Geno Auriemma is at the point of his coaching career where he can both enjoy and empathize with the successes and struggles former players and assistants are having as head coaches.
This season has brought much good news; milestones victories for Carla Berube (200 wins) at Tufts and Tanya Cardoza (100) at Temple. Jen Rizzotti’s work at Hartford speaks for itself.
But at Cincinnati, the progress has seen slower for Jamelle Elliott, now in her fourth season with the Bearcats. She has won only 12 conference games in 3 ½ seasons.
Prior to UConn’s game Saturday at Cincinnati, the Bearcats were 8-10, 0-5 in the Big East, one year after they finished 16-16. Injuries and close calls are the reason.
“It is always a struggle when you take over a program,” Auriemma said. “Jamelle is pretty hard on herself. They [Cincinnati] can have the same exact injuries we have and we can withstand them because of the depth of the talent we have. But when you are building a program, and you lose a couple of key guys, [sometimes] you don’t recover from that. I know they played a couple of games that were really tough on them.”
Cincinnati, which had won just twice since Dec. 15, was blasted by Louisville and South Florida earlier this month.
Auriemma’s career began in very similar fashion. He was 43-39 in his first three seasons and won only 18 of 44 conference games before things began to get could in his fourth season.
“The first year you work on adrenaline,” Auriemma said. “You begin to believe think that once you put your fingerprints all over it [a program] that it is going to change, that you are going to be able to will it so.
“Your second and third years are a lot harder. You are so dependent on the kind of players you have and everything going right. You always wonder if you can get over a certain hump. Can you finish .500 in the league? Can you beat the top teams? Can you be competitive every single game? There are always a lot of questions you can ask yourself. It is very difficult especially at a place that hasn’t been successful for a long time.”
Auriemma spent time Friday night with Elliott, as he always does when the Huskies and Bearcats play. She received a three-year extension through 2018 last summer after the Bearcats finished 16-16.