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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Time for reflection for Big East hierarchy

One last time eight of the nine original members of the Big East Conference gathered to crown a champion.

Some of the best action might actually not be taking place on the court at the XL Arena but in the impromptu story-telling sessions as the conference coaches gather to take a trip down memory lane.

"I think there will be lots of story telling and reminiscing," Big East Associate Commissioner Danielle Donehew said. "I have heard from a lot of our head coaches, they are excited to participate this year as they always are but specifically in this year, they are really going to appreciate every moment, come together and unite and provide a great experience. We are committed to making sure this championship is special which it always has been but certainly there will be more reflection in a real attitude of cherishing every moment."

Villanova's Harry Perretta, the only one to coach in every Big East women's tournament, and UConn's Geno Auriemma, the conference's all-time winningest coach, recall a simpler time when the stage featured quaint gatherings inside small campus facilities. There was no ESPN crew on hand to carry the action live, often times just a handful of media members. 

"I forget who I had this conversation with but it did become a little nostalgic but the conference used to rotate," Auriemma said. "When I went to Catholic school you had to be fair, you had to be Christian like so everybody got a chance whether you place sat 2,500 or whether it sat 10,000. It was small time, it was very much unlike anything we had today. Back then if you would have said to all those schools 'you know what for a whole bunch of years you guys are going to have this tournament in Hartford and there are going to be 10-11,000 people there and ESPN is going to televise the semifinals and finals' they would have told you that you are out of your mind. ESPN didn't televise any of those games, nobody televised any of those games and here we are today. I'd like to think we had a lot to do with that. Now it is over and it is time to start over again."

Auriemma was asked to recall the most memorable experiences at the tournament and he doesn't lack for material with a record 18 Big East tournament titles during his time at UConn.

"At Seton Hall in '94-95 when we had that undefeated team and it didn't matter where we played this tournament. Seton Hall was really, really good and we beat them in the finals," Auriemma said. "I remember that championship game because it was pretty special to finish the regular season undefeated, win the tournament and go into the NCAA tournament as the top seed. Then the one when I was suspended (in 1989 due to punishment for a scheduling issue) and I couldn't coach and what was even worse was the game wasn't even on the radio. It was on WHUS and they didn't get that in New Jersey and that tournament was at Seton Hall as well. That was pretty memorable, those two are probably ... Those games with Providence (in the 1991 and 1992 finals) were pretty special because Providence was damn good. I remember we beat them here in a great game, they beat us there in a great game and then. Those two and there have been a lot of little things, the roof leaking here and (Rutgers coach) C. Viv (C. Vivian Stringer) couldn't understand why it was leaking, she thought it was a conspiracy to affect the outcome of the game. I remember trying to convince her that we are on a roll, we just scored 15 straight points and why would I want to roof to leak right now."

Another memorable game, for another reason, came in 2003 when Villanova stunned UConn in the championship game. It was the first title for the Wildcats since back to back championships in 1986 and 1987. 

"When we won it twice before but obviously 2003 we will always remember because it was more of a modern era so I will always remember that one," Perretta said. "I just remember the whole time, going up to the suites talking to coaches, sitting in the stands, it is real fun."

At season's end Pittsburgh and Syracuse are headed to the ACC and it was announced yesterday that the Catholic 7 schools (DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall and Villanova) announced their split from the football schools in the Big East. Two-time defending Big East regular season champion Notre Dame is in talks to leave for the ACC at the end of the season. The word bittersweet seems to be the best one to describe the feelings of those who put their heart and soul into making the Big East into the best women's basketball league in the nation.

"It's been amazing, it's been remarkable, it's been challenging," Donehew said. "It is difficult to put into words the feelings and the work and the vision that has to be created in order to sustain a business and sustain a brand through these challenging times. The world that we live in now in collegiate athletics has certainly shifted and changed. Whether we wanted this to happen or not, it happened and we have to make sure we do the best with the opportunities given to us. You never want realignment to happen. The good news is we have some great people who are working on this daily whether it is our conference office, whether it is our remaining members, whether it is our new members there is a lot of great energy and great commitment that we will be able to build something special but it will take a little bit of time but we can do it."

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