One of the flattering aspects of being a premier ambassador for women’s college basketball was apparent again Sunday for Geno Auriemma after his No. 1 program bounced No. 13 Penn State at Bryce Jordan Center.
This was 12th time the programs had played, but the first time Auriemma had brought his team to play the Lady Lions here. In 2006, UConn opened play in the NCAA Tournament with wins here against Coppin State and Virginia Tech.
But this was different. And after the game, many of the questions sought Auriemma’s opinion about how a program like Penn State might someday build a program like his.
And for a few minutes there, with reporters sitting in chairs with fold-up desk tops, just like the undergraduates do, it almost sounded like he was delivering a master class, spreading encouragement as well as advice.
“They been building a women’s basketball tradition here since the 1980s,” said Auriemma. “It took a down turn for a while, but Coquese [Washington] has done a great job since she came here [in 2007] bringing a style of play that the fans seem to enjoy so much. This is one of those players where you can be really good, create a lot of excitement in the community.
“There are probably about 20 schools in the country that people think about being really good, from top to bottom, in everything [campus-wide]. And they are one of them.”
It was a good time to pick Auriemma’s brain. Sunday’s win was UConn’s third straight last week against Top 13 teams; Stanford went down in Hartford, then Maryland in College Park. And Sunday, it was Penn State.
And with the exception of Monday’s 76-57 win over the Cardinal in Hartford, it has been done with just seven players. Junior Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (elbow) and sophomore Morgan Tuck (knee) are out indefinitely.
The depth of great players he has served as the punch line of his postgame address.
“I know it sounds simplistic, but the teams that consistently contend for the Final Four and national titles are the ones who get the best players. And it doesn’t matter the sport.
“Recruiting is a huge component [of sustained success]. But then there is something else. Some programs expect to play in the Final Four and win national championships. Others are just happy if they get there. It’s a mindset you eventually obtain, but it takes a while. You need to be successful for quite some time before you come to expect it.
“That is kind of where we are now. We’ve been doing this so long, and had so much success, the players that come here expect to be great.”