Geno proves again win­ning is not a some­time thing

UConn coach about to set an­other record

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - SPORTS - Jim Litke AP Sports Colum­nist Jim Litke is a sports colum­nist for The As­so­ci­ated Press. Write to him at jl­itke(at)ap.org and https://Twit­ter.com/ JimLitke

No­body wins all the time. Geno Auriemma comes closer than just about any­one else, even if he gets only so much credit for it: nearly nine out of ev­ery 10 games UConn has played since he took over as coach at the start of the 1985 sea­son are vic­to­ries. Along the way, he’s col­lected 11 NCAA cham­pi­onships, three Olympic golds, a spot in the Hall of Fame and so many record-book en­tries that the chap­ter on women’s bas­ket­ball looks like his re­sume.

He’s likely to add an­other line Satur­day, when the No. 1-ranked Huskies play at SMU with a chance to win their 91st game in a row and break a record they al­ready own. It will draw in a con­sid­er­ably smaller au­di­ence this time than last. That says some­thing about both Auriemma and the state of the sport.

The first time his pro­gram went 90 games with­out a loss — be­tween 200810 — they wres­tled the Divi­sion I record of 88 straight from the UCLA men’s bas­ket­ball team and leg­end John Wooden. A women’s col­lege team go­ing where no men had gone felt his­toric at the time. There was a na­tional me­dia swarm in tow and TV trucks clus­tered out­side the last few stops. This time, not so much. Fans of the women’s game hate see­ing one of the most no­table ac­com­plish­ments in any sport fly so low un­der the radar. They ar­gue — cor­rectly — that if this were a men’s team, say Kentucky, about to take the D-I record back from the UConn women, you’d need a stick to beat back the hype. De­trac­tors, mean­while, ar­gue Auriemma faces only a hand­ful of top-flight teams and rarely more than a dozen le­git­i­mate na­tional ti­tle con­tenders ev­ery year. They liken it to him armwrestling with him­self.

Auriemma, though, is tired of the com­par­isons. He didn’t like them the first time around, even if he ap­pre­ci­ated how it raised the sport’s pro­file. This time, he sounds al­most wist­ful about the lack of at­ten­tion one minute — “It was all the peo­ple com­ing out of the wood­work to com­plain we’re not UCLA and you’re not John Wooden” — and ea­ger to get out from un­der it in the next.

“For­get 91,” Auriemma said, “I had some­one ask me be­fore the game about 100 con­sec­u­tive wins. I al­most hope we don’t get to that point so peo­ple will stop talk­ing about it.”

One big dif­fer­ence this time is that no one — not even the seen-it-all, 62-yearold coach — saw it com­ing. Not af­ter last sea­son’s team fur­nished the WNBA draft with its first three picks and this sea­son’s sched­ule opened with seven Top 25 op­po­nents in the first dozen games.

The fact that the po­ten­tial record-breaker is on the road is telling, too. What it says is that a 15-0 start was the fur­thest thing from Auriemma’s mind when train­ing camp opened.

“I don’t know — there’s some­thing go­ing on,” he said af­ter win No. 90 the other night in Hartford, just down the road from the Storrs cam­pus. “I don’t know how long we can keep fool­ing them. But we are. So far, so good.”

The Huskies have four vet­er­ans who’ve been part of the pro­gram for all 90 wins, but no es­tab­lished star like Maya Moore or Bre­anna Ste­wart and a short bench. So the streak isn’t the only thing peo­ple are over­look­ing. All the win­ning might be steal­ing the spot­light from what just might be Auriemma’s best coach­ing job in a while.

The Huskies have been al­most un­beat­able for more than a quar­ter-cen­tury not just be­cause they’re bet­ter in­di­vid­u­ally, or even be­cause they’re more dis­ci­plined as a unit — though both of these things are usu­ally the case. That they’re still hun­grier, night in and night out, than ev­ery team they play is a tes­ta­ment to Auriemma’s lead­er­ship.

Con­sid­er­ing where the bar is set for ev­ery in­com­ing UConn class, that’s no small ac­com­plish­ment. His play­ers buy in be­cause Auriemma sets the ex­am­ple and chal­lenges them to match it.

Fresh off a gold medal in Rio last sum­mer, he dropped in on San An­to­nio Spurs coach Greg Popovich to take in a few days of train­ing camp per­haps pick up a few new tricks. He had no idea when — even if — he’d have a chance to put any of them into play.

Luck may fa­vor the pre­pared. But it’s that kind of de­vo­tion, at this stage of his ca­reer, that makes Auriemma al­most un­beat­able.

JES­SICA HILL — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Con­necti­cut as­sis­tant coaches Shea Ralph, cen­ter, and Marisa Mose­ley, right, share a light mo­ment with head coach Nor­ris­town na­tive Geno Auriemma in the se­cond half of an NCAA col­lege bas­ket­ball game against South Florida, Tues­day in Hartford, Conn.

ROY K. MILLER — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Con­necti­cut coach and Nor­ris­town na­tive Geno Auriemma gives in­struc­tion to his team dur­ing a win over UCF on Sun­day.

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