At various points in the past few months, UConn coach Geno Auriemma has bemoaned his team's plight. Specifically: as soon as things go wrong, they wilt. It's something we're not used to seeing in an Auriemma-coached team, but most of that can be attributed to this club's inexperience and youth.
"We have a couple of players who have won a couple of national championships (Kelly Faris, Tiffany Hayes, Caroline Doty)," Auriemma said Tuesday night. "But they were the shortstop and second basemen whose job was not to hurt the team. Play defense. Turn the double play when you can. Move the runner along. But the three-four-five hitters will carry us.
"All of a sudden you look up and there is no Tina Charles, no Renee Montgomery, no Maya Moore and you start to figure out that this is our team and we've got to win it. Sometimes that is a scary feeling. You don't know if you can do it or not. Tonight and last night, they weren't looking for Maya or Tina or Renee. They looked at each other and said this is what we've got."
So while it may have taken longer than Auriemma liked -- the entire regular season that included four losses (two to Notre Dame) -- it appears UConn finally gets it. And the timing couldn't be better. In back-to-back Big East tournament games, the team avenged losses to St. John's and Notre Dame and did so convincingly.
“I think last night (vs. St. John's) and tonight (vs. Notre Dame), for sure (we rediscovered our winning mentality)," he said. "Those of you that follow our team and watched us play throughout the season, it was a little different approach last night and tonight. You could see that something had been missing when you compare that to our St. John's game, our last Notre Dame game, our Marquette game."
"There are just a lot of games that just didn't play out the way we had hoped. With these young players, if you're not careful, they think that winning is Connecticut basketball. So we would look at them and say, ‘Coach, we're like 25-4, whatever we are, 25-3. Why do I get the sense you're not happy, Coach?’ Because in their minds, we're winning. We're good."
"Then the Notre Dame game comes up and reminds them, no, that's not how you measure whether you're good or not. You measure whether you're good whether you're playing Connecticut basketball other ways, not just by whether you won or lost. So, yeah, we got it back last night. We got it back a little more tonight, and hopefully now … we can hold on to it for three weekends, right? It's three weekends now. … Three weeks from now I'll be done. I hope it goes three weeks. Could be done next weekend.”
Auriemma says he's the same coach he was last week when Notre Dame beat UConn in the regular-season finale; this is more about his players.
"It seems like they've come a long way in a short period of time since last week, but really they've been building on this since September," he said. "I'm thrilled for them. To do what they did with their schedule is pretty amazing."