A day for honors ... and reflection
Geno Auriemma's buddies from Philadelphia rib him all the time, telling him he has the easiest job in America, asking him why he doesn't play golf year round and then just show up at UConn when it's time for games.
But, Auriemma said in a conference call on Wednesday afternoon, there are those who appreciate what his UConn women's basketball team has been able to accomplish, as well, winning 76 straight games and aiming for its second straight unbeaten season.
One of them is New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who understands the pressures of winning just perfectly.
"I'll hear from him telling me, 'You guys are unbelievable. You continue to raise the bar. You guys are amazing,'" said Auriemma, whose team is headed to its third straight Final Four. "I think people that have done great things, they appreciate how hard it is to do.
"They appreciate how hard it is for kids to play this hard all the time and compete and try to get it right all the time. To see it being done the way it's being done by these particular players is just, I think anybody who appreciates that kind of stuff, is really taken by it."
UConn (37-0), which set the NCAA record for margin of victory in a regional final on Tuesday night with a 90-50 victory over Florida State in Dayton, Ohio, will play Baylor Sunday in the Alamodome in San Antonio (9:30 p.m., ESPN).
The Huskies won last year's national championship, beating Louisville in St. Louis.
Since, there's been talk that UConn's dominance is bad for women's basketball, something which makes Auriemma bristle and of which the players have taken notice. The Huskies were booed, in fact, in an opening-round NCAA tournament victory over Southern University in Norfolk, Va.
Fifth-year UConn senior Kalana Greene said Auriemma told the team following last year's championship that winning this year's would be "10 times harder."
"There was a target on our back last year, but this year it was even bigger," Greene said following the win over Florida State. "We had a lot of fans last year and this year it seems like everyone was against us. Everyone was in the stands to watch UConn lose instead of support us.
"We had to dig in deep and play more as a team than ever."
Auriemma said his job is not to serve as a public relations magnate for women's basketball.
"I get paid. And my job is to make sure that my team is the best that it can possibly be," he said. "… I don't think anybody can say, if they're being really objective, that hey, being good is bad. I guess only in America could you make comments like that.
"People are making those comments and there's nothing I can do about it."
All Auriemma can do is appreciate those who appreciate his program, such as Belichick, who has won three Super Bowls with the Patriots, including in back-to-back seasons in 2003 and 2004. He can take the gentle ribbing from his friends and from West Virginia men's coach Bob Huggins, who jokingly called Auriemma to challenge his team to a game if he thinks he's so great.
And all Auriemma can do is let people know his team takes nothing for granted.
"I talked to them in the locker room before the Iowa State game," Auriemma said, referring to UConn's win in the Sweet 16. "I said, 'No matter how many times you've been in this locker room … don't take it for granted.
"Make sure you appreciate how hard it is to get here, no matter who you are. We're not sitting here looking at the streak and looking at how many games we win and pretending that none of matters except the next thing. It's not like that at all. We're celebrating everything every day.
"And maybe that's why we're able to keep doing it."
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