Why UConn's program is good for the women's game
Just "catch up."
That's Geno Auriemma's advice for any team sick of Connecticut dominating women's college basketball.
The Huskies, winning by an average of 41.9 points, seek their third straight national title this weekend in Tampa, Florida, where all four No. 1 seeds advanced to the women's Final Four.
Connecticut will face Maryland in Sunday's second national semifinal (7:30 p.m., ESPN) after Notre Dame and South Carolina tangle in the opener (5:30 p.m., ESPN).
A title would give Connecticut 10 in the last 21 years.
"Half the people in women's basketball want us to lose, maybe more than half. And some maybe are just tired of it," said the always frank Auriemma. "Nothing we can do about that, not one thing. My players work just as hard if not harder than anybody else."
Of course, Auriemma has the luxury of having a roster of high school All-Americans.
And that's not just luck. Auriemma and his staff have worked it hard to build the program from the ground up. Before the Huskies made their first Final Four in 1991, the program was an afterthought. Now Connecticut is the epicenter of women's college basketball, and Auriemma gets the best players every year.
It's easy to hate on a winner, easy to try to poke at the armor with every criticism. And even though UConn's excellence had led to predictable end results in many NCAA tournaments, this program has been good for the game.
Auriemma is a gem who knows how to work the media. His refreshing directness and sense of humor draws attention to him, and the game. Many mainstream sports fans can appreciate their talent and skill. That has been good for women's basketball, too.
"I would like to think what we've done over the course of the last 10 years or so has been really good for the popularity of the game," Auriemma said. "I think coaches around the country can say, 'Hey, look what happened up in a small place like Storrs, look at what they've been able to do. Why can't we do the same thing?' "
Some teams are starting to get there. Notre Dame is playing in its fifth consecutive Final Four. Maryland is playing in back-to-back Final Fours. Midmajor Dayton made a great run to the Elite Eight last weekend and gave Connecticut all it could handle for a half. There were six upsets in the first round of the tourney this year.
"It's up to everybody else to catch up," Auriemma said. "(But) I think the catching up is happening. We're not invincible. We're not unbeatable. I just think we've been on an amazing run, and it's going to end. Somebody is going to knock us off, maybe this weekend, who knows?"
Um, yeah, probably not this weekend, Geno.
Philly connection: Three Final Four coaches grew up in Philadelphia: Geno Auriemma (Connecticut), Muffet McGraw (Notre Dame) and Dawn Staley (South Carolina).
"I'm so extremely happy that Philadelphia is getting the due that it deserves," Staley said.
Keeping it going: One long winning streak will come to an end Sunday in the Connecticut-Maryland semifinal.
UConn has the nation's longest winning streak at 35 games. The last time UConn (36-1) lost was Nov. 17 to Stanford 88-86 OT.
At 28 straight wins, Maryland (34-2) last lost on Dec. 3 to Notre Dame 92-72.
Nation's best: The Associated Press will name its national player of the year today, and Chicago-area product Jewell Loyd is likely one of the top two finalists.
Loyd, a junior guard at Notre Dame who averaged 18.4 ppg this season, starred at Niles West. Her competition for the award is UConn junior Breanna Stewart (17.5 ppg).
"Every good player wants to be the best," said Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw. "I don't think there is any question she (Loyd) would like to be Player of the Year. I think she's earned it."
Stewart has been the Final Four MVP the last two years. She was AP's national player of the year last season.
"It's really important to her," UConn's Auriemma said. "I think it's important to Jewell Loyd. If they say it doesn't matter, 'I just want my team to win,' that's not true. They want their team to win and they want to be national player of the year. That is what great competitors do."
• Follow Patricia on Twitter @babcockmcgraw