Even when Auriemma's at a loss, he has something to say

Updated: February 5, 2004, 11:36 AM ET
Scripps Howard News Service

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Connecticut losing two women's basketball games last month rates as a mild surprise next to the real shocker: Geno Auriemma struggling for words.

The UConn coach conceded to the rare verbal deficit in recounting the frantic final minutes of a 68-67 loss to Duke on Jan. 3.

"Each time out it got worse and worse,'' he told reporters afterward. "I didn't know what to say.''

Of course, the condition was temporary. There's considerable evidence to indicate that he's back in form as the No. 3 Huskies (16-2) prepare to face No. 1 Tennessee (18-1) Thursday at Thompson-Boling Arena here.

Auriemma met with his team for an hour after Saturday's 82-49 victory over St. John's, delivering what he referred to as a state of the union address. Then after the locker room doors opened, he opened up on the game officiating. He believes that opponents are getting away with abusive play against Huskies' star Diana Taurasi.

Taurasi, the reigning national player of the year and a two-time All-American, is a big reason behind the Huskies' two consecutive national championships and their 124-6 record during the past three-plus seasons. Yet when identifying the source of the team's success, she speaks of her coach.

"It's him,'' the senior said. "He knows how to put 12 people together and have them see one thing.''

Depending on your point of view, Auriemma's discourse reflects his competitiveness or his combativeness.

"He likes to create these challenges for himself and his kids and his program,'' Connecticut associate head coach Chris Dailey said. "You don't want to walk around with a chip on your shoulder all the time. That can wear on you. But in terms of getting energy up for a new battle, that works. You don't want to ever get complacent. You don't want the program to be complacent.

"He likes to stir things up. He's a master when it comes to working the media.''

He has spent more time and verbiage lately working his team, which is bearing the program's ever-increasing legacy. The losses, which include a Jan. 13 game at Notre Dame, combined with some prevailing inconsistency reflect the strain.

"We're on an emotional roller coaster right now,'' junior forward Ashley Battle said after Saturday's game. "It really doesn't matter who we're playing on Thursday. We know what we need to do, but I don't know why it's taking such an effort to let it come out and let it shine.''

The Huskies have won three of the last four national championships. They haven't lost to Tennessee in the past four meetings -- an eternity considering UT's legacy.

Villanova coach Harry Perretta is a long-time Big East colleague of Auriemma's. He looks at the Huskies and wonders, "They could be bored.''

He held the thought for a few moments and admitted, "It sounds awful.''

"When you win so much, what do you tell your kids?'' Perretta said. "It's tough for them to get up for every game.''

It's not so tough, however, for Auriemma to keep talking. His hour-long address on Saturday covered numerous topics. The most important might have been the reminders of what it means to play women's basketball at Connecticut.

The hour itself was a reminder. Whether it be a breeze or a gale, the wind keeps blowing.

"We'll see where it goes,'' Auriemma said. "I'm confident that we'll be fine. I'm not worried about that.''