Regardless of having the second-best NET rating within the nation (below solely top-ranked South Carolina), the Huskies have been chosen as a No. 2 seed for the NCAA Match and never a No. 1 seed. Whereas the distinction gained’t have an effect on how the Huskies end the yr on the courtroom, Auriemma says his crew embraces the prospect to be doubted and regarded an “underdog” within the postseason.

“If we have been referred to as one thing apart from UConn, we’d have been a primary seed, proper, as a result of our file says that we must be,” Auriemma stated. “However it’s higher that we’re not No. 1, as a result of, once more, now it offers our youngsters like an opportunity, final yr it was the identical factor, to be considerably kind of, kinda the underdog they usually relish that. They love that.”

The Corridor of Fame coach then took questions and feedback from the group.

“My household and I are enormous followers of Lou Lopez Sénéchal,” one member stated.

“As try to be,” Auriemma replied immediately.

Auriemma was requested about Lopez Sénéchal’s affect within the WNBA this summer season, the latest parity in ladies’s school basketball, Maya Moore’s official retirement from basketball, Nika Mühl taking part in level guard, his incoming freshman and the way Dorka Juáhsz and Aaliyah Edwards have led the frontcourt.

He answered every query, together with saying that Bueckers continues to assault rehab simply as exhausting as she assaults each recreation when she’s taking part in.

“She’s working tougher than she’s ever labored,” he stated. “It is a disgrace as a result of when she bought harm, she was in one of the best form of her life. And now she’s (working) daily, daily, daily, daily. Whereas different youngsters are doing no matter they’re doing, she’s working. It is like a full-time job for her. … And proper now, the look on her face, you’ll be able to inform that is when it is actually (exhausting). You recognize, NCAA Match time, that is what you play for at Connecticut. She’s performed in two Ultimate Fours and now she would not get to play in any respect. So, that is actually killing her proper now.”

A nurse behind the group requested Auriemma how he discovered to steer his crew via fatigue this season amid all of the accidents.

“Properly, on the finish of your shift or the top of your workday or at house, no matter it’s, OK, if you end and also you go house whether or not you are fatigued or not, you both did your job otherwise you did not,” he stated. “… So, on the finish of a recreation or on the finish of a workday you may have a selection: Would you like to be ok with your self and be fatigued? Or do you need to be fatigued and really feel awful about your self? As a result of both method, the fatigue just isn’t going away. You simply have a selection of what you are going to do with that fatigue.

“… I used to be the large perpetrator I feel a number of time as a result of I began treating them otherwise as a result of I used to be frightened that we’d overdo it and push them too exhausting and all this different stuff. They usually mainly stated, ‘Coach, it’s essential to cease worrying about what we would like, and it’s essential to begin doing what we’d like.’ … What is the line from again within the day and should you bear in mind again within the previous western motion pictures? They stated, ‘The canine will bark, however the caravan strikes on,’ proper?”

The Huskies’ job this season isn’t achieved.

Their greatest problem of the yr begins this weekend with each recreation ahead now win-or-go-home. The strain is tenfold with the expectations having additionally intensified.

However after one other season of crammed with adversity at each flip, Auriemma and the Huskies are prepared for the NCAA Match.

“And now to March, one of the best month of the yr for basketball followers,” Auriemma stated.

[email protected]  @maggie_vanoni

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