STORRS - As Geno Auriemma made his way to Gampel Pavilion Saturday to make history for himself and for the UConn women’s basketball team, the history between his Huskies and the day’s opponent - Providence - rushed back.
“I was asked back in the day, ‘How would you know when you’ve reached a certain level in the Big East?’ ”Auriemma said. “I said, ‘We want to beat Providence. If we can beat Providence, hell man, we’re going to be really, really good. If we can beat Providence and Villanova, we’ve got it made. Once we get there, we know we’re good.’
“Those games between us and the Friars we’re always great battles. Always. Bob Foley was coaching there and he was doing a great job. They had great players and great tradition. The same for Villanova with Harry (Perretta) back in the days. Those two teams were hard to play against and they were the two best teams in the Big East. If we could beat them, man, this is like dying and going to heaven.”
The latest matchup was more recent history than ancient history. Third-ranked UConn overcame a slow start and beat Providence for the 29th straight time. The 87-50 win was No. 1,098 for Auriemma, tying him with late Tennessee coach Pat Summitt for second on the all-time wins list behind Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer (1,104). The contest also marked 1,000 games since the Huskies lost back-to-back games.
It took Auriemma seven games until his Huskies beat the Friars for the first time in 1988. A year later, he got his first win over the Wildcats in his ninth try. His teams are 62-8 against the two since.
The 1,098 wins goes to Auriemma’s success and longevity as coach. The 1,000 consecutive games without back-to-back losses speaks of the Huskies’ consistency under his guidance.
Paige Bueckers, who had a game high 23 points Saturday, has been around for just seven of those 1,000 games. But the freshman gets it.
“It’s kind of the expectation of UConn and that’s why I wanted to come here,” she said. “The high level of expectations is unlike any other school in the country. You can see it in practice, you can see it in games, you can see it in drills, you can see it off the court in everything we do.
“I’m not surprised. Wait, I am surprised because that’s a really crazy stat. But if you would see the way we come to work every day and see how hard we go, it’s expected. Our expectation is to win every single game. But to do it is easier said than done. That’s an awesome stat.”
Of course, no current player was born yet when UConn last suffered consecutive losses on March 18, 1993.
Among the former players who were not born on that date are Kiah Stokes (the closest at March 30, 1993), Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Morgan Tuck, Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart, Kia Nurse, Azura Stevens, Gabby Williams, Napheesa Collier, Katie Lou Samuelson, Crystal Dangerfield, and Megan Walker. Those 12 were in the WNBA last year. Put those 12 on one roster, do you think they’d win some games?
Since the start of the 1993-94 campaign, the Huskies have 936 wins and a 64-0 record following a loss.
“That’s just one of those things,” Auriemma said. “First of all, I’ve been lucky. I’ve coached a lot of kids that get pissed off when we lose. I don’t know if that’s the way it is today in the world. But all these years that I’ve coached at Connecticut, when we lose a game, guys are really pissed. It doesn’t take much for me to get them ready to go for the next game.
“There’s this mindset at Connecticut where when we lose a game, everybody takes it personally. There’s no, ‘This was one of those things and we’ll get the next one. Don’t worry about it.’ No. It is for all those years going back, no matter how long you want to go back, losing - whether it was lost four games or five games or one game - losing a game at Connecticut was life-changing.”
Eight times UConn has beaten a ranked team to keep its back-to-back streak alive, including four Top 10 opponents. The closest game following a loss was a one-point win at Rutgers on Jan. 27, 1999, though South Florida took UConn to overtime on Dec. 1, 2004, at Gampel Pavilion with the streak on the line but won by 10.
As far as Saturday’s game went, it’s one the Huskies would like to put behind them. They trailed by seven in the first quarter and by then Bueckers was the only remaining starter on the floor. But reserves Aubrey Griffin, Anna Makurat, Nika Muhl, and Mir McLean came on to provide the necessary spark as UConn took command in the second quarter and blew it open in the third.
With seven of the 13 games necessary to qualify for the NCAA Tournament in the books, the Huskies can look forward to their next scheduled game against Seton Hall on Wednesday at Gampel Pavilion.
But for one day it was fun to look back.