UConn women's mantra: Less talking, more winning
Orlando, Fla. — The subject of winning a national championship comes up only once a season inside the UConn women's basketball camp.
Coach Geno Auriemma mentions it on the first day of practice in October.
You don't win 10 national titles by just talking about it.
"We start every season by talking about the expectation at Connecticut is we're trying to compete for a national championship," said Auriemma during American Athletic Conference media day Monday at the Grand Bohemian Hotel. "The only time we talk about is the first day of practice.
"It's understood, that's what the goal is. That's why they came to Connecticut. Then once we put it out there, that's it. It's not something we talk about a lot. But I'm sure they talk about it on their own."
Actually, the players don't really talk about it, according to forward Morgan Tuck. They're too busy on concentrating on making the daily improvements required to reach their ultimate goal.
"We focus on the moment right now, because the end doesn't matter if we don't care what we have to do now," Tuck said. "When you come to UConn, that's the goal automatically."
It wasn't always that way.
There was a different mentality before UConn began ruling the college basketball landscape.
Let's take the time machine back to the late 1990s.
"I remember I used to talk about it a lot, because we won in '95," Auriemma said. "Then '96, '97, '98, '99, we didn't (win) and we talked about it a lot. Until one day Svetlana Abrosimova said, 'Why do we talk about winning a national championship all the time? Isn't that what the goal is every year?'
Auriemma agreed with Abrosimova.
"We stopped talking about it and we started winning more," Auriemma said. "Maybe those two things go together, I don't know."
UConn began a remarkable run, winning nine national titles since 2000. Now the Huskies are shooting to make history by winning a record fourth straight championship this season.
Senior Breanna Stewart, senior Moriah Jefferson and Tuck, a redshirt junior, can earn their fourth ring.
"They're in position to have a historic career," Auriemma said. "I don't think any college player has won four national championships, men or women. ... It's not anything that's talked about every day, but I know that's what they want. I'm sure it's part of their daily routine in terms of how they prepare."
UConn will be a heavy favorite this season to add to its well-stocked trophy case.
As expected, the Huskies are a unanimous choice to win the conference, as voted on by the AAC coaches who are not allowed to select their own team. South Florida received the other vote.
UConn and South Florida dominated the preseason All-AAC first team. Stewart, the preseason player of the year, Tuck and Jefferson represented the Huskies. Seniors Alisia Jenkins and Courtney Williams made it from the Bulls. UConn's Kia Nurse is on the second team.
South Florida is one of the few teams that could challenge UConn, which won by a stunning average of 40.6 points last season. The Bulls return their entire roster from last year's NCAA tournament team.
No team in the AAC played UConn tougher than USF, which lost by 23 and 14 in the two meetings.
"You would hope that we're closing the gap," USF coach Jose Fernandez said. "We've got everybody back. We've got experience coming back and we added some very good pieces."
Temple, which is picked to place third in the preseason poll, also has a chance to be an NCAA tournament team. The Owls are more experienced and deeper than last season
Temple coach Tonya Cardoza, a former assistant coach on Auriemma's staff during five national championship seasons, hopes her program will take another giant step forward.
"Teams are getting closer (to UConn)," Cardoza said. "After being in the conference for two years and playing against them, teams are understanding that you can't show up and be afraid. You have to step up and compete against them. ... What it's going to take is 40 minutes of basketball. You can't have any slip-ups.
"It's not you can get in there and play with them for 15 minutes and think you're there, because in the next five minutes they can just take your heart out."
Stories that may interest you
UConn, with back-to-back fourth-quarter 3-pointers from Tennessee transfer Evina Westbrook to give the Huskies the lead for good, toppled No. 25 Tennessee 67-61 before 3,553 fans on Rocky Top.
Injuries have eroded that depth. The loss of sophomore standout James Bouknight has particularly hurt.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma has spoken at length about his late Tennessee counterpart Pat Summitt in recent weeks, having passed her career win total, now the Huskies travel to Knoxville to meet the Lady Vols.