ST. LOUIS (AP)—Even though his team has been mowing down every team in its way, Geno Auriemma wants you to believe UConn could lose the national championship.
To a team it’s beaten twice—by 28 and 39 points.
“It’s way too much familiarity for both teams,” the Hall of Fame coach said. “A lot more than you’d like to have this time of year.”
Auriemma insists he has reason to worry about Tuesday’s tile game against Louisville. He’s seen a big difference in the Cardinals from the team UConn dismantled in the Big East championship a month ago.
“What we did in the second game, I don’t think it has any effect on today,” he said. “Different environment. Different day. Different attitudes among the players.”
UConn (38-0) stands on the doorstep of the third undefeated season in school history and just the fifth ever in women’s basketball.
Louisville (34-4), which is looking to become the fourth team to knock off three No. 1 seeds on its way to a title, will have to have a new game plan against Connecticut. Second-year coach Jeff Walz was hard-pressed to find a weakness with the Huskies last time out.
“I think I saw their manager drop a bottle of water,” he said laughing. “That’s the scary thing about them. They’ve got three of the top 10 players in the country. Then you’ve got Tiffany Hayes who’s shooting the ball extremely well. We’re going to have to try and control the tempo of the game.”
Walz knows that his team can ill-afford a similar start to the semifinal game when they missed their first 13 shots before rallying to beat Oklahoma.
“If we come out and play the first five minutes the same way tomorrow night, instead of losing 11-0, it’s 25-0.”
The Cardinals feel no pressure, though, and Walz likens his undersized, overachieving team to the lovable Bad News Bears.
“We might not have been the most talented team on the floor the last few games. We’ve been the tougher team and the team with more heart,” he said. “We have a group of players here that are buying into a system and buying into a role.”
Like the fictional Bears, the Cardinals relish the role of being the underdog.
Louisville players want the media “to keep saying the other team’s going to win,” star Angel McCoughtry said. “I hope they wish Connecticut wins tomorrow. That’s what we’ve been thriving off of, so we don’t want that to change.”
While it’s the Cardinals first appearance in the title game, the Huskies are vying for their sixth national championship and first since 2004. UConn was suffering through its longest “drought” since first winning in 1995. Expectations are so high back home, that it was like the Huskie program had fallen off a cliff, Auriemma said.
In some ways, the struggles only make this title game sweeter, he said.
“It’s one of those validating things where no matter how many times you’ve been in you always wonder if there’s a next time,” Auriemma said. “Sometimes it takes those couple of years off where it makes you go ‘Wow, this is a big deal.’ When you start to think its not a big deal you need to get out of it.”
Auriemma has never lost a championship game, but as Louisville guard Deseree Byrd was quick to point out neither has Walz, who was an assistant on Maryland’s 2006 title team.
Connecticut has run through its opponents this season, winning by 31 points a game. No one has come within single digits and the Huskies are poised to become the first team ever—men’s or women’s to finish the season unbeaten with every win coming by double figures.
A victory would put this group in the same class as UConn’s other unbeaten teams in 1995 and 2002. Besides Connecticut, only Tennessee and Texas have run through a season undefeated.
No matter who wins the title game on Tuesday night, the Big East is guaranteed to be the first conference ever to sweep the NCAA and WNIT championships in the same season.
South Florida topped Kansas 75-71 on Saturday to win the WNIT title, which began in 1998.