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Connecticut: Auriemma builds UConn program unmatched in success

Andrew Gastelum | Thursday, March 31, 2011

771 wins, seven national championships, 12 Final Fours. And Geno Auriemma still has a full head of hair.

The Connecticut coach probably doesn’t remember what it is like to lose, having to go back all the way to the 1992-93 season to find the last time that his Huskies team posted double digits in the losing column. In fact, the coach has only had one losing season in his career — the 1985-1986 season, when the Huskies went 12-15 in the program’s first year of existence.

Meanwhile, the Connecticut coach has established himself comfortably at the top of his conference with 17 Big East tournament championships, including a stretch from 1993-2002 during which Connecticut (36-1) won nine consecutive titles. Auriemma earned his 10th Big East coach of the year honor this year, after leading the Huskies to a 32-1 regular season record.

“He’s a great coach,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “This year I thought he should be National Coach of the Year. He has done a great job with losing Tina Charles. He’s a great coach on the defensive end. I don’t think he gets enough credit on defense. … Over the past 10 years I don’t think there’s been a better coach in the country.”

In addition to his regular-season prowess, Auriemma has been to the NCAA tournament in each of the past 23 seasons. Even more impressive is that he has taken the Huskies to the Sweet 16 or beyond in his past 19 March Madness trips.

And with Tuesday’s 75-40 pounding of No. 2 seed Duke, Auriemma advanced to his fourth straight Final Four — all with four-time first team All-American senior guard Maya Moore, who went for 28 points against the Blue Devils.

But the coach’s biggest accomplishment came in a typical 31-point UConn win over No. 21 Florida State Dec. 21. That night, the Auriemma-led Huskies won their 89th consecutive game, dating back to the 2007-2008 season. The mark topped the 88-game winning streak of the legendary John Wooden and UCLA compiled from 1971-1974. When asked how he felt being compared to Wooden, the Connecticut coach answered with sharp disapproval.

“Only in the comparison of what we try to do,” he told ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption when asked if the comparisons were fair. “It’s not, ‘Is it any harder or easier or does it have any more significance.’ No, we are trying to get a group of kids to play together, play really well every night and beat all comers. He tried to do it, I try to do it, and to compare us versus them … I am not into that.”

The Huskies eventually saw the streak come to an end at 90 games Dec. 30 against No. 8 Stanford, their only loss of the year. But since the loss, Connecticut has come back to win the next 24 contests, with all but three wins coming in double-digit fashion.

With another visit to the Final Four, it comes as no surprise that Auriemma is setting his sights on an eighth national championship, understanding the tough task at hand.

“With the three teams that are there, you can make a case for all three of them to be there. There is not one of those teams that you can take away and say that so-and-so should be there,” he said Wednesday. “This is probably one of the more unique Final Fours. I don’t think there are a lot of similarities between these teams. They each have distinct styles of play, personality types, size and speed. There is a little bit of everything and it is going to be a true test for whoever can win these two games because they are going to have to adjust to a variety of things and that is just really exciting.”