Coaching a national powerhouse comes with significant responsibility. There are players to recruit and sign, games to schedule and win, championships to pursue and capture.
It makes for a full work day; junk food for lunch, leftovers for dinner, missed recitals and baseball games. You don’t want to go there.
Geno Auriemma has been to 13 Final Fours and won seven national championships in his first 27 seasons at UConn. He understands this. And he’s paid handsomely to take on the task.
But that doesn’t mean he likes everything about the job. And what he apparently dislikes is the way he says the world around him has changed.
What was once important now seems trivial. What was once trivial now seems insignificant.
And with UConn’s chance to win another Big East regular-season championship approaching Monday at Notre Dame – if the Huskies and Irish win their games Saturday at South Florida and Providence – he wishes things could be simpler again.
“In the world that we live in today, nothing matters but a couple of games in the year,” Auriemma said.
“[People say] if they can’t win this game, or you can’t beat Baylor, you can’t win the national championship. And because of that you lose sight that it’s a full season. We beat Texas A&M by 30 on their own court. We beat Maryland and Penn State, Stanford and Duke, but it all goes away in the world we live in. None of it matters. All that matters is how many games are you going to win in March.”
Auriemma would like it better if those who follow his program understood that the process was just as important as the pot of gold, and that just because something seems unlikely doesn’t mean it can’t happen.
“The year we beat Notre Dame three straight times and we lost in the Final Four , I guess they [the Irish] forgot to get the message that there are only a certain number of teams who can win.
“But the environment now is such that it [the regular season] doesn’t matter. All that matters is the six games in March. If we’re not careful as a team, everything else becomes drudgery, like there’s no joy in winning any games but those we play in March.
“We have to do all we can to convince our guys that every game is an opportunity to get better.
“Look, Notre Dame has never won the Big East [tournament championship]. But that’s not what it’s all about anymore. So now Notre Dame is in the position we’ve been in for a long time; that all these regular-season accomplishments mean a lot to you, but nothing to everyone else.
“All people celebrate is the national championship. I try not to coach my team like that because everything is important.”
Keep that in mind as you take a look at some of these facts that make Monday’s game at Notre Dame more compelling than most:
Notre Dame’s defeat of UConn in the national semifinal game in 2011 began a string in which the Irish have won five of the last six meetings between the teams.
How rare is this? Well, it had happened just once before in the Auriemma era and it wasn’t done by Tennessee, North Carolina, Stanford, Duke or Seton Hall.
From 1992-96, Miami beat UConn five out of six times. If Notre Dame wins Monday, if may not be important, but it will be precedent setting.
In the Auriemma era, the Huskies have lost just six national semifinal games in their 13 Final Four appearances. One team has accounted for three of the eliminations.
It wasn’t done by Tennessee, Stanford, Baylor, Duke, Oklahoma, Texas A&M or Seton Hall.
Notre Dame has prevented UConn from playing for the national championship in 2001, 2011 and 2012.
Auriemma was saying last week that big games are usually determined by how well the guards play. This makes perfect sense. Consider how well a car runs without its battery.
UConn’s will have to be excellent if the wish is to stop Notre Dame’s nifty tandem of Skylar Diggins and Kayla McBride. They combined for 40 points and eight assists in the Irish’s 73-72 win over UConn at Gampel Pavilion in their last meetings.
UConn’s five guards, Caroline Doty, Bria Hartley, Kelly Faris, Moriah Jefferson and Brianna Banks had 28 points and 13 assists.
One more thing: During the last six meetings, Doty is 2-of-18 from the field with five points in 133 minutes.
Free Throws [Free in South Bend]
Auriemma’s concerns about how the Notre Dame games are officiated are legitimate and well-documented.
In the last six meetings:
Notre Dame is 104-of-139 from the foul line and has made 152 field goals.
UConn is 64-of-86 from the foul line and has made 161 field goals.
That means Notre Dame has scored 40 more points and taken 53 more free throws than UConn in the six games.
How crucial is this: The cumulative score of the six games is Notre Dame 439, UConn 411.
This season alone, prior to Saturday’s games for both teams:
Notre Dame is 474-of-598 from the foul line (79.3 percent). That accounts for 22 percent of its 2,180 points.
UConn is 318-of-429 from the foul line (74.1 percent). That accounts for 13.7 percent of its 2,312 points.
Diggins leads the Irish with 137 free throws. She has made more 31 more (111) than UConn’s team leader in attempts Breanna Stewart (80).
Notre Dame center Natalie Achonwa is also 97-of-121 from the foul line.