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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Friday, December 21, 2012

New twist on UConn/Hartford series

Almost like clockwork you could head to Hartford in December to check out the UConn women's basketball team face a Hartford team coached by former UConn great Jen Rizzotti play.

After six straight seasons of the matchups, Rizzotti needed a change. She wanted to offer slots to teams from the power conferences to come to Chase Family Arena in return for a road game.

When Rizzotti approach her mentor, Geno Auriemma, about starting the series at Hartford's on-campus facility, Auriemma thought it would be a nice change of pace. So now the teams will play tomorrow at 1 p.m. at Chase Family Arena.

"I think it is great for our seniors," Rizzotti said. "They have played UConn a few times in their careers but never at home. Going into the (XL) Center and playing in front of 12,000 people is exciting the first time or two but it gets kind of old. Now they have a chance to play in our own arena with a comfort level and in front of our fans, we’ve had people who have been season ticket holders since they’ve gotten here and this game is for them. They come to every game whether we blow people out or we lose and they support our team. Now they get a chance to have a front-row seat for UConn and they can’t get that when they go to UConn.

"It is a nice opportunity to celebrate the success of our program, the atmosphere we already have here and to have people who have a chance to come into our gym and see what we are all about. It is a great place to watch a game, it is going to be fun and electric and the fans are going to be on top of you. For our kids I think it will be a wonderful experience and for our fans, it is kind of a reward for them."

Auriemma chuckled when asked about the atmosphere his team will face inside a building with a seating capacity of 4,017.

"(UConn assistant coach) Shea (Ralph) and I were talking and it is going to be like when we went to Holy Cross back in 2000, the place was sold out and the students were right on top of you," Auriemma said. "It does bring back memories to them of being in a big, huge game in a state tournament. It is not an arena, it is not a 16,000 or 12,000 so I think the kids are going to love it. I think they are going to have a great team, the fans are going to love it, Jen’s kids are going to love it. I am actually kind of excited about it."

If Auriemma were asked to list his favorite UConn players of all time, it likely would not take long for him to rattle off Rizzotti’s name.

She was the starting point guard on UConn’s first national championship team and as fiery of a competitor as Auriemma has ever coached. His feelings as so strong that he is putting off a trip to Florence, Italy so he can attend Rizzotti’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Knoxville, Tenn.

"There was a four-year period or at least three where the average around the country yeah they got to know Rebecca Lobo but our program was kind of defined by the little kid in the pony tail that was all over the place," Auriemma said. "It is hard for a 6-5 player to inspire everybody because you’ll say ‘well, I’ll never get to be 6-5.’ But when you see Jennifer out there running around and she is 5-5, she is national player of the year as a senior and she averaged 11 points a game I think every little girl in Connecticut and across the country said ‘yeah, I can do that.’ Just for that alone she should be in the Hall of Fame much less for what her accomplishments were."

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