Some great memories on Geno's road to 1,000 career wins
Mohegan — Unless Oklahoma authors a Mississippi State-like upset, history happens Tuesday night at Mohegan Sun Arena. What began Nov. 23, 1985 with win No. 1 at Iona has ping-ponged its way to Neon Uncasville, 999 wins and 11 national championships later.
Yes. Our corner of the world has the privilege of witnessing the narrative of ongoing royalty in a few days: victory No. 1,000 for Geno Auriemma and Chris Dailey, the maestros of the nation's preeminent college athletic program, otherwise known as UConn women's basketball.
And so the other day I e-mailed Carl Adamec of the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, the dean of UConn women's beat writers. (Carl knows more about that team than Geno does.) We compiled a list of our favorite 10 games during Geno's run to immortality. They are in chronological order:
• Jan. 6, 1996: UConn travels to Tennessee, which its defeated to win its first national title a year earlier. The Lady Vols had a 69-game home win streak at the time. Rita Williams got shoved out of bounds and got called for traveling in the second half, prompting Auriemma to yell, "Now you see why they've won 69 in a row!" to press row.
The Huskies rallied late and won 59-53. The team got stranded in Knoxville because of — giggle — about four inches of snow that fell after the game. Auriemma rented out the bar (named "Knuckles") at the team hotel to pass the time the next day. Jennifer Rizzotti obliterated everyone else (including the media) playing pool. The team flew to Miami the next day while a blizzard crippled Connecticut. Auriemma managed to play a round of golf at Doral the day before the game, inviting some of us to join. The alligator sunning itself near the 14th green was a learning experience.
• Dec. 2, 1997: After the first media timeout, UConn trailed Villanova, 8-0. Auriemma utters one of his best in-game lines, muttering to Dailey, "We're going to get shut out." Paige Sauer finally hit a 3-pointer a little more than five minutes into the game. UConn won, 67-27.
• Nov. 17, 1998: After playing a two-game tournament in San Jose, Adamec, the late Randy Smith and yours truly made the 8-hour drive down the Pacific Coast Highway for the next game at UCLA. Smith unloaded a number of memorable lines en route, including some bewilderment at why Pepperdine, whose gorgeous campus we passed, doesn't win the national championship in every sport.
The UCLA game began at venerable Pauley Pavilion with defense optional. It's 60-54 UConn at halftime. Auriemma turns to Dailey and yells "we just gave up 50 (gosh darn) points." A young woman on a recruiting visit giggled. Her name: Diana Taurasi.
• Jan 27, 1999: My favorite UConn game ever. One of the few times the program has been a legitimate underdog.
This was a few days after the Huskies, with several key players injured, got throttled at Boston College. Next up: a trip to Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights, mouthy in those days, salivated at the thought. We in the media preached doom and gloom. How could UConn come within 20?
UConn keeps it close, but was down a point late. Rutgers had the ball. Suddenly, Svetlana Abrosimova stole it. UConn scored and won 56-55.
Abrosimova was asked after the game how she had the presence of mind to make such a big play.
"Coach said we needed a steal," Svet said, in complete and total deadpan.
• Jan. 20, 2000: The Hart Center at Holy Cross was sold out for the first time and the Crusaders hung in the game for a while. In the second half, Shea Ralph and Anna Kinne almost got in a fight, while Auriemma laughed on the bench. (He loved Anna Kinne). Then near the end with the game hardly in question, Auriemma sat on the bench while a Holy Cross student stood behind him with a sign: "He just farted." Dailey, Jamelle Elliott and Tonya Cardoza almost fell to the floor in laughter.
• March 6, 2001: Maybe the most surreal night in the history of the program. A blizzard paralyzed the state in the middle of the Big East tournament. UConn won its semifinal on March 5 over Rutgers, but not before the snow on the roof of Gampel caused a leak that delayed the game. Several media and staff spent the night at Gampel.
The next night, Sue Bird made the most famous mad dash down court in program history, making a shot at the buzzer to beat Notre Dame and win the Big East title. Gampel went berserk in both joy and revenge. A few months earlier, Notre Dame dethroned UConn as the nation's No. 1 team, hammering the Huskies in South Bend on Martin Luther King's birthday.
• Jan. 4, 2003: Why is Geno in the Hall of Fame? There's 11.4 seconds left, UConn had a 50-game winning streak but was down three. He had Diana Taurasi. For whom did he design the game-tying 3-pointer? Maria Conlon. Of course, the play didn't work. Taurasi had to go get the ball from Jessica Moore and hit a three to force overtime. UConn won 63-62.
• Feb. 1, 2003: One of the great nights in program history. The first trip to Duke. Cameron Indoor Stadium was sold out and the Crazies were in midseason form.
They chanted "Luigi!" which is Auriemma's given name, "Princess Leia" at Taurasi and "Husky Women" at the team, which was the best one of all.
UConn took a 26-point second-half lead until Sally Bell hit Auriemma with a technical. It inspired a Duke rally that fell short. Randy Smith chided Auriemma in his column about the technical, reasoning that "no one has had more practice with a 26-point lead than he does."
• March 30-April 1, 2003: In between the wins over Boston College and Purdue during the East Regionals in Dayton, Geno made fun of the friendship between Harry Perretta and Pat Summit:
"Harry left me for an older woman," Auriemma said.
It was the lead to "SportsCenter" that night.
• April 8, 2013: Just when the narrative had become how Notre Dame "had UConn's number," the Huskies responded with maybe the sweetest win in the whole rivalry.
Notre Dame had beaten UConn three times that year and seven of the last eight times overall. Until Breanna Stewart — whose freshman year was inconsistent before the tournament — led the way to an 83-65 win at the Final Four in New Orleans. UConn won the national title the next night.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro
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