Women's Basketball

3 things Geno Auriemma said at his pre-Syracuse press conference

Evan Jenkins | Staff Photographer

Hall of Fame head coach Geno Auriemma said he didn't expect UConn's magical season to unfold the way it has. The Huskies have won 108 straight games and remain undefeated.

Hall of Fame head coach Geno Auriemma addressed the media Sunday morning ahead of Connecticut’s NCAA Tournament matchup against Syracuse. The second-round bout features No. 1 overall seed and four-time defending national champion Connecticut (33-0, 16-0 American Athletic) and the No. 8 seed Orange (22-10, 11-5 Atlantic Coast). UConn has not lost since November 2014, a 108-game span. Tip-off is slated for Monday at 6:30 p.m. at UConn’s home court, Gampel Pavilion.

Here are three notable things Auriemma said.

For repeat run, Syracuse has its work cut out

Auriemma acknowledged Syracuse’s backcourt of Alexis Peterson and Brittney Sykes. “We’re going to have to off set that,” he said. The game will run at a fast pace, he expects. The Orange could be worth more than a No. 8 seed, he said, and Monday’s game very well could be close. A competitive game on Monday night would reflect the development of the sport.

But Connecticut’s head coach since 1985, who’s amassed an NCAA-record 11 titles along the way, cautioned the notion of a Syracuse repeat run. Auriemma recalled his first Final Four, in 1991. UConn didn’t return until four years later.

“Getting to the Final Four last year is a huge step forward for a program that had never been that far before,” he said. “Getting back there is going to be a lot harder than they think.

“It takes a lot. It takes a lot to maintain year after year after year. Syracuse certainly has all of the things in place to be able to do that.”

UConn’s success this season was once ‘highly unlikely’

The Huskies lost their three best players — Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck — to the 2016 WNBA Draft. The trio went No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 in last year’s draft. All Connecticut has since done is swept a brutal nonconference slate, rumble through the American Athletic Conference and notch another No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Despite deviating from its usual deep rotation, UConn’s seven-player lineup has put up 90 points on 17 separate occasions. The Huskies rank third in the nation in scoring offense, sixth in defense, first in field-goal percentage, second in 3-point field-goal percentage and first in assist-to-turnover ratio.

“For not having the best backcourt in the country, we’ve had a pretty good year,” Auriemma said, a nod to SU’s branding of Peterson and Sykes. “For us to graduate the three guys that we graduated and then to have happened what happened this year, I don’t think anyone of us could have predicted any of that.

“When the season started, if you were to say this is where you’re going to be March 19, I would have said, ‘Highly unlikely.’”

UConn doesn’t ask twice

Before the 2015-16 season, Auriemma said Connecticut asked Syracuse to schedule an early season nonconference game in the Carrier Dome. SU said “No,” Auriemma said Sunday. The topic arose Sunday when Auriemma was asked whether he missed the Big East rivalry of Syracuse and Connecticut, which goes back decades.

“We tried to schedule,” Auriemma said, “but (SU) wasn’t very accommodating when we wanted to play them. We said we’ll come up and play you guys and they said no. We don’t ask twice. We ask once … It doesn’t bother me. People say no all of the time. Everybody’s got to make their own schedule the way they want to make it, to make their program they way they want to make it.

“Our nonconference schedule is the best in the conference. There’s nobody we won’t play. We’ll play anybody, anywhere. Well play at midnight. I don’t care. If you play us, you’ll be on national television.”

Monday night’s game will be televised on ESPN2.

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