Things used to be a much simpler for Geno Auriemma and the Huskies. Say, about 25 seasons ago.
The joy of simply earning a bid to the NCAA tournament is now long gone for UConn. So is the joy of winning a game in the tournament, reaching the Sweet 16 or even reaching the Final Four for that matter.
Sure, reaching the Final Four is still an accomplishment to cherish. But in this day and age anything short of winning a national championship is considered to be a disappointing season by many.
The Huskies are making their 25th straight NCAA tournament appearance (25th overall). Only Tennessee (32), Georgia (30), Louisiana Tech (27), Texas (26) and Vanderbilt (26) have been to more tournaments. And only Tennessee (32) and Stanford (26) have appeared in more tournaments consecutively.
Want some more numbers? UConn earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament for the seventh straight season and for the 16th time overall Monday. The Huskies are seeking a record sixth straight trip to the Final Four (14th overall) and an NCAA record-tying eighth national championship.
They are second all-time with 85 tournament wins (Tennessee, 112) and 102 tournament games (Tennessee, 135) and first in tournament winning percentage (.833).
“I think the longer this goes the more you realize how hard that is to do,’’ Auriemma said. “It’s like everything else that we’ve done since I’ve been at Connecticut. You try to measure yourself in terms of consistency, how long we’ve been able to be at the level that we’re at right now. That if it was that easy, everybody would’ve done it.
“That’s why I get a big kick out of when you have that mentality of what have you done for us last week or what are you going to do next week. When you see how many teams have won national championships in the last 20 years and have never been back to the Final Four or have never had any kind of success even remotely close to that. So you do take a tremendous amount of pride in the fact that it has been a consistent run for us and hopefully it’ll continue.’’
The Huskies appeared in their first NCAA tournament as a No. 8 seed March 15, 1989. They lost to No. 9 seed LaSalle 72-63 before 1,535 at the Field House, blowing a 10-point halftime-lead. It was the second largest crowd in team history at that point.
Kerry Bascom led UConn with 20 points and nine rebounds. Meghan Pattyson had 13 points. Heidi Robbins added 12 points, five rebounds and six assists.
Auriemma said that there was a reception for both teams and their families after the game.
“(That game) was a little thing, us against LaSalle,’’ Auriemma said. “It was a tiny little speck in the world of women’s basketball. Up in Storrs, UConn is playing LaSalle. It meant nothing to anybody, including the people in Connecticut. And to think that 25 years later it’s national news who we’re playing and where we’re playing. Not in anybody’s wildest imagination I don’t think could you have predicted that.’’
Auriemma said that he misses the old days.
“I miss a lot of that,’’ Auriemma said. “I don’t miss my paycheck back then. But I miss what winning meant back then and what doing things for the first time and trying to prove yourself and challenging the big established teams and trying to find a way to beat them. Go the Sweet 16 for the first time. How much we looked forward to that, and when it did happen we just felt like a million bucks.
“And then, my God, I hope we go to the Final Four. And then when we did that (in 1991) it was like a dream come true, like nothing could ever be better than this. Now you go to the Final Four and you don’t come back with a national championship and it’s like devastating, like you just can’t face anything. So, yeah, there was an awful lot to love back then. And you’ve got to love this. But you’ve got to love it in a different way, for sure.’’