Geno, UConn Women Say It's Time To Relax And Take It All In

Geno Auriemma took time out after UConn's win over Louisville to remind his team just how much they have accomplished this season. (John Woike)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Despite larger goals still to conquer, UConn did not just shrug Monday after wrapping up the first American Athletic Conference regular season championship.

"We said to ourselves, let's just enjoy this moment," Bria Hartley said. "We just won the first AAC championship."

Coach Geno Auriemma said he asked the team to take no less joy in the accomplishment, even though no conference team came within 17 points (Louisville on Feb. 9) on UConn's way to 18-0 in the AAC.

The Huskies also won 24 of 31 games by at least 20, 13 by 40 or more. Their average winning margin was 36.7 points.

"We talked about it in the locker room," Auriemma said. "I think that is one of the dangers of playing at Connecticut, especially when a team comes back after winning the national championship the year before."

"You know, from September, all the talk is about winning another national championship. And before you know it, you forget to celebrate all the little things that happen along the way. We don't stand on a podium and say we are great, but we have done a lot of great things this year. Sometimes we need to take a step back and take a look at it."

The Huskies ended their stay in the Big East watching Notre Dame win the past two regular season championships. And then with the chance to win the first AAC title outright, it watched Louisville score the first seven points in two minutes before a frenzied, record-breaking sellout [for a women's game] of 22,163 at the KFC Yum! Center.

"You know when you come here to play, it's going to be a battle," Hartley said. "But being down seven isn't really that big of a deficit and we have faith in our offense. We figured we're going to score, go on a run."

UConn ran all right, outscoring Louisville by 27 in the final 38 minutes, holding the Cardinals to 13 field goals.

"I don't remember looking at the scoreboard [while trailing]," Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said. "I just remember thinking they were making every shot they were taking. And we're not used to that. But we regained our composure."

In a way, as Hartley said, UConn was forced to maintain its composure throughout a physically taxing season.

They played through injuries and illness that ended Morgan Tuck's season (knee surgery) and cost Mosqueda-Lewis 12 games with an injured elbow and mononucleosis.

With just nine scholarship players and two walk-ons, the Huskies often played with fewer than eight healthy scholarship players available.

"So I reminded them [Monday] just how much this team has accomplished in the 31 games of the regular season," Auriemma said. "Take a look where we've won, who we have beat, how we have played; playing with six guys, seven guys. It's something to be proud of, although it's not something we talk about very often."

UConn will rest before preparing for its game in the AAC tournament Saturday at 2 p.m. against the winner of Friday's game between No. 8-seed Cincinnati and No. 9 Central Florida.

The Huskies (31-0), who have won 37 consecutive games, won their four regular season games against the two teams by a combined 166 points, with a 57-point win over the Bearcats and a 48-point win over UCF.

"The idea is to take one step at a time and enjoy things as they happen," said sophomore Breanna Stewart, who led UConn with 22 points and 14 rebounds Monday and will probably be named AAC player of the year Friday.

It's quite possible that UConn and Louisville will meet for a third time March 10 in the championship game of the AAC.

There is even a chance that they will play again in the NCAAs, either in the Elite Eight (should UConn be sent to the Louisville Regional as the No. 1 seed) or the Final Four.

The teams played in last year's NCAA national championship game. Auriemma said he doesn't think the selection committee should penalize Louisville with a No. 2 seed — and the likely UConn regional pairing.

"I think [the selection committee] would have spent a week at the [Down One] Bourbon Bar here," Auriemma said when asked about that matchup. "I think they're a No. 1 seed. They've done everything they were supposed to do [27-3]. They don't have any bad losses."

Stewart Honored

Stewart is the AAC player of the week for the fourth time this season. She averaged 21.7 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.67 blocks in wins at SMU, against No. 24 Rutgers and at No. 3 Louisville.