by Rob Joyce
The media (mostly) loves Geno Auriemma. And what’s not to love? Aside from the numbers – 11 national championships, 955 wins, etc. – Auriemma is always good for a quote. An Italian raised near Philly, Geno is always quick with a wise-crack. The latest came over the weekend, when Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie took issue with the Huskies accepting a pair of transfers to the program, including former Blue Devil Azura Stevens.
McCallie told the Duke student newspaper, “When have you known Connecticut to take transfers?… Connecticut wasn’t a transfer school. Now, even if they win it, who cares? I can’t even understand it because he’s such a good coach and it’s such a great program.”
Geno’s response begins our list of the top Auriemma quips over the years:
5) “Do you know how hard it is to coach at Duke? It’s really challenging. It’s an impossible job. She’s tried so hard to get to a Final Four with all the disadvantages there. So I suggest she try a little harder and let us try to be respectable.”
Some numbers before we move on. In nine years at Duke, McCallie has played UConn eight times. All eight times both teams were ranked at least 10th in the country. The Huskies are 8-0 with a 28.6-point average margin of victory. And in nine years at Duke, McCallie has missed more NCAA Tournaments (once, this past year) than she has made Final Fours (zero). She’s also had five players transfer in the last three years, including Stevens.
4) “There’s a lot better writers than Dan Shaughnessy, but that doesn’t mean he’s bad for the game.”
Another recent one, this came after UConn dismantled Mississippi State 98-38 in the Sweet 16, prompting Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy to tweet that the Huskies are “killing [the] women’s game. Watch? No thanks.” Auriemma’s longer response was simple: if you don’t like the Huskies’ dominance, don’t watch. He then talked of Tiger Woods’ dominance in golf, and how no one complained when he won every major, but in fact helped grow the sport.
3) “It’s not nice for Muffet to fib during Lent.”
The UConn-Notre Dame rivalry has been the premier matchup in the sport for some time, now. The Irish, in fact, are really the only team that figured out the blueprint to beating the Huskies in recent years (of UConn’s last 12 losses, six are to the Irish). Now that they are in different conferences, though, their meetings are limited to a non-conference game and (hopefully) a Final Four or national title contest.
In 2013-14 they didn’t play in the regular season, and wound up meeting in the title game at a combined 76-0, the first time ever two undefeated teams met for the championship. It was openly said that the two sides didn’t like each other, and Irish coach Muffet McGraw claimed the schools didn’t meet in the regular season because Geno and company shied away. That sparked Auriemma’s response above.
Later in the press conference he added another one-liner. All the talk surrounding the rivalry didn’t matter heading into a national title game. “It’s superfluous,” he said. “We use big words at Connecticut, too.”
2) “I am jealous. Harry and I used to be in the hot tub together. He dumped me for the evil empire.”
Geno and longtime Villanova coach Harry Perretta have been friends for decades. However in 2003 he was asked about Perretta’s friendship with Tennessee coach Pat Summitt. Of course, at that time the Huskies and Lady Vols had the unquestioned greatest rivalry in the sport, and it was tense between the programs. Before the Final Four he described the Perretta-Summitt relationship as “nauseating” to the Hartford Courant. Later that week he was asked about the quote, and followed up with that quip.
It wasn’t the only time he’d call the Tennessee the evil empire, but in recent years his relationship with Summitt improved. After her death last week, Geno was among the many who had glowing things to say on Summitt’s impact on sports.
1) “We have Diana and you don’t.”
It’s not as amusing as it is straight up. Most coaches will downplay a star, especially at the college level, and stress the entire team. Geno, though, is earnest enough to know why his teams win – they have the best players. Never was this more apparent than Diana Taurasi’s senior year, when she helped lead and otherwise average UConn team to a third straight title. Why were the Huskies the best team in the country? It wasn’t a secret – they had the best player in the country, maybe the best to ever play women’s basketball.