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.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Guru's NCAA: Geno Calls the Elite Eight the Most Difficult -- Not All the Time as This Recap Proves

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – Throughout his Halls of Fame career and the growth to women’s basketball dominance of the Connecticut program, coach Geno Auriemma has called the Elite Eight Regional Final Game that leads to the Women’s Final Four the most difficult round of the NCAA tourney.

It’s even more so than win or lose the action at the two ensuing stops afterwards that successfully handled results in a national championship.

“We’re in a game that we want to be in, obviously,” he said Sunday afternoon at Webster Bank Arena looking to Monday Night’s Bridgeport Regional Final against upstart Oregon that leads to this weekend’s national championship action in Dallas.

“It’s a game everybody wants to be in. It’s the last step, really, where every kid wants to be. Every kid wants to be in the Final Four. It’s what they talk about when they go to college, playing  in the Final Four.

“So the day before the game an d all day tomorrow is probably the most stressful time. The actual game itself is fun to play in.”

Overall, Auriemma has guided the Huskies to 17-5 in this round, and 11 of those 17 wins that allowed advancement resulted in an NCAA men’s or women’s record 11 championships, though this time based on preseason projections could be the most surprising of all measured to the outlook months ago but not recently with another unbeaten run to glory looming ahead.

Here’s a look back at the UConn Elite Eight hsitory.

1991 – UConn 60, Clemson 57 at The Palestra in Philadelphia. It was a surprise homecoming for Auriemma’s first appearance at the level after favored Penn State had gone down in an earlier round at home to James Madison and the Huskies advanced to his hometown when a shot at the buzzer was waved off for Toledo at the previous round at home in Storrs.

The Huskies went down to Virginia, where Auriemma at been an assistant coach, in the semifinals but he became a new national personality in women’s circles attracting the media with his endless supply of dry wit and other quaotable comments.

The game in Philly against Clemson was in the balance most of the day until it broke in UConn’s direction.

1994 – North Carolina 81, UConn 69 at the Louis Brown Arena (Rutgers) in Piscataway, N.J. This Sweet 16 could have changed the Huskies storyline somewhat had not Vanderbilt lost to the Tar Heels in the previous round on a blown layup because though playing against Auriemma’s good friend Jim Foster, who hired him as an assistant when Foster took the Saint Joseph’s job in Philadelphia, would have been tough emotionally, UConn had enough to top the Commodores. But against the Tar Heels, Tonya Sampson whipped Jen Rizzotti around like a rag doll all afternoon and UNC went on to win it all on Charlotte Smith’s three-point shot against Louisiana Tech at the buzzer.

1995 – UConn 67, Virginia 63 at Harry Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn. – It was the magical year well before the Huskies went on to replace Tennessee as the Darth Vander of women’s basketball. The bid to host had been made well before UConn developed into a force to be one of the teams in the region title game. But at the half his former boss Debbie Ryan had the Cavaliers poised to spoil the expected fun in Minneapolis, leading at the half and in the game until the Huskies broke through in the closing minutes and go on to win their first title with their first unbeaten records.

1996 – UConn 67, Vanderbilt 57 at Rosemont Horizon in Rosemont, Ill. At the arena in the shadows of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, this time Auriemma finally met up with Foster’s Commodores and pretty much controlled the night but Tennessee finally got its revenge for the previous season when the Lady Vols topped UConn in a tremendous national semifinal game 88-83 in overtime in Charlotte, N.C.

1997 – Tennessee 91, UConn 81 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa – The belief was the committee set a draw to put both teams on a collision course earlier in the tourney to change the complexion of the Final Four. The Huskies came into the game in trouble with future Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer Kara Wolters sidelined with an injury and the Vols took advantage to move on to an eventual title, made possible by an Old Dominion upset of favored Stanford in the semifinals.

1998 – N.C. State 60, UConn 52 at University of Dayton Arena in Dayton, Ohio. The Huskies were again shorthanded through injuries though the fact that Wolfpack coach Kay Yow was advancing with the win made everyone in the sport happy to see her get that far. But that year Tennessee had the super team that went unbeaten so the Huskies would have been a strong underdog in Kansas City.

2000 – UConn 86, LSU 71 at ALLTEL Pavilion in Richmond, Va. – It was little difficulty beating a team coached by another legend in Sue Gunter and it was on to the homecoming party for Geno in Philadelphia and a win over Tennessee in the finals at then-called First Union Center.

2001—UConn 67, LaTech 48 at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa. – Again, not much stress here and the Huskies were poised to win another title until in a rare moment in her career after UConn held a sizable halftime lead against Big East rival Notre Dame freshman Diana Taurasi imploded in the second half in the national semifinal in Savvis Center in Saint Louis, Mo., and the Irish ralled and then went on to beat Purdue for their only title.

2002 – UConn 85, Old Dominion 64 in U.S. Cellular Arena in Milwaukee, Wis. --  Little problem beating the former dominant Lady Monarchs and it was on to the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas., where the Huskies romped over Tennessee in the semifinals and then in a competitive game took control late to beat an up and coming Oklahoma program 82-70 for the first of three straight titles.

2003 – UConn 73, Purdue 64 at University of Dayton Arena in Dayton, Ohio. – The score is not necessarily refective of the outcome and then it was on to the Georgia Dome in Atlanta where a stirring comeback late in the semifinals dispatched Texas, 711-69, and then a closely fought 73-68 win over Tennessee in another national showdown with the Lady Vols.

2004 – UConn 66, Penn State 49 at Hartford Civic Center in Hartford, Conn. – The Lady Lions weren’t happy to be in this bracket against the Huskies, rather than wanting to be on a different path to get to the finals before facing the Huskies. Auriemma’s group got to New Orleans and kept dancing through Minnesota and again Tennessee to send Taurasi’s farewell to college ball out in a joyous occasion with a third straight title.

2006 – Duke 63, UConn 61, overtime at the Arena at Harbor Yard (now known as Webster Bank)  at Bridgeport, Conn. The Huskies had their chances and one of the Elite Eight games given.at least a 50-50 chance to win that a missed shot at the finish allowed the Blue Devils to move on to nearby Boston where they got victimized in overtime by the ten-ACC rival Maryland bunch in the championship.

2007 – LSU 73, UConn 50  at Save Mart Center in Fresno, Calif. – Not much to say here as the Huskies were a heavy underdog and underwhelming they stayed. The Tigers went on to lose to Rutgers in the semifinals who lost to the Candace Parker-led Tennessee gtroup in the championship.

2008 – UConn 66, Rutgers 56 at Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, N.C. – The Big East rival Scarlet Knights, unhappy to be in the same regional, took a big lead in the first half and then the Huskies rallied and took control only to suffer the consequences of missing two stars injured earlier and thus exploited in the national semifinal in Tampa, Fla., by Stanford, who then lost to Tennessee.

2009 – UConn 83, Arizona State 64 at Sovereign Bank Arena in Trenton, N.J. – Not too far from home the Huskies had an easy time of it on the way to beating Stanford and Big East rival Louisville in Saint Louis to complete the first of two unbeaten back-to-back seasons.

2010 – UConn 90, Florida State 50 at University of Dayton Arena in Dayton, Ohio – Another easy time before moving on to whipping Baylor in the national semifinal in San Antonio before struggling in the first half against Stanford until Maya Moore took over in the second half on the way to a second straight unbeaten season.

2011 – UConn 75, Duke 40 at Liacouras Center in Philadelphia, Pa. – Another Philly homecoming and easy time on Temple’s campus before being bedeviled by Big East rival Notre Dame in the national semifinal.

2012 – UConn 80, Kentucky 65 at the Ryan Center in Kingston, R.I. – An easy win to advance to the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo., where once again Notre Dame short-circuited the Huskies in the semifinals.

2013 – UConn 83, Kentucky 53 at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn. -- The Wildcats were taken down again easy and it was on to New Orleans where the overall favorite Baylor was missing, having been taken down by Louisville, who then lost to the Huskies in the championship to start the four-for-four march of freshman Breanna Stewart and friends.

2014 – UConn 69, Texas A&M 54 at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Neb.  – Another easy time in the Elite Eight and on to Nashville, Tenn., where the current long range win streak was being cobbled as now Notre Dame of the ACC was taken down in the championship in the first-ever battle of the unbeaten teams in the championship.

2015 – UConn 91, Dayton 70  at Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y. – Don’t let this outcome totally fool you because the Flyers held a halftime lead before the Huskies took over and then moved on to consecutive title No. 3 beating Notre Dame again for the championship but this time in Tampa.

2016 – UConn 86, Texas 65 at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn. – Another easy time and on to Indianapolis where a surprise opponent in former Big East rival Syracuse, now in the ACC, showed up in the title game to fall as Stewie completed the Four-for-Four deal.

2017 – UConn vs Oregon ??? At Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn. – The two biggest threats to a not-anticipated unbeaten season have been removed in Maryland and Baylor by others doing the dirty work for the Huskies. So how does this round turn out. Will it be 13 straight. Stay tuned.


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