Never in her wildest dreams did Berube see herself coaching against UConn
Carla Berube, head coach of the Princeton women’s basketball team, will have her players on the UConn campus to match up against the sixth-ranked Huskies on Thursday.
Earlier in the day, Berube’s team will leave its hotel on campus, the one adjacent to the dorm where Berube resided when she played for UConn and Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma, and walk down Hillside Road to Gampel Pavilion for the team shootaround.
“I’m not sure we have much time to be showing them (around) too much,” said Berube, a 1997 UConn graduate who played for the Huskies’ first national championship team in 1995. “I’m just excited for them to be able to play in Gampel.
“We’re staying right on campus. The hotel is right next to my dorm so they’ll be able to see where I spent a few years of my life and my dining hall and all that. From the hotel we’re going to walk to shootaround. ... No offense to (playing in) Hartford; I really wanted to be in Storrs and back on campus.”
UConn (6-1) will play Princeton (5-2) at 7 p.m. (SNY) on what is being promoted as Throwback Night.
UConn will be without leading scorer Azzi Fudd for 3-6 weeks, the team announced Tuesday, due to a right knee injury she suffered in Sunday’s loss to Notre Dame, while the availability of graduate forward Dorka Juhasz (broken thumb) will be a game-time decision.
Berube, the former UConn crowd favorite, is a perfect tie in to Throwback Night, making her first appearance opposite Auriemma and UConn as a head coach.
Berube, 47, is in her fourth season at Princeton after amassing a record of 384-96 in 17 seasons as the head coach at Division III Tufts. The Tigers were 25-5 last season, advancing to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
At Tufts, Berube coached the Jumbos to the national championship game twice, the Division III Final Four four times and the Sweet 16 nine times.
“Never in my wildest dreams 26 years ago did I think I’d be back, after playing in Gampel and playing for Connecticut, that I would be coaching against the Huskies,” Berube said in a Zoom call earlier this week.
“It’s a little full circle. Just excited, excited for the challenge ahead. My team will be ready. We’ll be prepared. We’re going up there to win a basketball game. I know there’s a lot more sort of around the fringes of this, coaching against my alma mater. We’ll be locked in and competing to win a basketball game.”
Last season, No. 11 Princeton upset No. 6 Kentucky 69-62 in the first round of the NCAA tournament, then came within a point of No. 3 Indiana (56-55) in a second-round loss. The winner of that game would go on to face No. 2 UConn in the Bridgeport Regional.
At the time, UConn’s Auriemma defined Berube as “the quietest kid maybe we’ve ever coached.”
Berube was astonished by that characterization.
“I can’t believe that,” she said. “I was quiet. I was an introvert, but I think I found my voice by senior year. I was a captain and a leader. I think I really embraced that role my senior year. I really liked leading. I liked leading by example.”
The leadership acumen she gained at UConn is what led her to coaching.
“When I left Connecticut, I wasn’t thinking, ‘OK, that’s going to be my job,’” Berube said. “My four years of basketball and four years of just being a student-athlete at Connecticut certainly had a huge impact on me in so many ways.
“Coach and CD (associate coach Chris Dailey) and (assistant coach) Tonya Cardoza and so many of my teammates taught me how to work, what work ethic means, what focus means, what discipline means, how important relationships are, team chemistry, all the things they value at Connecticut and what I value here at Princeton in my coaching career.
“It’s where I learned everything.”
Berube wasn’t sure she would ever leave Tufts, where she had so much success in the New England Small College Athletic Conference, but thought that if she did it would be for the Ivy League, similar to the NESCAC with a reputation rooted in academics.
Berube, originally from Oxford, Mass., was hired as Princeton’s head coach on May 29, 2019.
“I came here and the cupboard was really nice and full of great talent, really great young women, great student-athletes,” Berube said. “It ended up being a really great transition for me professionally and personally with my family. It kind of was a no-brainer.
“It was a good time and a really great fit. I’ve really, truly embraced this place. They’ve embraced me. It’s just a great place to come and work every day.”
Princeton is led by 5-foot-9 guard Kaitlyn Chen with 14.1 points and 4.0 assists per game, 5-11 guard Julia Cunningham with 13.1 points per game, 5-11 guard Grace Stone with 10.7 points per game and 6-1 forward Ellie Mitchell with 6.1 points, 13.7 rebounds and 3.6 steals per game.
The Tigers were ranked No. 24 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll to begin the season, the first Ivy League women’s team to secure that honor. Princeton’s losses have come against Villanova (69-59) and at No. 16 Texas (74-50).
It will be Berube’s first visit to Gampel in nine years, since 9-year-old son Parker was a baby.
There is talk of how the game will play out without Fudd, a sophomore national player of the year candidate who was averaging 20.6 points per game prior to her injury, and also as to whether Princeton can end UConn’s streak of 1,066 games without back-to-back losses.
Berube, who previously coached Fudd and UConn junior Paige Bueckers (also injured) as members of USA Basketball, refuses to get sidetracked from the game.
“I love Azzi and Paige. I spent two summers with them. I certainly don’t want to see them on the bench,” Berube said. “It’s Connecticut. Next All-American up, right? Yes, Azzi’s a great scorer, but Lou (Lopez Senechal is) a great shooter, too. They’ve got weapons everywhere from Aaliyah Edwards to there’s no one tougher than Nika Muhl. I’m sure that coach will have a great game plan to put together to be successful.
“... I think we tried to maybe get them on the schedule during the COVID year. That didn’t work out. I’ve just been looking forward to it. I want to challenge my players. I want to get them in games with really great opponents and why not (UConn)? It’s the college basketball capital of the world.”