March 28, 2010
DAYTON, Ohio (AP) - Despite the prevailing consensus, mighty Connecticut and coach Geno Auriemma aren't perfect.
"If my wife were here, she'd tell you I've got a lot of issues," Auriemma cracked.
But who can blame anyone for thinking that every day is sunshine and blue skies for the Huskies and their coach. A perfect record this season (35-0), an unprecedented 74-game winning streak and a unanimous No. 1 ranking have conditioned people to think that UConn doesn't have to deal with the same humdrum problems that others do.
Auriemma swears that's not true.
"We're not perfect. We have issues like every other team does," he said Saturday on the eve of the Huskies' regional semifinal game against Iowa State (25-7). "We have our faults. You just don't see them as much as you would maybe see them on other teams. A lot of faults come when you're losing. So, because we haven't lost, we are able to hide them better."
Maybe. But finding fault with the Huskies is difficult.
After all, during their streak the Huskies are 14-0 against Top-10 teams - winning by an average of 26.4 points.
"I have never seen anything like it," said veteran Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly. "(Not) when you have a team that has arguably the best coach, the best players, and the team to their credit competes like no other team I've seen. It's one thing to have great players; it's another to play with the energy and passion they play with."
Still, Fennelly has engineered a colossal upset of UConn before.
In another regional semifinal in Ohio - in 1999 in Cincinnati - his Cyclones stunned the top-seeded Huskies 64-58 who had Swin Cash, Svetlana Abrosimova, Shea Ralph, Sue Bird and Tamika Williams.
Iowa State's game notes say that victory "put (the Cyclones) stamp on women's basketball history."
Yet Fennelly hasn't highlighted that game this week.
"No, we did not watch the '99 game," guard Kelsey Bolte said. "The coaches are just telling us to play as hard as we can and do our best."
Auriemma doesn't need to be reminded of that painful defeat, however. UConn is 73-15 in NCAA play since 1989, but that loss is just one of two in the round of 16 in the last 16 years.
"I remember we lost a game that was very winnable for us," he said grimly. "We were not ready to win that game. Our team was not mature enough to win that game because they couldn't handle missing shots - and we missed a lot of shots."
Neither problem - a lack of maturity or misfiring a lot - has been much of a problem for the Huskies recently.
They're shooting a remarkable 52 percent from the field. And it's clear that they're not one of those teams looking past an opponent.
"It's one of those things where you work hard every day, you don't want to think too far ahead," Maya Moore said. "You don't want to take your eyes off of the everyday progress that we do in practice and in every game. Hopefully, you can look back at the end of your career and be proud of what you left behind, not leaving with any regrets."
Iowa State will try to offset the 1-2 punch of Tina Charles (18.3 ppg) and Moore (18.1) by pumping up 3-pointers. The Cyclones, not exactly strangers to the NCAA tournament with four consecutive appearances, make an average of 8 a game and shoot 38.5 percent behind the arc (11th and fifth, respectively, in the country).
Fennelly worries that his team must be exceptional in three areas to hang with the Huskies.
"They score so many points after turnovers. Our offense can't be their offense," he said. "We can't get annihilated on the backboard and our field-goal percentage has to be something that they haven't given up all year."
Auriemma has faith that his players won't let 1999 happen all over again.
"They know that it could end tomorrow," he said. "No one else thinks it could end tomorrow, but my players do. And that's what makes them different from everyone else."
Then he added, "Everyone else thinks we might not lose a game until Obama retires because they want to go see him all the time. And that's not the case. Trust me."