Idaho coach Joe Newlee said Saturday’s game should be remembered as “the reward” his team received for its hard work, dedication and winning the Western Athletic Conference.
Newlee said the perks included a charter flight to Connecticut, which at 4½ hours still was shorter than some of the bus-plane-automobile journeys the Vandals take during the season.
And he said he took particular pleasure from coaching against Auriemma.
“I’d met Coach Auriemma a couple times at Final Fours,” Newlee said. “It is beyond respect what I have for Geno and what he has done for women’s basketball,” Newless said. “I feel like in a way, he’s like the James Naismith of modern women’s basketball. He has taken it into such a level. You hear UConn mentioned anywhere and you think women’s basketball, excellence, national championships. It is amazing what he has done.
“I really like how he respected our kids saying that we reminded him of when he started out way back when. Our players heard the quote and it was thrilling. Honestly, it’s like you’re on the floor with John Wooden. That is what he has done in the women’s basketball game.
“It was cool looking down there and seeing him coach. It was like, ‘Yep, there’s Geno.”
Auriemma reacted with characteristic humor.
“Does that mean I’m dead,” Auriemma said. “He didn’t mention [compare] me to anyone who was still living? And just think, I told the guys at Max’s [restaurant] to have some drinks ready for them when they got there for dinner.
“But I’m happy because it’s a long way from what I was being called last Monday [after the last Notre Dame loss]. I’ve progressed to Dr. Naismith and John Wooden.”