Chong has become quite comfortable ... and successful ... at Gampel

UConn coach Geno Auriemma speaks to senior Saniya Chong during a break in the action on Monday night at Gampel Pavilion, where the Huskies' defeated Syracuse 94-64 in the second round of the NCAA tournament, the final home game of Chong's career. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Storrs — Saniya Chong, the lone senior in the starting lineup for the UConn women's basketball team, said perhaps her fondest memories of Gampel Pavilion will be just walking in the door every day.

“Probably when you first come in down the steps and see the pictures on the wall,” said Chong, who played her final game in the Huskies' home arena Monday, a 94-64 win over Syracuse in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

“Getting just to walk up and down and in and out and just seeing that.”

Chong is a part of a UConn senior class, consisting of her and reserve Tierney Lawlor, which has gone 150-1 over four years, tied for the second-most wins by a Huskies' class. The seniors are 37-0 at Gampel Pavilion, 10-0 this season.

Heading into Monday's game, Chong had 121 assists and 34 turnovers for an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.6-to-1, good for second-best in the country.

UConn's last loss came on Nov. 17, 2014 at Stanford, 88-86 in overtime.

“We went out to Stanford and Saniya scored 20 and the guy she was guarding scored 40,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said, smiling, asked to describe how just how far Chong has come in her career. “We only lost one game in Saniya's career and it was the first game she ever started.”

Chong, the Huskies' 5-foot-8 point guard from Ossining, N.Y., where she averaged 34.4 points per game her senior year, scored a season-high 20 points this season in a 102-37 victory over South Floida on Jan. 10. That tied a career high.

“It's very bittersweet,” Chong said of playing at Gampel for the final time. “I am just happy with the group of girls this year that we have. Yeah, it's pretty sad, my final game here. It is so sad, but I am going to enjoy it.”

Hillsman: 'I'm jealous'

UConn coach Geno Auriemma and Syracuse coach Quentin Hillman have battled back and forth over various issues over the years, especially when the two teams played together in the Big East Conference.

The teams played last year in the national championship game and again Monday night in the second round of the NCAA tournament, renewing the rivalry, somewhat.

Hillsman was asked Sunday about his relationship with Auriemma and he gave an impassioned answer, basically stating that he wouldn't be having a half-hour press conference with that many people asking him questions if the Orange weren't playing four-time defending champion UConn, winners of 109 straight games.

“I'm jealous of him,” Hillsman said. “He hasn't lost in 100-and-how-many games? I'm very jealous. What an amazing life. You don't ever lose. That's what I want to do. I say that in a very sincere and respectful way. That's what I want to be.”

During last year's tournament, UConn's dominance was called bad for women's basketball by a member of the national media.

Said Hillsman: “I want to be really bad for basketball. I don't ever want to lose again.”

Around the AAC

UConn's league-mates in the American Athletic Conference, Temple and South Florida, both essentially lost first-round NCAA tournament games at the buzzer over the weekend.

Temple, the No. 7 seed in the Bridgeport Region, lost to No. 10 Oregon 71-70 Saturday on a shot with 5.5 seconds remaining. South Florida, the 11th-seeded team in the Stockton Region, fell to No. 6 Missouri 66-64 on a Mizzou basket with .6 seconds left.

Temple is coached by former UConn assistant and Auriemma's fellow AAC Coach of the Year Tonya Cardoza.

“Obviously, I felt for her,” Auriemma said of Cardoza. “It reminded me of our Clemson game here (in 1990). We win the league and we're starting to get some recognition from the Big East. We get a shot at the buzzer and it's halfway in and it doesn't go in and we lose. It's heartbreaking for the seniors.

“… (Temple) played a good team. I told anyone who would listen when Oregon hired Kelly Graves that they're going to dominate the Pac-12 in a couple years. I just felt bad for (Cardoza).”

Said Auriemma: “Those games that were lost yesterday, they'll be won in the future.”

v.fulkerson@theday.com

 

 

 

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