Since UConn burst onto the national scene by winning its first national championship and finishing 35-0 in 1994-95 the annual expectations changed dramatically. Greatness is something that the Huskies strive to achieve every season, every game, every time they step on the floor. And no matter how far-fetched it has seemed over the years, and no matter how much pressure the players and the coaches have felt to live up to the standard of excellence that has become synonymous with UConn women’s basketball, together they have indeed achieved greatness more times than not since that aforementioned season.
UConn is a combined 612-48 (.927) and has won seven national championships and made 12 Final Four appearances over the past 18 seasons. They have twice matched the NCAA record by winning three straight national championships. They have twice matched the NCAA record by reaching the Final Four in five straight seasons. They have also had winning streaks of 70- and an NCAA record 90-games.
Head coach Geno Auriemma was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006. Rebecca Lobo was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010 and Jennifer Rizzotti will take her seat there next year. And several players are certain to follow once their playing careers are over.
“When you go to a program like UConn that has its background and has its history and the expectations that are built around just the name of UConn, yeah, you kind of go there thinking, `OK, everybody expects you to be great so anything less is unacceptable,’’’ UConn senior Kelly Faris said. “And I think that’s what makes this program thrive.
“(The pressure) is a lot. It is. But I think you have to be that type of person to come to this program. And, that being said, I think you understand what that’s about and you accept it as more of a challenge and of a good thing. Yeah, it’s hard and demanding. Time demanding. But that’s part of it and if that’s really what you’re going for, if basketball is really what you love, then this is the program to go to if you want to excel and you want to be expected to do great things and not have anything less than that be acceptable.
“ Everybody thinks it’s funny that we walk away from our past season and look at it as basically a losing season even though it wasn’t, and wasn’t even close. And we made it to the Final Four, but for us that’s unacceptable and that isn’t what people expect of us. And, in return, that’s not what we expect of ourselves. And there’s a lot of programs that are the same way. And the high level and high demanding athletes, you’re going to take it hard and it’s going to be that much harder to take a failure at the higher level.’’
If there was any remaining question regarding the level of greatness UConn has established one needs only to tune in to the Olympics this week. There are six former Huskies – Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Tina Charles, Asjha Jones, Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi – competing for Team USA. And they are being coached by Auriemma.
Six players from one school are the most ever on any single U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team. The overall record was set by Kansas when it had seven players on the U.S. men’s basketball team in Finland in 1952.
“When you see that many players from the same program that says a lot about the program,’’ Faris said. “It makes it exciting just to kind of see that and it makes me feel proud that I am a part of that program and know those players and have played with some of them and it makes it more fun to watch. That’s with anything, but even at that high of a level it’s always fun to watch. But when you know someone and you’ve played with them or it’s your coach it makes it a little bit different.’’
Faris had the opportunity to play one season with Charles (2009-10) and two with Moore (2009-10, 2010-11), winning the national championship during a 39-0 season in 2009-10.
“Those two players are unbelievable players and you kind of expect that out of them,’’ Faris said. “You expect that they’re going to get to that point or they’re going to, for sure, be on that (Olympic) team or that type of thing. So, in that aspect, am I surprised that they’re there? No. But is it kind of surreal just to think, `Wow, a few years ago we were on the same team and they were just in college.’ So that’s why I’m saying it’s cool to watch because you were a part of their lives, and even if it was for a short time, it’s still … You know them. You know who they are off the court and to see them reach that level you’re just proud of them and excited for them.’’
Including Lobo (1996) and Kara Wolters (2000), UConn has had eight Olympians. Bird and Taurasi are currently looking to earn their third career gold medal. Cash is looking for her second. Lobo and Wolters each have won one.