Geno Auriemma was a riot Monday morning, the guest speaker at the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce breakfast at the Crowne Plaza in Cromwell. He had the sellout crowd rolling in laughter for most of his 20-minute talk.
“My mother hasn’t called me back for three days since we lost to Notre Dame,” Aureimma told the crowd. “She asked me if there was a chance we’d play them again at the Final Four.
“I said, ‘Well, if we get there, maybe. She said, ‘I no want to go there.’ When you’re mother turns on you, you know things are not good.’”
Auriemma then recounted the final 18.6 seconds of last Tuesday’s Big East tournament championship game. You may recall that one? The game was tied 59 with 18.6 seconds left? The ball was in the hands of senior Kelly Faris, whose job it was to make a successful in-bounds pass?
Geno’s tongue was in cheek. Or was it?
“My players haven’t spoken to me since the game ended. My coaches haven’t spoken to me, either. They left to go recruiting. So I’ve kind of been by myself in my office,” Auriemma said.
“Finally, I said to Kelly [Faris], ‘Who is the best in-bounds passer we have? She said. ‘I am.’ Then I asked her, ‘Who is the best person we have to throw the pass to?’ She said, ‘I am.’
“I said, ‘Well that’s where I went wrong. I couldn’t figure out a way to let you inbound the ball to yourself.’
“The thing is, when you are in a situation like that, you cross your fingers and hope that things go right. You also know that kids are incredibly resilient, much more so than adults are. So when we came out of the huddle [before the in-bound pass] I said to Kelly, ‘Look, Stewie [Breanna Stewart] may be open for lob pass, so just throw it to her, she’ll go in for the score and we will take our chances [on defense].”
Faris’ pass instead carried long and high, forcing Stewart to leap to snag the ball with one hand.
“Then I said [to Faris], ‘‘Why did you throw her the pass without caring whether she was open or not? And Kelly said. ‘You told me it might be open. So I trusted you.’ I said, ‘Haven’t you known me long enough to not trust me?’”
Instead of trying to take the ball to the basket, Stewart passed it back to Faris who circled and headed to the baseline.
“When Stewie made the great catch, and then returned the ball to Kelly, I actually thought we were in great shape,” Auriemma said. “Kelly has been here [at UConn] for four years. I figured she’d run the clock out, we’d get a layup and win the game. So what does she do? She puts her head down and goes 100 miles per hour to the basket.”
Her path blocked along the baseline, Faris threw the ball into the left corner to Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis. But in the effort to catch the ball, KML lost her balance and decided to try and loop a pass back out to the left top of the key to Bria Hartley.
That’s when Notre Dame’s Skylar Diggins intercepted the ball, toughed through UConn’s effort to foul her, and dished to Natalie Achonwa for the tournament-winning hoop.
“That’s when it dawned on me that my job is to put my players in the best possible position in those last 18.6 seconds,” Auriemma said. “I didn’t do that. And when I told them that I had let them down, I was expecting them, or at least two or three of them, to say, ‘Nah coach.’
“Instead they all went ‘uh huh’ and nodded their heads.”