UConn Streak; That Was Then This Is Now

By Mel Greenberg

HARTFORD, Conn. -- As the top-ranked University of Connecticut women's basketball team continues to compile astronomical numbers along what is at the moment the second largest win streak to the Huskies' standing  NCAA record of 70 that lasted from 2001-02 until the Big East title game against Villanova in 2003, coach Geno Auriemma has been challenged to find moderation and graciousness in his postgame comments.

There were no barbs tossed in the direction of Rutgers after the Scarlet Knights took their seat on victims row as No. 59 with a 73-36 thrashing in Tuesday night's conference meeting here at the X:L Center.

In fact the most revealing moments came after Auriemma's podium comments to a smaller group of reporters about how he has to temper things now that he is also the coach of the United States national women, anticipated to be aka as the UConn alumnae association, through the 2012 Olympics.

In that regard, the interweaving between the two roles since his appointment in April continues Wednesday morning less than an hour from here at the Mohegan Arena, actually the Wolf's Den at the casino complex. That's where the WNBA is expected to announce the pro women's league's annual mid-summer classic will be a format simmilar to the 2004 contest at Radio City Music Hall in New York with the nationals matched up against remaiuning WNBA stars.

There were no word whether snacks at the event will be served in Auriemma's restaurant at Mohegan down the road in Uncasville.

While there was no official acknowledgement Tuesday night of the purpose of Wednesday's event, officials from the WNBA and USA Basketball were in the house on press row.

Officials from the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame were also on the scene, an indicitation that some future event sponored by the institution housed in Knoxville, Tenn., will also involve the Huskies, whose former star Rebecca Lobo will be among this year's inducatees in June.

Auriemma's only noteworthy jab occurred right after his media session at the podium ended and he quipped to UConn's regular beat writers, ``See you guys Saturday in Pittsburgh. Oh, that's right, most of you don't travel any more," a reference to cutbacks across the nation in the newspaper industry because of economic hardships.

 To maintain interest during the second half after the Huskies roared to a 40-15 lead at the break, glamour bets were being made along press row as to the final point total of yet anothe opponent who couldn't score consistently once the Huskies defense put the clamps down as they had against such other notables as Notre Dame, North Carolina, Duke and Stanford.

On game nights, there are now two ways to define concession stand. The traditional description is a place where food and souvenirs can be purchased. The new one is the answer to the question, `Where do you find UConn opponents offering postgame comments?'"

"They are a great team and I do not believe they are given enough credit for their defense," Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said in her postgame comments following the the first-ever matchup between two Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame inductees in a women's contest.

Stringer joined Auriemma in the Naismith Hall,  headquartered in Springfield, Mass., last September. Both are previous inductees to the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.

"I have watched many UConn teams and I believe this is the best UConn team," Stringer said after her up close and personal experience against the 2009-10 edition that follows the unbeaten NCAA titlists of last season. "I do not know if this is the deepest team but it is like a well oil machine."

Perhaps the best news for the Scarlet Knights was Rutgers won't have to deal with the Huskies again at home in Piscataway, N. J., in the wake of the Big East offseason reshuffle of home-and-home opponents. This season, Connecticut was moved to a two-game matchup against Notre Dame which returned to No. 3 after a one-week dip following the Huskies thrashing of the Irish two weekends ago down the road on campus in Storrs.

However, if Rutgers lands on the wrong side of the Big East tournament seedings, the Scarlet Knights could meet Connecticut in this building in the conference semifinals in March on a night that the Huskies could be going after record-breaking victory No. 71 in the streak.

If anything has surprised Auriemma, it is the magnitude of defense Connecticut has played. It is far above the expectations he had heading into the defense of last season's title.

After the Huskies had completed their perfect run in St. Louis in April, Auriemma looked ahead briefly to this season and referenced what the 2002-03 group had to face after four seniors graduated and the mainstay was one Diana Taurasi.

"I would never want next year's team (2009-10) to go through what the 2003 team had to endure," Auriemma referenced the lineup that had inherited the win streak at the time.

Yet here we are two-thirds of the way through the regular season and now the focus is on whether the Huskies can add a new chapter to their illustrious history.

So what has enabled this group to allay the worst of Auriemma's fears in maintaining UConn's perfection to date in lop-sided numbers that even the 2001-03 squads didn't achieve defensively?

"It's a little bit different in that team had one battery source -- Diana Taurasi (now with the defending WNBA champion Pheonix Mercury)," Auriemma said. "So they plugged into her and said, `OK, whatever we need to be done, you do it.'

"And what was difficult was some nights she didn't have it and it was very difficult, day after day after day," Auriemma continued. "Because it's impossible for one person to do it every day.

"Whereas this year what has happened is, they kind of feed off of each other a little bit," Auriemma explained. "So it's made it less stressful. Every night has been different. Every night has been somebody stepping up and playing really well. And having somebody like `D,' still made it a three-ring circus because she drew so much attention.

"This is more of a collective effort. It's much more of a team effort."

-- Mel