By PAT EATON-ROBB, Associated Press
STORRS, Conn. (AP) _ Both Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma and Baylor’s Kim Mulkey head into Tuesday’s showdown between the nation’s top two women’s teams insisting that a loss would not be that big of a deal.
No. 2 Baylor has a chance to snap the top-ranked Huskies’ 79-game winning streak on Tuesday, avenge last season’s loss in the national semifinals and end the Huskies’ 45-week run as the nation’s top team.
And to all of that, Auriemma asks, “So what?”
“I think any time during the regular season that you make the game bigger than it needs to be that you are setting yourself up
for some serious problems with your own team going forward,” Auriemma said.
“This game has no affect on whether you win the national championship. That’s what we’re in this for.”
Mulkey knows that Baylor has a great opportunity to solidify its place among the nation’s elite, but says her team also is just
looking to build from the game, win or lose.
“It’s a gauge for us to go, ‘OK, this is what we’ve got to do better, this is where we are, this is where we’ve got to go,”’ she
said. “It’s that type of game. It’s going to bring out the best in both teams, but it’s also going to expose how far both teams have
to go. They have a lot of freshmen, we still have a lot of sophomores.”
Auriemma has five freshmen, and says because of that, his team won’t be running much of the offense that carried the Huskies to a
70-50 win in last season’s Final Four.
They also no longer have Tina Charles, last season’s national player of the year, to match up with Baylor’s star, 6-foot-8 Brittney Griner.
Auriemma said he won’t risk getting All-American Maya Moore in foul trouble by having her guard Griner. Instead, he’s expected to rely on a team concept that includes 6-3 sophomore Heather Buck, 6-1 freshman forward Samarie Walker and 6-5 freshman center Stefanie Dolson.
Auriemma joked that could result in Griner having a day better than Minnesota Timberwolves center Kevin Love, who recently scored 30 points and grabbed 30 rebounds in a game.
“It will be interesting to see how I do against a player like that,” Dolson said. “I’ve never played against a player bigger than me, but it’s more a team thing.”
Griner plans to be ready for whatever the Huskies throw at her.
She’s been looking forward to this game since the end of last season and said she sneaked into the coaches’ offices every day last week to get another look at the game film.
“I know always, like when I fail at something, it just gnaws at me until I can get another shot to do it,” she said. “We’ve got
another shot early in the season, so it’s been in the back of my head the whole time.”
Connecticut’s players say with all the new faces on the roster, they don’t see this game as a rematch. Moore said that’s also why they aren’t feeling pressure to extend their winning streak, and perhaps challenge the 88-game string put together by UCLA’s men’s team in the 1970s.
The streak doesn’t belong to this team, she insists. But, that doesn’t mean they don’t care if they win.
“Even though in the long run, it’s not going to make that big of a difference, if you’re a competitor, it’s going to mean the world to you, so you’re going to want to go out and compete,” she said.
Both teams also know that the rest of the women’s basketball world will be watching.
“Yes,” said Tennessee coach Pat Summitt. “We’re going to watch every game that we can watch. I think that’s good for us. We
need to know that they’re human just like we are. I think that game is going to be a telling game.”
Auriemma said what will be most telling is how the loser reacts.
He said he’s watched opponents come in to a UConn game buying into the hype. He said they usually leave Connecticut with a 40-point loss, and then lose their next four games. He doesn’t want that to happen to his team.
“I don’t know that we should put too much stock in the winner of that game– other than we get to keep our streak alive and go
into eternity as the greatest basketball team of all time,” he deadpanned. “Other than that, there’s not a whole lot at stake.”
AP Sports Writers Stephen Hawkins in Waco, Texas, Beth Rucker in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Doug Feinberg in New York contributed to this story.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)