Connecticut women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma laughs as he recalls a greeting he received from another coach during last year's Final Four.
“Hey, congratulations. You guys had a nice year,” the coach told Auriemma.
A nice year? UConn was about to win its seventh national title and 78th consecutive game. But to many UConn followers, that was considered “a nice year.”
“That’s kind of where we are,” Auriemma said.
Connecticut (32-1) enters this season’s NCAA tournament after the Huskies’ sixth consecutive 30-win season. They just won a 19th regular-season Big East title. They just won a 17th Big East tournament title. And they’ve won 20 straight games since having a 90-game winning streak snapped by Stanford on Dec. 30.
But Auriemma knows none of that will mean anything to UConn fans if the Huskies don’t win another national title.
“I think we’re even beyond that point now that winning 30 games is not a big deal,” Auriemma said. “Going to the Sweet 16 is not a big deal. Going to the Final Four is not a big deal.”
Hartford coach Jen Rizzotti said she finds that a bit sad. Rizzotti, who takes her 16th-seeded Hawks to Storrs, Conn., on Sunday to face UConn in the tournament’s first round, was the point guard on UConn’s first national championship team in 1995.
“People were so excited for us,” she said. “These kids (at UConn) will never know what that’s like. It’s expected of them. But they also are experiencing a lot more things than we ever did, because they are doing it every year. But I do feel people are not forgiving enough if they have one bad night.”
UConn star Maya Moore said the team embraces the expectations.
“That’s always the goal every year, to win a national championship,” she said. “And we have a really good opportunity to do that this year, so it’s still more of a long-term goal that’s gotten a lot closer. Now, we’ve got to take care of it, one game at a time.”
TOURNAMENT CAPS RECOVERY FOR MINGO
Four months ago, Purdue forward Drey Mingo lay unconscious on her apartment floor with an illness that gave her a 50 percent chance of survival. On Sunday, she will lead her team into the NCAA tournament.
Mingo will start when the Boilermakers (20-11) play Kansas State (21-10) in a first-round game Sunday in Storrs, Conn. It’s a stunning turn of events for Mingo, who was admitted to the hospital on Nov. 23 with bacterial meningitis.
“It’s an act of God,” said her roommate, Purdue guard Antionette Howard. “For her now to be back at her full force and having such an impact on the game, it’s amazing, like a miracle.”