Auriemma: 'Time to refresh' after end to 3-year reign

Updated: March 28, 2005, 10:42 PM ET
Associated Press

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Charged with keeping alive Connecticut's extraordinary championship run, the Huskies all too often this season looked ordinary.

Sunday's 76-59 loss to Stanford in the NCAA regional semifinals ended a 20-game tournament winning streak and capped a season that saw the team fall from the Top 10 for the first time since 1994.

"Sometimes it has to end in order for it to kind of keep growing," coach Geno Auriemma said. "You hate to get philosophical about it, but the leaves have to fall from the trees so that they can grow back again in the spring and summer."

During the past decade, Auriemma has guided UConn to five NCAA titles -- including the last three -- two unbeaten seasons and a record five straight Final Fours. Last year, his team made NCAA history, winning the women's title a day after the men's team beat Georgia Tech for an NCAA title, making UConn the first Division I school to pull off the double-double.

"For us it's been nonstop win, win, win, win," Auriemma said. "It's time to recharge our batteries. It's time to refresh what we need to do."

Throughout their remarkable run, the Huskies have produced a parade of All-Americans, such as Rebecca Lobo, Jennifer Rizzotti, Sue Bird, Swin Cash and Diana Taurasi, the most dominant player of her era.

But without Taurasi this year, the Huskies struggled to find a go-to player.

Fifth-year senior center Jessica Moore and juniors Barbara Turner and Ann Strother all played well at times. There were flashes of brilliance from the highly touted freshmen trio of Charde Houston, Ketia Swanier and Mel Thomas.

But the season was defined by inconsistency and youth, a shaky combination that brought the Huskies back to the pack with a 25-8 record, the most losses since the 1992-93 season.

"When we did everything right, when we executed the way coach wanted us to, when we did play Connecticut basketball no team in the country could beat us," Turner said. "But we've been through stretches where we were bad."

Their record included losses at home to Tennessee, Michigan State and Notre Dame. Teams no longer seemed intimidated UConn.

Big East rival Rutgers ended UConn's reign of 11 straight regular-season titles, but the Huskies regrouped and avenged the loss to the Scarlet Knights in the conference tournament championship, their 11th in 14 years.

The Huskies breezed through the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, beating Dartmouth and Florida State by an average of 33 points.

But against top-ranked Stanford in the Kansas City Regional on Sunday, UConn could not mask its flaws. The Huskies were up by seven at the break but then quickly came undone in the second half. Stanford's 76 points matched the most the Huskies allowed all season.

"People would always say, 'Don't you think if you lost a couple of games going into the NCAA Tournament it would be good?'" Auriemma said. "No. The only good thing about losing a couple games during the season is it gets you accustomed to losing games."

And that's something the Huskies haven't done in NCAA Tournament since losing to eventual NCAA champion Notre Dame in the 2001 national semifinal.

On that day, freshman Taurasi had one of her worst games, shooting 1-of-15 from the field. She was inconsolable afterward, but Auriemma assured the tearful rookie she'd be all right. And so would the Huskies. They responded by winning the next three NCAA titles.

"Maybe that game gave us some of the impetus we needed the following year to accomplish what we needed to accomplish," Auriemma said. "The second half (against Stanford) was eerily similar to that second half. We lost it. We just lost it."


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press