UConn to Lose a Lot; Returns a Lot, Too
As if completing back-to-back unbeaten seasons and amassing an NCAA women's record 78 straight wins doesn't grant you even a moment to bask in the glow of accomplishment.
Auriemma, now with seven national titles, took that moment anyway.
"I'll probably think about the 78 and how it became a reality," said Auriemma. "And I'll just stare up into space like I always do and say, 'I can't believe it.' There's so many things that could go wrong along the way, and it's just unexplainable that that many things could go that right for 78 straight games and you would win."
But they did, and now, it's on to the next thing, specifically a chance to match UCLA's men's mark of 88 straight wins, achieved from 1971-74.
"I'm not looking at it as a goal," said Auriemma, who has never lost a championship game. "I'm not looking at it as something that I want to accomplish. If we're fortunate, and it ever happens, I'll be astounded like I am right now."
A third straight unbeaten season would not only be unprecedented, it would be unlikely given the heavy graduation losses Connecticut will sustain next year.
For starters, the Huskies will lose center Tina Charles, expected to be taken first in Thursday's WNBA draft by the Connecticut Sun. Though Charles' career got off to a slow start, the 6-foot-4 native of Jamaica, N.Y., finished strong, leaving Storrs as the program's all-time leading scorer and rebounder.
Charles won nearly every national Player of the Year award this season and her second-half defense on Stanford's Nnemkadi Ogwumike helped trigger a decisive run that got the Huskies the lead.
The Huskies will also lose three-year starter Kalana Greene, a guard and the team's third-leading scorer, as well as Kaili McLaren, Charles' backup, and three other reserves.
"It's going to be sad,' said forward Maya Moore. "They have, I think, been the most improved players, just seeing Tina's growth from freshman year to now, and Kalana's growth from last year to now. They're leaders for our team, and we're going to absolutely miss that."
Fortunately for Connecticut, Moore (top right), the nation's best player, returns for her senior year. The 6-foot forward from Lawrenceville, Ga., who was named the Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four, will almost certainly pass Charles as the all-time leading Huskies scorer, barring injury.
The bigger question is whether Moore, who had 18 of her game-high 23 points in the second half Tuesday, is ready to become not only the program's unquestioned scorer, but its on-court leader as well.
"Maya is unbelievable in what she can do and how she can do it," said Auriemma. "I think Maya's greatest challenge next year is going to be that for the first time in her college career she will be the older leader and not have a lot of help, and that's going to really take its toll on Maya next year. I've told her that. We've talked about it. And that's my job to get her ready for it.
"But, you know, people are going to expect us to win a national championship because we've got Maya Moore. And I would say: Good. So do I."
Moore will have supporting cast help from guards Tiffany Hayes, Caroline Doty and Kelly Faris as well as from incoming freshmen Bria Hartley and Samarie Walker, who each played well in the WBCA High School All-Star Game Saturday.
To get to the magic number 88, the Huskies will have to win their first 10 games next year. One of those games appears certain to include a meeting with Baylor, the team the Huskies vanquished in the national semifinal. The Lady Bears, who had five freshmen this year, including 6-foot-8 center Brittney Griner, will be a year older and the darling pick of many to at least get back to the Final Four, if not supplant Connecticut as champions.
That game is tentatively slated for early in the season at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, and will likely be the first early test of how good the Huskies will be. The next big non-conference challenge on the 2010-11 schedule is a game at Stanford, Connecticut's other Final Four victim.
The Huskies will also face their traditional Big East rivals Notre Dame and Georgetown, both of whom are expected to be improved from this season, when the Hoyas reached the second round and the Irish reached the Sweet 16.
Regardless of who comes and goes and how much better the rest of the world of women's basketball may be, each season at Connecticut starts with the expectation of 30 wins, a Final Four berth and a shot at a national title. Next year will be no exception.
"I think we definitely set the stakes high," said Charles. "Coach did it. He set the stakes high for the people coming into Connecticut, because I know when I came in, we didn't win for a year, for like a long time. So the guys coming in now, the guys who [are] here next year, Maya, Tiffany, Caroline, they just gotta keep winning, because that's what Connecticut does."