While the kids born in the 1990s frolicked amid the celebration at Mohegan Sun Arena, the women who played the first UConn basketball game under Geno Auriemma walked onto the floor.
The 1,000th victory was still fresh: UConn 88, Oklahoma 64. The near-capacity crowd was standing and cheering, confetti was flowing and players from the past mixed with players of the present.
For Geno Auriemma and Chris Dailey, worlds were colliding on a night when the program sailed past yet another milestone. The team that seems to win night after night reached a historic mark, an opportunity to pause and — again — celebrate with video tributes, gifts and colorful confetti.
“A little over the top, don’t you think?” said Auriemma, who been part of many on-court parties.
This one, he said, was about the players. Players from multiple era were in the arena for the coach who came to Connecticut from Virginia 32 years ago and has built the best program in the sport.
On a night when an announced crowd of 9,151 squeezed into the arena with the expectation of witnessing yet another win, UConn (9-0) had to absorb a third-quarter run by Oklahoma (5-6) before steadying itself and turning a momentary tight game into another lopsided victory. This year’s group, the No. 1 team in the country and a collection of players who carry the weight of a legacy with them, earned the 1,000th win.
So they celebrated.
“I think the people that got the most satisfaction out of that celebration were the players,” Auriemma said. “The players that have played here, the teams that have played here, and this year’s players. They seemed to be the ones that were most engaged and had the most fun and it meant a lot to them. We’ve always tried to make this thing all about our players and tonight was just another example of that.”
Auriemma often says that his teams have been, well, simply too talented to lose. It’s about the only way he can begin to explain the mind-boggling success. His team has won 120 of 121 games and 167 of 169.
There have been 11 national titles and 10 consecutive trips to the Final Four. Since winning his 200th game in January 1995, Auriemma is 800-54 (.937). Since winning his 900th game in February 2015, he is 100-1.
Auriemma (1,000-135) joined Pat Summitt, Tara VanDerveer and Sylvia Hatchell as the only 1,000-win coaches in women’s college basketball history. And Hatchell recorded her 1,000th just hours before Auriemma, as North Carolina won Tuesday afternoon.
But Auriemma reached the milestone quicker than any coach in history. And the history of the program has been front and center in recent weeks as players were asked about Auriemma’s milestone win.
As they took the court Tuesday, the players understood the magnitude of this game.
“We have that confidence going into every game that we want to win it and we want to give ourselves an opportunity to win,” Katie Lou Samuelson said. Kind of balancing that is what Coach and CD are really good at having us do. People who played last season kind of understand how to play and just focus on the game because it felt like we were playing for something every single game last season.”
Samuelson had 19 points and six assists, converting 4 of 9 3-point attempts. Napheesa Collier led with 21 points and nine rebounds, while Azura Stevens had 20 points and eight rebounds. Kia Nurse added 17 points and Gabby Williams (three points) had 10 rebounds and eight assists.
Williams was in foul trouble in the first half, yet UConn carried a 48-33 lead into the intermission. But Oklahoma did not wilt in a building where UConn has never lost.
It was 51-37 four minutes into the second half when the Sooners made their move. Oklahoma’s 7-0 run came as UConn struggled to make shots.
With just under 5:00 left in the quarter, it was a seven-point game and the crowd was muted.
“We were just talking about getting stops on defense and moving the ball, making sure people were moving to open spots and trying to get inside as much as possible,” Nurse said.
The tide turned as Stevens ended the drought with a layup off a lob pass from Collier. Collier followed with a 3-pointer and later took a pass from Williams before converting a layup, boosting the lead to 13.
It was all downhill from there. Like so many UConn games in over Auriemma’s tenure, it steadily turned into lopsided win.
What does the No. 1,000 mean? It was cause for celebration. At least for one night.
“I think it’s a number that, it’s significant because so few people have been able to do that,” Auriemma said. “There’s just so few opportunities to coach that many games. So you feel incredibly fortunate that you’re one of a very, very, very select few and they’re some of the great coaches that have ever coached. Next week, two weeks from now, three weeks from now, a month from now when we’re playing games, I don’t know that I’ll be referred to as, ‘1,000-game winner, Geno Auriemma.’ I think it’s over and done with once it happens and we move on and it’s something that we put in our memory bank, and go from there.”
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