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    Saturday, May 25, 2024

    UConn’s Auriemma in search of career win No. 1,200 on Wednesday

    UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma yells to his players during Sunday’s win over St. John’s at Gampel Pavilion. A win Wednesday over Seton Hall would give Auriemma 1,200 career wins, joining Tara VanDerveer (Stanford women) and Mike Krzyzewski (Duke men) as the only Division I college basketball coaches to reach that milestone. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    University of Connecticut’s Paige Bueckers (5) gathers teammates in a huddle during a women’s basketball game against St. John’s at Harry A. Gampel Pavilion Sunday, February 4, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    A win Wednesday night for UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma would be the 1,200th of his career, one of only three Division I basketball coaches to reach that milestone along with Stanford women’s coach Tara VanDerveer (1,206) and former Duke men’s coach Mike Krzyzewski (1,202).

    He joked about it Sunday afternoon as he hit No. 1,199, blaming Anna LaBonte of the UConn athletic communications department for making it into a big deal.

    “If it was up to her, we’d have a sign for Wednesday’s game, ‘I’m No. 3,’” Auriemma wisecracked.

    And yet he appreciates the 39-year career that has brought him to this juncture, crediting the players and the assistant coaches for the Huskies’ 11 national championships, which he says is the true number for which the program should be remembered.

    UConn star Paige Bueckers compared Auriemma to NBA all-time leading scorer and 20-time All-Star LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers.

    “It’s like LeBron, it’s so hard to stay that great for that long,” Bueckers said. “It’s just a testament to the culture he’s built here, him and (associate head coach Chris Dailey) being here the longest.

    “From the start, he expects the same out of every single player. He builds a relationship with every single player. He demands greatness and you can see it in the championships, the success here, the total number of wins, the players he produces for the pros, the Olympics.

    “But him just having that resume, I don’t think it speaks to the person he is and the greatness he demands out of us as a coach.”

    Auriemma is 1,199-160 (.882) headed into Wednesday’s Big East Conference matchup with Seton Hall at the XL Center (7 p.m., SNY).

    He is the fastest coach in men’s or women’s basketball history to reach 800 wins, 900, 1,000 and 1,100. He has been a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame since 2006. The Huskies won national championships in 1995, 2000, 2002-04, 2009-10 and 2013-16.

    Auriemma, born in Italy and raised in Norristown, Pennsylvania, coached the U.S. Women’s National team for eight years, with the Americans winning Olympic gold medals in 2012 in London and 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.

    He spoke Sunday with his wife Kathy standing off to the side in the interview room.

    Auriemma who will turn 70 on March 23, said he doesn’t plan on stepping down any time soon.

    “If they keep offering me a new contract, at some point you’re going to say ‘No, I can’t do this anymore,’” Auriemma said. “You know when that day will be? When we can’t get players ... or what you have to go through to get good players becomes ‘Do I really want to do that?’

    “But our recruiting hasn’t fallen off. We’re still getting the kind of players that I like to coach and enjoy being around. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t do this anymore.”

    Auriemma has coached 26 UConn players who have earned WBCA All-America honors 46 times. Members of his teams have been recognized as national player of the year 14 times, including Bueckers as a freshman in 2021.

    He said he wouldn’t have made it to year No. 39 without the dozens of “best” players.

    Bueckers said she sees Auriemma’s energy and enthusiasm at the same level it’s always been, even though the Hall of Fame coach has taken to referring to himself as “Zen.”

    “The way he yells and has energy at practice, you couldn’t put an age on it,” Bueckers said. “... Just him pouring it all into the game. When you give to the game it gives back and that’s what he’s done and he’s never changed who he is as a coach.

    “I think he just gets wiser with age. He can keep going if he wants.”

    UConn (19-4, 11-0) is led by Bueckers with 20.3 points per game and reigning Big East Player of the Week Aaliyah Edwards who had a career-high 33 points in Sunday’s victory over St. John’s. Edwards is averaging 17.7 points and 8.6 rebounds per game.

    Seton Hall is 13-9, 5-6. The Pirates are led by 6-foot-1 guard/forward Azana Baines with 15.4 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.

    v.fulkerson@theday.com

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