Huskies’ coach Geno Auriemma had high praise Sunday for third-ranked Duke. And why not.
The Blue Devils (20-0) will invade what is expected to be a sold-out Gampel Pavilion Monday night as the nation’s lone undefeated team. Led by senior All-American point guard Jasmine Thomas, they feature 10 players that average at least 12.5 minutes and have reached double figures in scoring at least once this season
The game will mark the first time UConn will meet a team with fewer losses than it has for first time since facing North Carolina Jan. 15, 2007. The Tar Heels were 19-0. The Huskies were 14-1.
UConn lost that game 82-76 in Chapel Hill, N.C.
“Obviously, it’s going to be incredibly difficult,’’ Auriemma said. “One, because they’re good. They’re really good. And they’re deep and they’re very athletic. I’ve always said that to win a national championship you’ve got to have a certain couple of things on your team. And they’re a national championship kind of team because what those things are is you have to have a lot of talent. And they have a lot of talent. And you have to be deep. And they’re really deep. And you have to have great guard play. And they’ve got maybe the best point guard in the country. And they’ve got experience. I know they play a lot of young guys, but they still have a lot of experience. And they play hard. And they’re well coached. And, obviously, they’re resilient. They were down 20 (to NC State Jan. 23) and they came back on the road. So that says a lot about them. So it’s going to be difficult.’’
The Huskies (20-1) have won an NCAA record 72 straight games at home. They have has also won 15 straight against ACC opponents.
The last time the Blue Devils came to Connecticut during the regular season they ended the Huskies’ 69-game home winning streak with a 68-67 win on a buzzer beater by Jessica Foley at the Hartford Civic Center Jan. 3, 2004.
“I always think that these games are more of finding out the positives of your team rather than the negatives,’’ Auriemma said. “Like if you do things really well in this game then that bodes well for the future. That means you can do it against a really good team and you can do it against anybody then. If you don’t get it done in that game at the end of January on a Monday night that doesn’t necessarily have any bearing on what happens at the end of February or the end of March. That’s why these games are so good to play. There’s absolutely no negatives that come out of this, at least from my perspective as a coach. That’s how I go into all of these. I go into all of these games like if we win, if we do this right, if we accomplish this, if we accomplish that then that all bodes well for down the road. If is doesn’t work then we know, `Hey, we’ve got to fix this between now and then.’ So looking at tomorrow that’s exactly what I’m thinking about. We’re going to get an opportunity to find out exactly what it is that we’re really good at, and our freshmen are going to have one more opportunity like the ones they’ve already had to take another step towards becoming experienced college players. And with each situation like that that we find ourselves in the better they’re going to be. But in and of itself that one game … Stanford didn’t win the national championship when they beat us (Dec. 30), and we’re not going to win a national championship if we beat Duke tomorrow night. I think both teams have a pretty good perspective on what these games are all about. Otherwise, you wouldn’t schedule them. If these games were that defining and all encompassing you wouldn’t schedule them because then you would say, `Man that’s going to affect the way we approach the rest of the season.’ I’m not going to that. I’m not going to put my team in that situation.’’
UConn recruit Breanna Stewart, a 6-foot-4 post player from North Syracuse, N.Y. who is regarded as the top player in the Class of 2012, will be in attendance at the game.