As we approach Geno Auriemma’s 1,000th career game on Feb. 22 at Houston, the Hartford Courant will occasionally publish a vignette and/or a memory from someone who played a role in one of the most remarkable runs in college sports history.
Today’s installment comes from Maria Conlon, a major component in perhaps the most glorious run in his career, the span of three straight national championships from 2002-04.
“As a player who has played for many different types of coaches, I often reflect back to each one to take pieces to implement in my coaching style now or my parenting style with my daughter. The thing I always admired about Coach Auriemma and his coaching staff was the ability to get the maximum amount out of their players.
“The intricacies of knowing what buttons to push and when is a skill very hard to possess, like in my junior year, in the locker room before the national championship game (2003).
“Every game you walk in [to the locker room] the starters names are on the board with their defensive assignment and a brief description of what that player likes to do. Our team was coming off a 39-0 season [the year before] and had lost four out of our five starters to the WNBA. Nobody expected us to advance as far as we did.
“We walked into the locker room that day to see he had put the 39-0 starters names on the board – Bird,Taurasi, Jones, Williams and Cash. Of course, all of us were pissed and wondered what the point was. When he came into the room not much needed to be said. He made his point; here is your opportunity to go out and make your own history. Erase the thoughts of the past and ban together to achieve something great here and now.
“I could barely sit still as we waited to be dismissed for tip-off. His point was made. Mission accomplished. But that is Coach Auriemma; he is great at knowing exactly how to get all of his players united to one common goal. Great at the perfect speech at the perfect time.
“I always will appreciate his brutal honesty and relentless expectations to be the best.”
UConn beat Tennessee, 73-68, in Atlanta to win its second straight title.