A look back at our favorite stories of 2015. February. Geno gets to 900. Columnist Rich Elliott tells the story of a night to remember.
By Rich Elliott
HARTFORD – There are those on the periphery of the UConn women’s basketball program that believe head coach Geno Auriemma to be arrogant. Yet, the truth is he has long had a difficult time accurately describing what has gone into constructing a Hall of Fame career with the Huskies.
Auriemma is an individual that lives in the moment. He longs to see his players improve and to see them achieve success at the highest level of college basketball. Reflecting on what he has accomplished individually over the years is not something that he does. Not now.
This is, however, something that those close to him have tried to get Auriemma to do. Former UConn player/assistant coach and current Cincinnati head coach Jamelle Elliott became the latest to do so this week.
Auriemma, 60, became the fastest Division I women’s coach to reach 900 wins Tuesday when the second-ranked Huskies defeated Cincinnati 96-36 before 8,190 at the XL Center. Afterward, Elliott and Auriemma shared a moment together on the court as fans displayed ``Geno 900’’ signs.
``I don’t think any team wants to be that team that plays them to get the milestone, but obviously this is a special circumstance,’’ Elliott said. ``I think the best part about (Tuesday) was I got a chance to spend some time with him and just kind of congratulate him on this milestone. I talk to him most of the time not about basketball stuff, but just talk to him about enjoying it.”
``He never enjoys any of this stuff. He never takes a break and sits back and just realizes the accomplishment he made (Tuesday), the accomplishments he’s made in the past. And I just find myself constantly reminding him. I know he doesn’t want to hear it, but if people don’t do it he would never acknowledge those types of things. So the best part was I was able to be here and spent this moment with him.’’
The current players held paper glasses with the number 900 over their eyes and wore blue T-shirts that had ``Geno Never Stops’’ on the front and ``UConn 900’’ on the back during a postgame tribute to Auriemma. A five-minute video played on the overhead scoreboard, featuring congratulatory remarks from more than 20 former UConn players, including Kerry Bascom, Carla Berube, Tina Charles, Amy Duran, Kelly Faris, Stacy Hansmeyer, Jessica Moore, Maya Moore, Jennifer Rizzotti, Nykesha Sales, Barbara Turner and Kara Wolters.
The night ended with Auriemma posing for a photo with the team at center court.
``You look up and you see all the former players that kind of give back and to be able play in that game and to kind of be a part of history it really means a lot to us,’’ junior guard Moriah Jefferson said. ``It just shows how good of a coach he is. He has a coaching style and he sticks to it and it works. And there’s no point in changing what works.’’
Auriemma, who is in his 30th season at UConn, becomes the sixth coach to reach 900 wins. He joins former Tennessee coach Pat Summitt (1,098), North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell (953), Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer (945), Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer (944) and former Texas coach Jody Conradt (900).
Auriemma, who is 900-134 overall, is the all-time leader in winning percentage (.870). He is also the fastest coach to reach 600, 700 and 800 wins, posting a 300-18 during this recent span.
``It’s one of those events that happens that makes you appreciate all the people that have come through here all those years,” Auriemma said. “Whenever you reach a certain level of success, you think back to all the people that were there that made it possible. And sometimes when you’re going along this path, you get so caught up in what you’re doing and what you have to do next that you forget where you come from and how it all started and who was there along the way to kind of push it forward a little bit. That for me is the big thing is just a chance to reflect upon it
``There’s no `What does it mean?’ and ‘What does it do for you personally?’ I tell my players this in the NCAA tournament all the time, ‘When I wake up tomorrow morning, my life hasn’t changed that much at all.’ Having an opportunity to see the way it impacted some other peoples’ lives, that’s cool.”
Auriemma, a seven-time National Coach of the Year honoree, has averaged 30.3 wins per season. There have been 19 30-win seasons, five undefeated seasons, 39 conference championships (20 regular season, 13 tournament), 15 Final Four appearances and an NCAA record nine championships.
The Huskies (21-1, 11-0 AAC) have not lost back-to-back games in a span of 794 games since losing the final two games of the 1992-93 season.
``That’s why he’s the best coach in my opinion there ever was,’’ freshman Gabby Williams said. ``Hopefully, I can be here for more momentous things like that.’’
Auriemma never envisioned he and associate head coach Chris Dailey would achieve this type of success when they joined the program in 1985. UConn had had just one winning season (16-14 in 1980-81) in its first 11 seasons.
The Huskies were 12-15 in Auriemma/Dailey’s debut in 1985-86. Five years later they went to the Final Four for the first time. And in 1994-95 they rose to No. 1 in the national polls and won the national championship for the first time. They had arrived. And their ascension to the top of the sport through the years has been mesmerizing.
“I feel like CD and myself when we got here, somebody gave us a blank canvas and they gave us some paint and paint brushes, and we each just started working,” Auriemma said. ``And we painted this. It’s taken us 30 years to paint this picture of what we have.
“Well, an awful lot of coaches along the way have gotten the same canvas, the same paint brushes and the same paint, maybe actually even a better canvas, a better set of paint brushes and a better set of paints. So it’s not like we’ve done something that can’t be done. And that’s not my fault that it’s not getting done at other places. I’m not condemning anybody. I’m not bragging. I’m not demeaning anybody. What I’m saying is we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing. We’re not going to stop. And if there’s some coach out there right now that hears this and sees this and says, ‘Yeah, well I’m going to be that guy that kicks your (butt).’ Well, then you know what, we need that. But I’m not going to stop setting the bar. And as a matter of fact I’m going to keep trying to raise the bar for as long as I’m coaching.”
HUSKIES BITES: UConn had six players reach double figures in scoring for the first time since a 114-68 win over Oregon Nov. 20, 2013 – Williams (season-high 18), Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (16), Breanna Stewart (14), Saniya Chong (11), Kia Nurse (10) and Morgan Tuck (10) … Williams also had 14 rebounds in posting her second double-double. … Mosqueda-Lewis reached double figures in scoring for the 100th time in 125 career games. … The Huskies used a 23-0 run to open a 48-15 lead with 19:32 left in the game. They held Cincinnati scoreless for 10:13 and without a field goal for 14:56. … Auriemma is 48-0 against former players/former assistant coaches.