Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Friday, October 22, 2010

UConn's Auriemma and Moore Drop Down to Greatness

By Mel Greenberg

For most members of the University of Connecticut contingent, heading into the 2010-11season off a current 78-game win streak and two straight unbeaten NCAA titles couldn’t be any better standing on top of the women’s collegiate basketball world.

However, Huskies coach Geno Auriemma and senior Maya Moore spent a large portion of the summer in a higher place winning a FIBA world championship and gold medal with the USA Senior National Women’s team that also had five former UConn stars.

That quintet and the rest of the squad, except Moore, spent the other part of the summer competing in the WNBA.

So some adjustment was necessary returning to Storrs to get ready to defend another title, right?

“Actually, yeah, a little,” Auriemma admitted Thursday at the annual Big East women’s media day in New York to preview the months ahead.

“You felt it a bit at first, especially going back to work with the younger players,” Auriemma said.

With Tina Charles, the WNBA rookie of the year, and Kalana Greene graduated to star in the pro league, and Germantown Academy’s Caroline Doty suffering a third ACL that has sidelined her for a second in three seasons at UConn, some adjusting in keeping the machine humming is needed.

Moore, the prohibitive national player of the year and projected No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft next spring, will be asked to play a somewhat similar role performed by Diana Taurasi, who led UConn to a second and third straight national title in 2003 and 2004 after the Huskies had gone unbeaten in 2002. That squad sent four starters to WNBA teams as first-round picks, including overall No. 1 selectee Sue Bird and Swin Cash, who helped propel the Seattle Storm to the league title just before the FIBA competition began.

“That’s asking a lot, but she’s put herself into that position and she’s probably looking forward to that challenge,” Auriemma said of Moore’s added responsibilities.

Having a chance to watch Taurasi up close and personal on the USA team in Czechoslovakia, besides playing alongside the Phoenix Mercury star and 2009 MVP of the league, Moore said she took mental notes on Taurasi in action.

“I mainly just watched her and just observed how she led, how she carried herself on the court – the things she did, what she said and when she said them,” Moore related. “Those are a lot of things I am going to take back to provide leadership.”

Moore became the first individual at the annual Big East event to make opening remarks on behalf of the players. DePaul coach Doug Bruno, who was an assistant to Auriema on the USA team, spoke on behalf of the 16 conference coaches.

Connecticut was picked first again by the league coaches to win the Big East, an ongoing event with few interruptions over the last decade, while Moore was named preseason player of the year and Huskies newcomer Bria Hartley was named the top preseason freshman.

West Virginia was tabbed second, followed by Georgetown, a healthier Notre Dame squad, and St. John’s among the top five, proving that there is movement elsewhere in the Big East.

Rutgers was picked seventh and Villanova was named 14th.

However, many in the room at B.B. King’s Blues Grille on 42nd Street near Times Square noted how teams picked low a year ago such as Georgetown, St. John’s and West Virginia fought their way to the top and were among seven Big East schools earning NCAA bids.

Rutgers red-shirted junior Khadijah Rushdan from Wilmington, Del., was named an honorable mention. She is a senior by class but an injury her freshman season has enabled her to gain extended court time.

Auriemma, who grew up in Norristown and whose brash personality has at times found him referred to as a know-it-all, actually learned something Thursday he had been unaware of regarding the Huskies’ win streak.

Should UConn hurdle Baylor in the second game of the season and then Georgia Tech, and end up extending the win streak to Game 88, where a victory would tie the record of the UCLA men’s team, that contest will be against Ohio State and his good Philly friend Jim Foster in Madison Square Garden here in New York.

“Wow,” Auriemma remarked when your Guru noted the date to him. “I guess if you’re going to win a big game, Madison Square Garden’s good as any place to win it. You just told me something I didn’t know. I know who we’re playing, I just don’t know when. I know we got Holy Cross first and Baylor second.

“But if you ask me who’s your third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh game, I’d say I have no idea. And that’s the honest to God’s truth.”

Auriemma, a Hall of Famer who has made attention-grabbing statements over the years, was questioned about his recent remark at the Huskies media in which he predicted somewhere along the way the streak was likely to end.

“I’m realistic,” Auriemma explained. “Would you ask a guy in the NFL if they’re going to go undefeated? And what are they going to say, `Yeah we are.’ Nobody is going to say that.

"Number one, that’s disrespectful to the teams you’re playing against and No. 2, I just think it’s unrealistic,” Auriemma continued.

“But I said that the other two years. I said I don’t think we’re going to win them all.

“People say a coach thinks they’re going to win every game. Well you’re an idiot if you think you’re going to win every game. If it happens, you’re shocked, like I was.

“But at the same time, I’m not going to lie. I’m not going to sit here and say we’re so much better than Baylor, we’re so much better than Ohio State, North Carolina, Duke or Stanford.

"Yeah, we’re going out to Stanford == they have just about everybody back from last year except Jayne (Appel) and they recruited the best kid in high school. And we’re going to play on their home court. Are you kidding? We’re going to beat the s--- out of them.

“Really, if you want me to say that, you’re out of your mind. So I’m not putting it out there to motivate anybody, I’m not putting it out there because I’m trying for any ulterior motive.

I’m just trying to say what I think is the honest to God’s truth. If we go out there and win, or we beat Carolina at Carolina or anybody else I would say, “Damn we’re pretty good. I didn’t think we’re this good.’

As for spending the last 12 months being coached by Auriemma in two contrasting situations, Moore was asked if things were different playing for him on the USA team or did the she and the Huskies alumni get singled out at practice.

“I couldn’t notice it a whole lot,” Moore said. “If something needed to be said, he said it to us.

“ His expectations at that level are just as high as college,” she added. “It’s the world championship level. He’s going to say what he needs to say and I was ready to take what he needs to say but it wasn’t as much as here at UConn. Absolutely not.

“He didn’t have to harp on as many things as he does here at Connecticut,” Moore said and explained the reason.

“Sometimes it’s a matter of having a certain group you can do that with – at the pro level you don’t have them as long, you don’t know them as well, so he can say certain things to us (in college) and harp on us in a certain way because he knows us and has been around us.

“As far as style of play, we ran the same offense and it works.”

Though overseas after the fall semester began back in Storrs, Moore kept up with her studies through the wonders of modern technology.

Had it been two decades earlier, many devices would not have been available.

“That made it a whole lot easier,” Moore said. “I don’t know what I would have done without the internet to keep up with my classes so that was a huge help.

“It was a little bit of a sweat. It’s kind of how we make things look on the court. We make it look easy but it’s not.”

Moore is looking forward to a game on the front end of the season when UConn will travel to Atlanta to play Georgia Tech in her native state.

“I already heard of so many who said they’re coming,” Moore said. “So I’m excited and looking forward to get back there and see some familiar faces.”

At the moment Moore was interviewed by your Guru for this post, it was one of the few times she did not draw a crowd.

But that will change dramatically when the season tips off in less than a month.

-- Mel

In the interest of not burying some talks with Rutgers’ Rushdan and Villanova’s Laura Sweeney and Heather Scanlon, the Guru will offer a second installment in the next 24 hours.



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