It's conference title No. 28 for Auriemma's Huskies

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·4 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Feb. 24—HARTFORD — When Geno Auriemma was hired to coach the UConn women's basketball team in 1985, the teams to beat in the Big East were Villanova and Providence.

On Feb. 11, 1989, Auriemma's Huskies beat Villanova for the first time in nine tries on Heidi Robbins' 3-pointer from the top of the key — the only three she attempted in 90 career games — at the Storrs Field House. A week later, UConn defeated Providence at the Field House to win its first Big East regular-season championship.

Fast forward 33 years to Wednesday as the Huskies clinched their 28th regular-season conference crown — including 21 in the Big East — with a 69-38 rout of Marquette at the XL Center.

In between UConn has had a number of challengers — Seton Hall, Notre Dame, Rutgers, Louisville, and DePaul among them — to maintain its supremacy.

"There was a time when I used to try to pick out the formula for winning," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "When we had 16 leagues games, I always thought if we went 12-4 we could win the league. A road win was like huge. If you could win four out of your eight road games it was like, 'Wow!' Those were incredibly emotional games because you knew how hard it was to win on the road and you knew you had to win all your games at home.

"Everything was a bus ride. There were no tablets. So all you had going home was a (stat sheet). You would be staring at the stat sheet the whole ride, and I kind of miss that to be honest with you."

The Huskies have had streaks of three (1989-91), 11 (1994-2004), five (2007-11), and now nine (2014-22, seven in the American Athletic Conference and two since returning to the Big East) to get to 28.

Do you know how many regular-season championships Providence has won since 1989? One — sharing a title with UConn in 1990.

Do you know how many regular-season championships Villanova has won since 1989? None.

The Huskies have won a championship of some sort — conference regular season or tournament or NCAA national — in 29 consecutive seasons.

"Winning is a difficult thing and sometimes here at Connecticut we've made it look easy," Auriemma said. "Winning is never easy, and winning all the time is never easy. We've won so much that there is just a perception we come out and can name how many wins we're going to get every year. It's not like that.

"It takes a lot to win, and nobody sees the amount of practice time that goes in and the amount of time spent on the game. I'm proud of our team, especially this year and the way it played out. It could have really gone sideways and it didn't."

Between injuries, illness, and inconsistency it was hard to tell which Huskies were coming or going much of the year. Only Evina Westbrook and Aaliyah Edwards have played in all 25 games and they, too, have had their shares of ups and downs.

Paige Bueckers, the reigning national Player of the Year, hasn't taken the court since suffering a left knee injury Dec. 5. Freshman Azzi Fudd missed two months with a right foot injury. Christyn Williams (COVID-19), Olivia Nelson-Ododa (groin), Dorka Juhász (right foot), Nika Mühl (right foot), and Caroline Ducharme (head) have missed multiple games. People forget that Aubrey Griffin, who played a key role in the last two regular-season titles, hasn't played at all because of a back injury that required surgery a month ago.

There have been games Auriemma has had eight players in uniform.

But all was well as the Huskies posed for pictures with the Big East championship trophy.

"I think this definitely means more this season than with any other team I've been on," Nelson-Ododa said. "Because of the adversity, the challenges, the injuries and having to grind out every game, it means a lot to us."

UConn has had 10 players available for three straight games and Bueckers, though still sidelined, was in uniform Wednesday and took part in pregame stretching and warmups. She was to meet with team physician Dr. Robert Arciero today and maybe, just maybe, her return to action is imminent.

The Huskies will host St. John's here Friday and Providence at Gampel Pavilion Sunday to close the regular season before pursuing their next goal — the Big East tournament title starting on March 5.

One down, two championships to go.

Carl Adamec is a Journal Inquirer staff writer. He has covered the UConn women's basketball team for 33 years.

For coverage of all sports in the JI's 18-town coverage area, plus updates on the UConn women's basketball team and head coach Geno Auriemma, follow Carl Adamec on Twitter: @CarlAdamec, Facebook: Carl Adamec, and Instagram: @CarlAdamec.