— The world is a different place than what it was the last time the UConn women played on Dec. 6.
The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown resonates especially strongly for the UConn women's basketball team.
In the faces of the 20 children who were killed, the Huskies see mirror images of the little ones who flock to them at autograph sessions and other public appearances.
Women's basketball is a niche sport generally supported by retirees and families with young children, especially girls who see potential role models.
And for the Huskies, just like it has been for the rest of the world, the past few days have been about learning how to compartmentalize grief with the responsibilities that come with life.
"Saturday and Sunday there was an incredible awareness of what had happened at practice," coach Geno Auriemma said. "These are kids who remember what it was like to be in first grade, remember taking the school bus. That something like this could take place deeply affected them, for sure. They all ask me what they can do to help and we told them that at some point, when it is appropriate, we will get them involved."
For his part, Auriemma and his wife, Kathy, donated $80,000 to a Newtown scholarship fund established by UConn. But on Tuesday, he wanted to talk about the players on his team.
"They are still young. They haven't witnessed many things such as this in their lives. We tried to explain to the players that it was OK to feel the way they did. I was 10 when President Kennedy was assassinated. And it just has gone on and on all the way today. But this cuts the deepest for me.
"I was sitting in my office when the reports started to trickle in. As the numbers kept growing, so did the numbness we all felt. The players were already practicing, they weren't as aware as the staff was. You feel so helpless, so powerless. You put yourself into the shoes of the parents, the brothers and sisters. You can't fathom it.
"No one is equipped to deal with that on any level. Maybe it would have been better had we not even practiced. We got through it, but I wasn't exactly proud of the way I handled it, to be honest with you."
The No. 2 Huskies (8-0) resume the season Wednesday against Oakland (Mich.) at the XL Center at 7 p.m.
They will do so without freshman Morgan Tuck and sophomore Kiah Stokes. Tuck has a bone bruise in her right knee and Stokes has a stress fracture in her right shin. Neither has practiced for a week.
"My shin has been bothering me for about a month," Stokes said. "And practicing on it just made it feel worse. I think I will be back within the next couple of weeks."
Stokes had offseason ankle surgery that temporarily set her back.
"It's annoying, to be honest," Stokes said. "But this [injury] won't take me as long to recover."
Oakland will be without top scorer and rebounder Olivia Nash, a freshman who will miss her third straight game with an undisclosed leg injury. She could miss a month.
The Golden Grizzlies have also been without Bethany Watterworth, the preseason Summitt League player of the year. She has missed the entire season, also because of an undisclosed leg injury.
Oakland had tried to replace Watterworth's 18.7 points a game with Nash (11.8), Annemarie Hamlet (11.2) and Elena Popkey (9.9). Now that has changed, as well.
Reprising what occurred Monday before the UConn men played Maryland Eastern Shore at the XL Center, there will a pregame ceremony honoring the Newtown victims at 6:50 p.m.
The Huskies will also wear an "SH" patch on their uniforms in Sandy Hook Elementary's colors of green and white.
"It's so hard to realize something like this can happen," guard Bria Hartley said. "You imagine yourself when you were in school, or when you are older and have the chance to have children. It's just a tragedy and we have all been so shocked since it happened."