Geno Auriemma, currently his industry’s biggest star, will coach his 983rd women’s basketball game for UConn Sunday against California.
But it will be just the fourth time he’s played the World’s Most Famous Arena, Madison Square Garden, since his career began in 1985.
By comparison, Elton John has rocked the Garden 62 times.
So even for someone with eight national championships, who has played in some very interesting venues, coming to the Garden is an exciting thing for him.
“I’ve attended many games at the Garden in my lifetime,” Auriemma said. “And I remember the first time I played there [against Penn State in 2008] spending 45 minutes after I first arrived just wandering around the lower hallways of the building looking at all the stuff on the walls commemorating all of the great teams, players and coaches who have been there.
“I’ve tried to explain it to the players. … I think for the average kid, someday when they are 60 years old and sitting at home, when they tell their grandchildren they played at The Garden, maybe they will say ‘Where the hell is that?’
“But everyone else will know they [the players] had the chance to play in a very special place and I won’t ever pass up a chance to take my team here.”
Three of the appearances have been in connection with the Maggie Dixon Classic, an event held since 2007 to memorialize the life of the women’s basketball coach at Army – and sister of Pittsburgh men’s coach Jamie Dixon – who died at age 29 in 2006 of heart disease.
Before taking Army to its first-ever NCAA Tournament in 2006, Dixon was an assistant at DePaul for Doug Bruno, one of Auriemma’s best friends and one of his assistants on the 2010 World Championship and 2012 Olympic team.
Auriemma spent time with them both at the 2006 Final Four in Boston just days prior to her sudden death. He then flew to California to attend her funeral. So this event means a lot to him.
The Huskies beat Penn State and then defeated Ohio State on Dec. 19, 2010 to tie John Wooden’s UCLA men’s record of 88 straight wins. The Huskies went on to add two more before losing at Stanford 11 days later.
The last time the Huskies played at the Garden was far less glamorous. Its game with St. John’s on Jan. 12, 2011 was played on the night of huge snowstorm, the second game of a doubleheader that kicked off with the Syracuse-St. John’s men.
Once that game ended, most of the crowd left, leaving only pockets of well-dispersed fans to see UConn’s 84-52 win.
This time, UConn (11-0) comes to the Garden as the No. 1 team in the nation and on a 17-game winning streak. It comes fresh from a 22-point win at Duke last Tuesday and primed to begin its first season of American Athletic Conference play next Sunday at Gampel Pavilion against Cincinnati.
The Huskies also have four players from New York state, including North Babylon’s Bria Hartley, Ossining’s Saniya Chong and Stefanie Dolson of Port Jervis. All three were raised within an easy commute of the Garden. And Hartley and Dolson were freshmen the last time the program played here.
The Huskies are back to full strength with Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Morgan Tuck having returned at Duke. And Sunday’s game seems like it might be the end of a wonderful holiday weekend in a special place.
The Huskies arrived in New York Friday and saw a Broadway musical.
“There is no great place in the world than New York City at Christmas time,” Auriemma said. “The only thing better would be going to a show and then playing basketball at Madison Square Garden. That’s the trifecta and my players are living it.”