BRIDGEPORT – 10 straight trips to the Final Four add up. With Monday night’s 90-52 win over Oregon in the Elite Eight, UConn head coach Geno Auriemma passed former Tennessee coach Pat Summitt for the most NCAA tournament wins in Division I history with 113.
More than Summitt. More than Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer. More than Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams, who captain the men at Duke and North Carolina, respectively.
Auriemma is the king of the mountain, and he’s reached it this season with a team that wasn’t expected to be nearly this good, this fast. Three First-Team AP All Americans graduated last season from a UConn team that rolled easily through the competition on the way to a fourth-straight national championship.
“[It] became about four in a row last year. Never been done before. All the great things that were going on, and rightly so, that became the thing, and because we had the three best players in the country, three of the best players in the country at their positions, it was like a foregone conclusion,” Auriemma said of last year’s team after Monday’s win.
This was supposed to be the rebuilding year, they said. Last year’s supporting players were to be thrusted into starring roles, and with an extremely difficult slate of non-conference games on the schedule, there were expected to be struggles.
When it comes to UConn women’s basketball, “struggles” are relative.
The Huskies are 36-0, and their average margin of victory is 33.2 points. Last year’s margin was 39.7 points. Sophomores Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson were named to the AP’s First Team on Monday, while junior Gabby Williams was named to the Second Team and junior Kia Nurse received an honorable mention.
“That’s a big step to go from riding in the backseat on a trip that you’re going to, to all of a sudden you’re in charge of driving the bus and you’re responsible for getting us there,” Auriemma said of the players that have stepped up this season.
And in the postseason, when the spotlight gets brighter and the pressure increases, UConn has continued to roll. With four blowout wins in Connecticut, the Huskies punched their ticket to Dallas for their 10th straight appearance in the Final Four.
10 seasons in a row without slipping up in the tournament’s first four games. In a single-elimination bracket, where one poor shooting night can end your season, that’s a remarkable display of year-to-year consistency.
“It's such a hard feat to accomplish in so many ways. It only takes one loss,” Auriemma said. “So in all those 10 years, all it took was one loss at the wrong time during March and you're out. So for us to have gone 10 months of March in a row and not having lost a game through a whole different cast of characters, over all that time, that's pretty darned good.”
Auriemma’s list of postseason accomplishments is breathtaking. Putting the national championships aside, the last time UConn failed to advance past the first weekend of the NCAA tournament was 1993, and only twice since then have they failed to win at least three games in a given tournament.
Summitt took Tennessee to 18 Final Fours, more than any other program in NCAA Division I women’s basketball history before Monday night. Auriemma matched that mark by beating Oregon.
Just another notch in the belt for Storrs’ enigmatic leader, who will look to match former UCLA coach John Wooden’s Division I streak of 11 straight Final Four appearances next year, with most of these Huskies returning for the ride.
“I couldn't be happier for this group. They had a lot of question marks going into the season, and maybe they didn't have any in their own minds. Everybody else did, including me. But they seemed to have answered every single one of those questions, and they deserve to be in the Final Four. They've earned it. I'm proud of them, and I'm happy for them,” Auriemma said.