Just because the program is bathed in unconditional affection from the hometown fans doesn’t mean UConn believes everyone is rooting for it to win a second straight nationally championship.
In fact, Geno Auriemma, who will break Pat Summitt’s record if he wins his ninth national title, figures some may look at the Huskies has the bad guy in the field of 64.
“If everyone [program] is the same, people lose interest,” said Auriemma, who celebrated his 60th birthday Sunday. “People always need to have someone who is the star or the villain. Someone has to play that role. But I hope there are a lot of upsets. It would be good for game.”
Auriemma pointed to the coverage the tournament received on ESPN before Saturday’s first round games as an example of why many fans might hate UConn and Notre Dame.
“You would have thought it was the day before the national championship in Nashville and Notre Dame and UConn were playing for title,” Auriemma said. “As I was watching it, I was thinking to myself, ‘Man, if I was anyone else, I would be really upset.
“So even without us doing anything, people will make you out to be the villain. It was like when someone asked Gary Blair [the Texas A&M coach] a few years ago who would win the national championship. He said, ‘I don’t care, as long as it’s not Connecticut or Tennessee.
“But for everyone that thinks we are the the villain, there is someone across the aisle that thinks we are America’s Team.”
Bria Hartley says it may be easy for the players to believe they are universally loved because of the number of their fans who come to games on the road.
“But you also understand that there are a lot of people who are just tired of the fact that we win a lot,” Hartley said. “It’s a fine line. I still believe those who don’t want us to win all the time still love and respect us for what we’ve do and have done.
“But regardless, we are out here to win. I know the program has won eight national championships, but we’ve been a part of just one.”
Sophomore Morgan Tuck’s season ended with knee surgery shortly after she scored a career-high 19 points in the Huskies’ 90-40 win over Houston on Jan. 7. She appeared in only eight games this season and will apply for a medical hardship season immediately once this one ends.
Tuck’s successful comeback will be on the keys for next season. But for now all she can do is sit, wait, watch and learn.
“I’m just trying not to gain weight and recover properly,” Tuck said. “I don’t want to push too hard and do something that I will regret down the road. I’m just taking my time, no need to rush. I plan on being here in the summertime anyway [to work].
“I just try to learn something new every day. Marisa [Moseley, the UConn assistant] asked me recently what I am learning from sitting. And you do learn things because you see them differently than how you might playing. That’s how I stayed focused, by learning as much as I can by just watching.”
Here are some individual NCAA program records for the Huskies as they open the defense of their national championship:
Most points in a game: Kerry Bascom (39) vs. Toledo on March 16, 1991; Most rebounds in a game: Tina Charles (19) vs. Louisville on March 7, 2009; Most assists in a game: Sue Bird (11) vs. Old Dominion on March 23, 2002; Most steals in a game: Nykesha Sales (nine) vs. Lehigh on March 15, 1997; Most blocked shots in a game: Kelly Schumacher (nine) vs. Tennessee on March 2, 2000. .. Breanna Stewart needs four blocked shots to join Rebecca Lobo and Kara Wolters as the only Huskies with 100 in a season. Stewart also has 111 assists, so she and Lobo are the only UConn players to reach triple figures in both categories in the same year.