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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

UConn to honor '03, '04 national championship teams

Ashley Battle is one of seven players from 2002-03 and 2003-04
national championship teams expected to be on hand for today's
Huskies of Honor ceremony before Cincinnati game.
All these years later there is still a little bit of amazement in Geno Auriemma's voice when he reflects on what the 2002-03 and 2003-04 UConn women's basketball team accomplished.

Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Asjha Jones and Tamika Williams were taken within the top six picks of the 2002 WNBA draft and even Auriemma wondered just what his revamped squad would be able to accomplish.

It's a safe bet that winning the 2003 and 2004 national championships was not exactly what he was expecting from that group.

"That 2003 team, that was kind of a magical ride, we just graduated four of the best players to ever play here and we could be just as good," Auriemma said. "It was great because we kind of took everybody by surprise."

Those UConn teams, which will be inducted into the Huskies of Honor before today's game against Cincinnati, didn't lack for talent. Diana Taurasi was the unquestioned star of those teams and she willed the Huskies to three straight national titles. However, Taurasi was one of six players from those teams who played in the WNBA (Ann Strother, Barbara Turner, Ashley Battle, Jessica Moore and Willnett Crockett were the others).

Later this year Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley will be added to the Huskies of Honor and while he will revel in his two seniors receiving that prestigious individual honor, there is something extra special about having an entire team recognized for their collective accomplishments.

"You are really leaving out a lot of incredible people who had a lot to do with the success of your program and putting those teams up there is a way of honoring the great players who played here who did not make first-team All-American and I know it is important to us to recognize them and reward them and I think it is important to them to feel a connection to the school because they consistently want to," Auriemma said "They follow our team from wherever they are, they stay in touch, they have a tremendous loyalty to their program and we do to them and by putting the '95 team and 2000 team up there, you are also putting Pam Webber up there, you are putting Stacy Hansmeyer, Asjha Jones, Tamika Williams and you are putting a lot of great players up there who had a lot to do with our success and this is the same thing, Ann (Strother), Barbara (Turner), Maria (Conlon), Willnett (Crockett) in terms of doing stuff on the court, what they did was incredibly significant. Ashley Battle, Jessica Moore when you are walking around and saying I went to the Final Four five years in a row, I won three national championships when I was at Connecticut, that was pretty amazing and this is our way of recognizing how special those guys were.

"I hope our guys put on a great show and I hope it is a environment and not just for our team but for Jamelle's team and for her personally and all the players that are back from all of those teams. I hope our fans come out and show their appreciation for what those players did. We are going to look back and a lot of those players were part of three in a row. That might not be something you will see in the future."

Auriemma made it clear his current players were made aware of the impact the players on those two teams had in UConn's women's basketball legacy.

"It is always cool to see former players and for us to come out and play for them, it is a special moment," Dolson said. "Coach said at the end of practice today to put on a good show for them. That is what we want to do, they came and won national championships and we want to play well for them."

Speaking of the WNBA, Auriemma addressed the emergence of Dolson and Hartley into likely first-round draft picks.

"I thought 12 teams passed on Tiffany Hayes and seven of them probably wished they hadn't looking back so you don't know," Auriemma said. "I think Stefanie will probably go higher than Bria, it is hard to find 6-5 players who do the things that Stefanie does but I know there are a lot of teams that are drafting 10, 11, 12 and they aren't really quite sure Bria is going to be around so I don't know when they will go but winning counts for a lot and those two guys have won a lot."

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