Senior Meghan Gardler had a blast last Saturday at Villanova. Not only did Geno Auriemma award her her first career start, but she did so before about 110 members of her family and friends in her final homecoming game.
Homecoming games are special occasions. They give players the chance to showoff in front of people who often times have not seen them play since high school. Tomorrow, though, will be a different kind of homecoming game when the Huskies meet Pittsburgh at the Petersen Events Center. It will be for UConn assistant coach Shea Ralph.
No, she didn’t grow up in the Steel City, as you know. She grew up in North Carolina. However, Ralph spent five of the most important years of her career there as an assistant coach for the Panthers under Agnus Berenato. Tomorrow will mark the first time she returns to Pittsburgh with the Huskies since filling the void left by the departure of Tonya Cardoza last year.
“How cool is Shea? Don’t you love Shea? I’m like really proud of her because I remember when she was just right out of college, like a kid,’’ Berenato said. “I feel like when she want back to Connecticut she was like a full-fledged professional woman. We had five years together and it was five years of everyday. We had to work to really try to build a program. I didn’t know Shea Ralph for Jake before I interviewed her. She was like one of my kids. She’s like my child. I’m so proud of her. My heart is just … I’m so proud. Every time I see her on the sidelines … It’s just like her dedication to the game and just her never-say-die attitude. A lot of times people don’t get the opportunity to go back to where they truly love, and they don’t have that chance. And for her to have that chance to do it, and I feel like when she went back to do it she still was prepared. So she just jumped right in. I’m just so excited to see her. She’s great.’’
When team goals and team accolades are what matters most at UConn, individual milestones often get brushed aside. Tina Charles is on the verge of reaching a milestone only six players in the history of the program have been able to reach.
Charles will enter Saturday’s game at Pittsburgh needing 17 points to reach 2,000. She would join Nykesha Sales (2,178), Kerry Bascom (2,177), Diana Taurasi (2,156), Kara Wolters (2,141) and Rebecca Lobo (2,133).
The journey has been something special for Charles.
“Yeah, definitely,’’ Charles said. “Just the fact when you look in the media guide and only see a certain amount of players who reached that podium, yeah. It’s something I don’t really want to think about or harp on because there are other things to harp on. But is it great? Yes. I think anybody who reaches 2,000 points in their college career is pretty good.’’
Not surprisingly, Auriemma did not spend a lot of time talking about the latest milestones of one of his elite players. He’s superstitious and does not like to talk about such things until after they occur.
But when the subject of Sales initially breaking Bascom’s scoring record came up, Auriemma came up with a rather witty response.
“I talked about it with (Villanova coach) Harry (Perretta), but that was about it,’’ Auriemma said.
If you recall, Sales ruptured her Achilles tendon one point shy of Bascom’s mark against Notre Dame at Gampel Pavilion Feb. 21, 1998. Three days later at Villanova, Auriemma and Perretta worked it out so Sales could shoot an uncontested layup to seize the record.
It’s a good sign that after all these years Auriemma can joke about the hoop that launched him into a national firestorm of criticism.