HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma laughs as he recalls a greeting he received from another coach during last year’s Final Four.
“Hey, congratulations. You guys had a nice year,” the coach told Auriemma.
A nice year? UConn was about to win its seventh national title, and 78th consecutive game. But to many UConn followers, that was considered “a nice year.”
“That’s kind of where we are,” Auriemma said.
Connecticut enters this season’s NCAA tournament at 32-1, the Huskies’ sixth consecutive 30-win season. They just won a 19th regular-season Big East title. They just won a 17th Big East Tournament title. And they’ve won 20 straight games since having a 90-game winning streak snapped by Stanford on Dec. 30.
But Auriemma knows none of that will mean anything to UConn fans if they don’t win another national title.
“I think we’re even beyond that point now that winning 30 games is not a big deal,” Auriemma said. “Going to the Sweet 16 is not a big deal. Going to the Final Four is not a big deal.
Hartford coach Jen Rizzotti said she finds that a bit sad.
Rizzotti, who brings her 16th-seeded Hawks to Storrs Sunday to face UConn in the tournament’s first round, was the point guard on UConn’s first national championship team in 1995.
“People were so excited for us,” she said. “These kids will never know what that’s like. It’s expected of them. But they also are experiencing a lot more things than we ever did, because they are doing it every year. But I do feel people are not forgiving enough if they have one bad night.”
UConn star Maya Moore said the team embraces the expectations.
“That’s always the goal every year, to win a national championship,” she said. “And we have a really good opportunity to do that this year, so it’s still more of a long-term goal that’s gotten a lot closer. Now, we’ve got to take care of it, one game at a time.”
But while they are doing that, Auriemma said, he hopes they take the time to appreciate what they have already accomplished.
“We know how hard we had to work to put ourselves in this situation,” he said. “There’s a lot of teams– that have been in our situation with the players that we have, two freshmen starters, one sophomore starter– that lost in the first round or second round or lost six or seven or eight games during the regular season.
“So, I’m happy for our players and what we’ve been able to accomplish.”
Even if others think it’s just “nice.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)