The UConn Women Raised the Bar in Big East WBB

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Your mother always told you to leave things in better condition than when you found them.  Never let it be said Geno Auriemma isn’t one to listen to his mother.  Big East women’s basketball is officially history now, following Notre Dame’s conference tournament championship win over Auriemma’s UConn Huskies last night at the XL Center, and the history of Big East women’s basketball, as it turns out, is quite glorious.  In great part Auriemma and his associate head coach Chris Dailey are reponsible for that history.  They leave the Big East much better than they found it.  When women’s basketball advanced to conference status in the Big East in the 1982-83 academic year the league itself was an afterthought to the NCAA, UConn was an afterthought to the league.  UConn went out in the play-in game of the first women’s Big East tournament and never stayed around beyond the quarterfinal round, in a league that had earned little respect.  If it weren’t for the automatic conference bid no one would have thought to say Big East and NCAA Tournament in the same sentence.  All that began to change in 1989 when UConn, in Auriemma’s fourth season, their first team with all their own recruits, defeated Providence for the Big East Tournament championship.  The Huskies were about to become a fixture in the conference final.  In 1991 they rode the automatic bid to the national final four, a first for the Big East, but it still did little to enhance the profile of a league that at it’s inception was dwarfed by women’s basketball in the SEC, ACC, Pac Ten and Big Ten.  Few people that year even knew which league the fourth team in New Orleans represented.  When the Huskies took an undefeated record to Minneapolis for the final four in 1995 Stanford coach Tara Vanderveer quipped that everyone knew which team didn’t belong, a subtle knock at the Big East being UConn’s road to the tournament.  A day later the Huskies belted Tara’s Cardinal by 29 points on the way to an undefeated national championship.  Still, UConn was the only team representing the Big East on the national stage.  But their image, as much as anything, made the Big East an attractive option for Notre Dame when it was looking for a conference home for it’s sports beyond football and the Irish gave the Big East a second national presence.  Soon other Big East schools were picking up the gauntlet tossed down by Geno Auriemma, Chris Dailey and the Huskies.  They had become the rising tide that lifted all boats.  Boston College hired Cathy Inglese and Rutgers hired Vivian Stringer and there were as many wars as cakewalks making up the milestones on the road through the Big East and the additions of Louisville, Depaul and Marquette led to an ever increasing number of NCAA at-large bids for the league, which has brought home more than half of the last 13 national championships and has had a team in the national championship game the last four years.  When the NCAA Tournament bids go out next week only the Big East will claim two of the four number one seeds.  Geno Auriemma and Chris Dailey can look at the Big East in 1985 and say, “This is where we came in.”  They can look at the Big East the morning after the final game before the league split and say, “This is how we left it.”  You should always do what Momma says.  With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.



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