Players get rings; another banner unfurled

Updated: October 16, 2004, 9:18 PM ET
Associated Press

STORRS, Conn. -- Just hours after Midnight Madness marked the opening of practice for the Connecticut men, the women's team took a bow Saturday afternoon before thousands of fans at Gampel Pavilion.

And two more championship banners were unveiled.

The school made history last season winning the men's and women's NCAA title. The returning players and five newcomers, including Duke transfer Brittany Hunter, burst into the gym through flashes of fire and music.

The women's "Supershow" treated fans to a video retrospective of the women's run, culminating with the championship game over Tennessee in New Orleans. The film allowed them one last look at All-American Diana Taurasi, who helped lead the Huskies to three straight NCAA titles.

"Seems just like yesterday we were here back from New Orleans celebrating our championship," coach Geno Auriemma told the fans.

The returning players received their championship rings and fans counted down for the unveiling of the championship banner, the program's fifth since 1995.

Auriemma has a strong core of returners in center Jessica Moore, guard/forward Ashley Battle, guard Ann Strother and Barbara Turner, a strong junior post player who can also play the wing.

Moore, who is recovering from knee surgery, and Battle are fifth-year seniors who have been to four Final Fours and have three national championships.

Strother, Turner and the rest of the junior class have finished each year with a title. Auriemma said, in a sense, he's coaching two teams because of the disparity in experience.

"Then you've got five new guys who don't know any of our drills. There's no in-between," Auriemma said. "So it's going to be kind of a delicate process for us to bring those two together. We have to make sure the gap isn't too wide. It doesn't seem to be."

Auriemma told the rookies that the veterans arrived in Storrs with a goal to win a national championship. He hoped they picked UConn "to try to put a couple more of the banners up."

The rookies include Charde Houston, the all-time leading California high school scorer. Her 3,837 points broke Cheryl Miller's mark of 3,446.

"(The rookies) are all very hard-working and they all kind of know the right thing to do," Turner said. "The older guys have been doing a good job of leading them. They know they have to do these things for us to be successful."

Turner has become a prolific scorer at UConn. She's reached double figures 44 times in her career, including a 26-point performance against Penn State in the NCAA East Regional final last season.

Without the charismatic Taurasi, Turner said it may be leadership by committee this season.

"We're going to be a good team. We're not going to have a superstar," Turner said. "We're going to lead with all 12 of our guys."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press