The Big East has been good to the Huskies over the years. They have won 19 regular season championships and they have won 19 of the first 30 Big East tournament championships.
It will all come to an end Tuesday night at the XL Center as the conference has been ripped apart. The Catholic 7 officially drove a wrecking ball through the Big East Friday when it was announced that they will break free to join their own basketball-driven brand Big East. Same name, yes. Same national impact, hardly.
UConn will play the first of what is expected to be three games in three days tonight against DePaul in the tournament quarterfinals.
“It’s crazy, isn’t it,’’ UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “It’s crazy. The conference used to rotate and every school in typical … When I went to Catholic school it was `We have to be fair. We have to be Christian-like.’ So everybody got a chance to host the tournament whether your place sat 2,500 or whether it sat 10,000. Everybody got a chance. And it was small time. It was very much unlike anything that we have today. And back then if you would’ve said to all those schools, `Hey, you know what? For a whole bunch of years you guys are going to have this tournament in Hartford and there’s going to be 10,000, 11,000 people there and ESPN is going to televise the semifinals and the finals,’ they would’ve told you you were out of your mind. ESPN didn’t televise any of those games. Nobody televised any of those games. And here we are today, and I like to think we had a lot to do with that. So now it’s over. And it’s time to start over again.’’
Senior Kelly Faris would have played her final Big East games this week regardless of the direction that the conference is heading. So you will have to excuse her if she is not being overly nostalgic. What matters to her most is that the Huskies capture the tournament championship in her final appearance
“Obviously, being my last year it’s going to be … I want it. I want it,’’ Faris said. “And I wanted it the other day (at Notre Dame), and we didn’t come up with it. And it’s a really bad feeling to walk out of a gym knowing that that’s the last time I’ll play there. That’s the last chance I have at a regular season (championship), and we didn’t get it. We came up short. So in that aspect, yeah. This is like, `OK, this is my last chance to get a Big East tournament championship.’ And then at the same time, a championship is a championship. The other girls want it, and I want it, and we’re going to do anything and everything that we can to get it.’’
Here are Auriemma’s most memorable moments from the Big East tournament …
“At Seton Hall in ‘94-95 when we had that undefeated team and I thought, `It doesn’t matter where we play this tournament,’ and Seton Hall was really, really good, and we beat them in the finals,’’ Auriemma said. “I remember that championship game because it was pretty special to finish the regular season undefeated, go undefeated in the tournament and go into the NCAA tournament as the top seed.
“Then the one (in 1989) where I was suspended and couldn’t coach. I couldn’t coach, and what was even worse was the game wasn’t on the radio. It was on WHUS, and they didn’t get that in New Jersey. And that tournament was at Seton Hall as well. And there were no cell phones. I had one of those Italian cans, those Ball jars. Kathy (Auriemma) would call during the timeouts. That was pretty memorable, that tournament.
“Those two are probably … The games with Providence (in 1990-91) were pretty special because Providence was damn good. I remember we beat them here in a great game. They beat us there in a great game. And then we beat them in the tournament at Georgetown. I remember all that.
“And then there’s just been a lot of little things. The roof leaking (at Gampel Pavilion in 2001). (Rutgers coach) C. Viv (Stringer) couldn’t understand why it was leaking. She thought it was a conspiracy to affect the outcome of the game. I remember I was trying to convince her, `The roof leaked. We were on a roll. We just scored like 15 straight points. Why would I want the roof to leak right now? That was pretty amazing that year.’’
Here is the background on Auriemma’s suspension in 1989: UConn played a preseason scrimmage against Eastern Connecticut during with referees and wearing uniforms. Due to an NCAA rule at the time that game counted as a game on the regular season schedule, which put the Huskies one game over the limit and meant that they would be ineligible to compete in the Big East tournament. However, Syracuse agreed to cancel their regularly scheduled game in late February so that UConn could compete in the tournament.
UConn ultimately suspended Auriemma for the final regular season game at St. John’s and for the Big East tournament. He could not even attend the Big East awards banquet to accept his Coach of the Year award.