- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
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Does knowing the UConn program inside and out give an opposing coach any advantage when it comes to trying to stop the Huskies?
Well, that would suggest there is any advantage, period, to playing UConn. And with the Huskies on their 73-game winning streak that answers that question.
So no, don't necessarily expect that Temple coach Tonya Cardoza -- who was an assistant to Geno Auriemma for 14 seasons at UConn before leaving two years ago -- has any top-secret game plan for knocking off the No. 1 seed when her eighth-seeded Owls face the Huskies in the second round (ESPN2/ESPN360.com, 7:06 p.m. ET) in Norfolk, Va. Or if she does, she's not saying.
In this case, familiarity breeds respect, but it still doesn't provide much of a toehold for trying to scale the UConn mountain. However, Cardoza did point out the obvious in regard to opponents' mindsets against the Huskies.
"Being [at UConn] for 14 years, a lot of times [with] just the name on the front of the jersey, we'd be up 14 points without the game really starting because people were so intimidated," she said. "So our players are already prepared for it. I don't have to give them anything to try to get them going; this is what everybody wants, so these guys are excited about it.
"This is one of the best teams ever, not just the No. 1 team in this country right now. And this is something that [the Owls] will want to go out and enjoy. You know, there's no reason to be nervous. We don't have anything to lose."
Already this season, Auriemma has gone against two former players who are now coaches: Jen Rizzotti at Hartford and Jamelle Elliott at Cincinnati. Elliott is also a former UConn assistant.
Cardoza's background is different in that she played college basketball at Virginia, not UConn, although she is from the New England area, suburban Boston. She took over at Temple before the 2008-09 season when former UVa teammate Dawn Staley left for South Carolina.
Cardoza has former UConn player Willnett Crockett on her coaching staff now, so between the two of them, there's plenty of Huskies knowledge to impart to their Owls. For whatever that's worth.
Auriemma is in the role that most highly successful coaches find themselves in after they've been in the business long enough. Their "coaching trees" -- people who either played for them and/or coached with them -- branch out as those folks get their own programs and then try to replicate the success they previously knew.
That sometimes means trying to beat the coach that helped get them where they are. It's just the nature of the business, even if it sometimes feels more than a little odd.
Although there are not always those conflicting emotions. Long ago, Auriemma was in this position himself. He had been an assistant to Debbie Ryan at Virginia before taking over at UConn in 1985. When his Huskies faced Virginia in the 1991 national semifinals, Auriemma said, "I wasn't feeling bittersweet. I wanted to beat their [tail] so bad in the Final Four and win the national championship."
Virginia won that game. But when the programs met again in the 1995 East Regional final, UConn won on its way to the Huskies' first national championship.
Auriemma also admitted it was a different feeling for him the first time he was the established power facing a team coached by one of his former players with whom he was very close. In this case, Hartford and Rizzotti.
"It's hard, because you know you're going to beat them," Auriemma said with his trademark candor. "That's the hard part. It's not like, 'Well, they may win,' so there's a little bit of edginess. It's hard because you're going into the game knowing you're going to win. You just hope that they play really well for her, for their program, for everybody.
"Were we the underdog against one of my [former] assistants [or players], I wouldn't feel like that, and I'd hope they'd play lousy and we'd beat their butt. But because every game that we've gone into with them, we've been so much better than them talentwise -- they were all in the building stage of what they were doing -- that I just root for them."
Cardoza said if Temple were to pull the upset, which would be monumental, she would definitely have empathy for the Huskies.
"A lot of people don't understand how hard it is to be who they are and to continue to do that on a daily basis," she said of the Huskies' excellence, which she was a big part of for so long. "Obviously, if we pull it out and we're able to win the game, I'm going to be excited, ecstatic -- but it'll be bittersweet. And I'm sure he'd feel the same way. If we're unable to win that game, he will be happy for his team, but I'm sure he'll be a little sad for me."
Indeed, Auriemma said: "I root for them to play great, I root for them to make every shot, make a great account of themselves, be proud of themselves and feel good about themselves and then go home losers."
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.
Tonya Cardoza was a UConn assistant for 14 years before taking over at Temple two seasons ago. But that doesn't mean she has an advantage when her Owls face the Huskies in the second round.