Geno Auriemma's UConn Huskies easily beat Pitt Tuesday, but he still had some criticisms for his players.
Tuesday's performance almost made it seem like last Saturday didn't happen. The Huskies went to Pittsburgh and beat the Panthers 86-37, returning to the form they displayed for much of the season: plenty of scoring from its backcourt (Bria Hartley had 10, Tiffany Hayes had 13 and freshman Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis added 23) and stifling defense.
Pitt shot 12 percent from the floor in the first half and ended the evening at 24 percent. The Huskies, meanwhile, converted 61.4 percent of their looks. Those numbers, the difference in talent, and the fact that Geno Auriemma likely got his message across about not underestimating anybody, all led to Tuesday's result. That would explain comments like this from junior Kelly Faris:
"I was ready to get in the gym and ready to figure out what it's going to take to change and to really change, not just to say it."
Mosqueda-Lewis added: "Tonight, we tried to make an emphasis against Pitt that we were playing hard, we were cutting hard, we were making every pass get to our player and playing sharp defense. It's late in the season and we need to make sure everything we've worked on since December is done in the game."
So, yes, it appears that the Huskies, now the fourth-ranked team in the country, did take Auriemma's message to heart.
"Sometimes you can get away with it, just on talent," he said. "I don't know that the players we have this year match the talent we've had in the past. Maybe in the past you could get away with it, but this team can't. It's a matter of playing to your ability every single minute of every day, or you're going to get beat."
Ah, yes, the Auriemma sleight-of-hand motivational tactics. He's a master of the backhand compliment delivered solely with the intent of coaxing his team into playing better. He did it earlier in the year with freshman Kiah Stokes and -- you guessed it -- she responded. He did it earlier this week with sophomore Stefanie Dolson (she had just eight points against Pitt but it's still early), and now he's included the entire roster.
But it's all a well-orchestrated plan. Even his counterparts recognize it.
"Geno does right by the student-athlete," Pitt coach Agnus Berenato said. "He always remembers where he came from and it's always about the student-athlete. His players are going to play hard. But what he will do is work on situations, half-court zones, half-court offenses. Geno is the ultimate educator, and as an educator, you have to make it worthwhile for the kids."
With the 49-point victory, Auriemma accomplished what he wanted to accomplish, even if he didn't lavish is players with praise afterwards. In fact, he did just the opposite, because he's still preparing this team for the Big East and NCAA Tournaments. Now's not the time to bask in your successes.
"It's hard to tell exactly what we got out of the game," Auriemma said via the Hartford Courant. "I mean, we could have come out here and put 120 on them like Notre Dame did [a 120-44 win on Jan. 17 in South Bend]. We could have shot threes the whole game and tried to run the score up. But that's not the point.
"The point is to work on your game. The point is to make sure you have players getting better and I think they are. It's always what you see from a game. We ask ourselves all the time if things worked because we executed well or because the opponent didn't have the talent to stop it. Either way is fine, as long as you are getting the stuff done because you are always looking down the road when you will need to do it."