UConn-Rutgers: Two old friends reunite

Storrs - Geno Auriemma, the rare coach who can be contemplative in the wake of a 50-point win, was awash in some of the old days late Saturday night, in anticipation of tonight's renewal with Rutgers.

It's probably a rivalry, given that Rutgers has won just enough to be competitive. The eighth-seeded Scarlet Knights and No. 1 UConn meet tonight in the second round of the NCAA women's basketball tournament at Gampel Pavilion (9 p.m., ESPN2).

"It's funny now when we get on recruiting trips with the players who used to play in the program," Auriemma said. "We have a lot of laughs now."

Auriemma said his favorite Rutgers moment was the night (Feb. 10, 1998) when joyous fans carried Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer off the floor in Piscataway after the Scarlet Knights defeated the Huskies.

This wasn't long after Stringer landed the job and the team's media guide pronounced Rutgers the "Jewel of the East."

"There's 30 seconds left in that game and I'm sitting on the bench. It's over and we're going to lose," Auriemma said. "Someone is shooting free throws at the other end. (Freshman) Linda Miles walks all the way back near us and yells, "Get used to this Geno! Four more years!'

"To this day when I see her (an aspiring official) we laugh," Auriemma said.

It should be noted Rutgers never beat UConn again with Miles there.

Then there's the relationship between Auriemma and Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer, whom Auriemma affectionately referred to Saturday as "C. Viv."

Stringer, who has been very respectful of UConn's accomplishments, nonetheless has a checkered history with Auriemma. There was once a legendary postgame argument after a 2005 Big East tournament game.

Television cameras captured Rutgers guard Cappie Pondexter's animation after the game, directing what appeared to be some unkind words toward Auriemma.

Thirty minutes later, Stringer told a roomful of reporters that Auriemma "made a comment (to Pondexter) unbecoming to any player at any time."

When reporters asked Auriemma if he was aware of Stringer's comments during the formal postgame news conference, Auriemma said, "Vivian has no idea what I said. Zero idea."

Pressed further, Auriemma told another reporter that what happened was "none of your business."

The best part: Stringer and Auriemma argued behind the curtain in the press room. Tournament officials jacked up some music over the intercom in the room so reporters couldn't hear. It was Sinatra.

"Her old players have better stories about C. Viv than I have, believe me," Auriemma said.

UConn's best win in the rivalry came in 1999 with Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Shea Ralph and Amy Duran all injured.

A few days earlier, the Huskies lost at Boston College. Next came a road game at Rutgers. Doom was predicted.

"It was typical UConn-Rutgers. Physical. Back in the days when you could foul on every possession," Auriemma said. "We're down one, maybe 10 seconds left. In the huddle, I say to Svet (Svetlana Abrosimova) '(gosh darnit) Sveta, we need a steal right now.' She nods once. No smile, nothing. Just like if the KGB asked someone to murder five people.

"She goes out there, gets a steal and a layup and we win by one," Auriemma said. "I said, 'Damn. That kid is unbelievable.'"

After the game, Abrosimova deadpanned in her endearing Russian accent, "Coach said we needed a steal so I got one." With no smile.

Stringer and the Scarlet Knights advanced Saturday with an impressive win over Seton Hall. The winner tonight gets the winner of Louisville-South Florida in the Sweet 16 game Saturday in Albany.


Twitter: @BCgenius


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