COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP)—Just about everybody loves an underdog. Not Geno Auriemma. He’ll go with Goliath in his bracket.
After all, his Connecticut team is 36-0 and has won its last 75 games, something that has never been done in the women’s game.
“Now, I’ve been the underdog a couple of times, certainly earlier in my career,” the UConn coach said Monday. “I’m not a big fan of the underdog. But we’ve been the overdog for so long I like the favorites. I root for Tiger to win every golf tournament, I don’t care. Freddie Couples I’ve gotten to know, he just won his third straight (senior) tournament and I hope he wins 10 in a row. That’s kind of how I am.”
The kind of guy who favors Everest instead of climbers. The kind of guy grew up loving the team that set the men’s standard with an 88-game winning streak.
“When I was playing high school basketball, I think everybody’s favorite team was UCLA,” he said. “If they weren’t, it’s because they were either lying or they were jealous. I loved UCLA, loved everything about them. It was probably the fact that they won all the time, and the way they played. They were exceptional at every position. I rooted for them to win all the time, and I never wanted to see them lose.”
UConn is now where UCLA was a generation ago. The team the Huskies play in Tuesday night’s regional final hosted Connecticut on Dec. 28. The Huskies won 78-59 in Tallahassee, routing a team ranked No. 12 at the time.
Aside from the Florida State players, coaches and families, it would be hard to find anyone who thinks the Seminoles have a good chance at winning. That’s OK with Florida State.
“I came to college wanting to be the underdog,” guard Alysha Harvin said. “It gives you the mentality that nobody really believes in you. When you step up and meet that challenge, it’s a great feeling—it’s the best feeling in the world.”
Florida State (29-5) is as quick and athletic as any team in the country. If the game becomes a track meet, though, UConn feels it can adapt.
“Our team knows how to control the tempo,” Huskies guard Kalana Greene said. “If Florida State wants to play full court, we’re very good at that. If they try to force us to play half court, we are good at that, too. Any style of play that is thrown at us, we know how to play it.”
It’s not just winning that sets the Huskies apart; it’s how they win. The Huskies have beaten their first three tournament opponents by a combined 148 points—the most ever.
No wonder they’re regarded as a machine.
Jacinta Monroe, Florida Stgate’s agile 6-foot-5 post player, will square off down low with UConn’s 6-4 Tina Charles. Monroe played in the World University Games team last summer in Serbia and had three Huskies for teammates—Charles, forward Maya Moore and guard Tiffany Hayes.
“They’re great people,” Monroe said. Then she added, “They’re human, like anyone else.”
Florida State also played the Huskies two years ago, losing 83-71 in Mexico. That familiarity gives the Seminoles some insight. And they bristle when asked about being “substantial” underdogs.
“Most teams when they come out to play UConn they look at the name on the jersey and they don’t focus on playing as a team and doing their best,” point guard Courtney Ward said. She insists that won’t be the case Tuesday.
The Huskies have won their last nine NCAA tournament games and 13 of 14. They are a team created for big games and big challenges.
“This is the time of year when you want to be your most confident,” said Moore, who had 25 points in a blowout of Iowa State in the semifinals.
Still, Auriemma sees upsets lurking. It takes only one hot underdog or one bad night by the favorite for the ground to shake.
“You worry about the things that can happen during the course of a game,” he said. “At the same time, you’re confident (with) the things that you’re going to do. You know that Tom Petty song that they use on ‘Friday Night Lights’?: I’m always confident, but I’m not really sure.”