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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

UConn greats turn out to celebrate national title

If ever somebody on the outside needed a glimpse of what makes the UConn program so special, all they needed to do was look at the exuberance that the former Husky stars were exhibiting in the post-game celebration.

Olympic gold medalists, professional stars and standouts on multiple national championship teams Tina Charles and Asjha Jones were bouncing up and down like school girls as the current UConn team was in the midst of celebrating the program’s record ninth national title and second in a row.

“I think it is awesome for them to come back and really support us,” UConn senior guard Bria Hartley said. “I am sure their experience here was just as good as mine was. I knew I am going to want to come back and watch all of these kids and how they develop so you just support your alma mater and enjoy the moment that they have.”

Jones, a member of the 2000 and 2002 national title winning teams, took a few moments to discuss what was so special about this year’s squad.

“They come out and play hard every night and tonight was no exception, going in they knew it was going to be a big game,” Jones said.

The 2001-02 team Jones was a part of is considered by many as the greatest in the history of the women’s college game. Jones sees similarities in both teams and especially with the on court camaraderie.

“That is what we do at UConn, top to bottom everybody knows their role,” Jones said. “They don't do anything extra and just play to win.”

Hartley still recalls the feeling of emptiness she and her teammates felt back in 2011.

Guard Ryan Boatright watches the women's national championship game
A day before the Huskies’ men’s basketball team, UConn lost to Notre Dame in the national semifinals depriving UConn of matching the feat of sweeping the men’s and women’s national titles which the Huskies accomplished in 2004.

“We always wanted to be a part of something like that, especially when the men won in 2011,” Hartley said. “We really felt like we were going to win that year but it is all right, just a couple years later we were able to do it. It just says how dominant our program is for men's and women's basketball. It is amazing what Coach Kevin Ollie has been able to do with those guys in one year, it is awesome. I admire the way he coaches and the guys with how hard they work. Coach Auriemma is the same way, he instills a lot of confidence in us and make sure we work hard the entire game.”

Nobody had a better vantage point for the double national championships than UConn director of athletics Warde Manuel, who flew back and forth so he could be there during the glorious runs of both teams.

“Just seeing the level of performance that we have on our men's and women's teams, I couldn't be prouder of what they achieved,” Manuel said. “We are the college basketball center of the world. It's been that way for a while. We are so proud of the team. We have two coaches, one is a Hall of Fame and Kevin if he keeps at this pace, he will soon be a Hall of Famer. I am proud to work with those gentlemen.”

There will be a parade on Sunday beginning at 4 p.m. in Hartford where both championship teams will be honored.

The frosty relationship between Auriemma and Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw certainly got a lot of play in the days leading up to the national championship game.

However, both in the pre-game handshake and in the meeting after the game, the body language between the two was reminiscent of the days when they two were considered to be close friends even as they were vying for Big East and national supremacy.

“It is never like it appears to be,” Auriemma said after the game. “She understands how hard it is to win at this level. She understands how hard it is to win a national championship. I have an awful lot of respect for the job that they did. They lost their starting center (Natalie Achonwa to a torn ACL in the regional final win over Baylor) and they don't miss a beat. They come down here and they were just unbelievable and I told her 'I know you won Coach of the Year but you probably didn't get all the success you deserve for the job that you did.' I think when you strip away all the nonsense that it out there, it is not like that. When you compete, things happen and it gets emotional.”

McGraw had some classy things to say about the UConn team following the game including the exchange with Auriemma as the final seconds ticked off the clock.

“I said something like I thought we were playing the Miami Heat for a while; you guys are just that good,” McGraw said.  “What a great season; things like that. I thought they were just missing LeBron (James).


Anonymous Joe said...

I wonder how much of the animosity that bubbles up against Geno from time to time is a subliminal resentment that he is a man with great success in coaching women.

I also think that stories about Chris Dailey's contributions are far, far too few. Geno gives her credit but no one in the media seems to.

9:33 AM 

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