Kaili McLaren was tired of listening to a humble Geno Auriemma try to downplay the fact that he had become the fastest Division I basketball coach ever to reach 700 wins Friday night. In his 25th season with the Huskies, Auriemma needed just 822 games to reach the milestone. During his postgame remarks he said countless times that he does not sit around and stew about such individual milestones that decorate his Hall of Fame resume. When asked repeatedly to put No. 700 in perspective, he struggled to find the words. Near the end, McLaren finally stepped in …
“He won’t say it,’’ McLaren said. “It’s amazing. It’s incredible. It’s unbelievable.’’
The feat is everything McLaren said and more. Along with fellow seniors Tina Charles, Kalana Greene, Meghan Gardler and Jacquie Fernandes, McLaren was around to celebrate No. 600 too. That was Dec. 31, 2006 against Sacred Heart. That’s how rapidly the wins have come. Auriemma needed just 106 games to ascend to the 700-win plateau.
“Surprised? No. Because Coach always gets us to where we need to be,’’ McLaren said. “But exciting? Yeah. It’s kind of cool to be here for 600 and 700. And it’s so early in the season and we still have a chance to win a championship too. So this could be a really special year again.’’
It is the second time that Auriemma has reached a milestone in just 106 games. He went from 200 wins (vs. Pittsburgh Jan. 2, 1995) to 300 (vs. Rhode Island Nov. 29, 1997) in that same span. He needed only 104 games to jump from 400 (vs. Illinois Dec. 10, 2000) to 500 (vs. Texas April 6, 2003).
The Huskies have won at least 30 games in four straight seasons and in 14 of the last 16 overall. They have been undefeated three times in this span (1994-59, 2001-02, 2008-09).
“I think it is truly amazing for someone to not only have the mindset of excellence and striving for perfection, but to do it consistently for so many years,’’ All-American Maya Moore said. “No matter what kind of team you have and no matter who is there, no matter whether you just started to coach or had an undefeated season last year, he is always going to coach and demand greatness from his players. He has had great players, and it takes great players to get that many wins, but if you don’t have somebody leading who is going to consistently keep the bar high and put the effort in to demand that, you won’t be successful. He has to be engaged and give everything he has to us every day. He has been doing that for so many years. So I’m not surprised he has 700 wins because he does that every day at every practice. He has great teams that believe in what he’s doing and want to win for him.’’
One topic Auriemma did take time to address last night – in his patented sarcastic nature – was the number of losses he has endured throughout his career.
“How many losses? 122? If our guys learned all the stuff that we’re teaching them and if they really paid attention we wouldn’t have 122 losses,’’ he said. “I’ll tell you that right now. Those 122 losses … That’s (garbage).’’
Here’s how the postgame antics by the players came to light:
“Well, it was a kind of a long process,’’ Moore said. “I think Coach (Chris) Dailey made sure we all had T-shirts. We knew we wanted to incorporate them somehow. It was just bouncing around different ideas, just hanging around the office. I think we came up with the `Priceless’ idea from the MasterCard commercial. We were just hanging out in (assistant coach) Shea (Ralph’s) office, and Kelly (Faris) brought that up. So it was just kind of a combination of bouncing around some ideas. Heather (Buck) was the MVP of the artistic side of the project. Go Heather. It was just something fun we wanted to do for Coach. I don’t think what we did in any way is going to reward him for everything he’s out into this program, but it was something fun for the fans and something we could do together.’’
The Huskies donned white T-shirts with Auriemma’s face on them and held up pieces of cardboard highlighting his career accomplishments and the word “priceless.’’ The backs of the shirts spelled “Congrats 700.’’