UConn women's notes: Huskies have a little fun with Auriemma on his 70th birthday

Mar. 23—STORRS — UConn players Paige Bueckers and Ashlynn Shade marched into the press conference following Saturday's first-round NCAA tournament game wearing T-shirts that bore different photos of the Huskies' Hall of Fame head coach, Geno Auriemma.

It was Auriemma's 70th birthday, which third-seeded UConn celebrated with an 86-64 victory over No. 14 Jackson State to send the Huskies on to the second round to meet No. 6 Syracuse.

All the players, those in the locker room, too, had the shirts, a "Geno Auriemma, this is your life," moment.

In the photo on Bueckers' shirt, Auriemma is asleep, the All-American Bueckers next to him flashing a peace sign. Shade, the freshman, bore a photo of a younger Auriemma coaching, blue shirt, yellow tie, his mouth open in mid-bellow, palms turned up as in "you've got to be kidding me."

Shade's explanation stole the show.

"I think this shirt sums up coach's relationship with me," Shade said. "This is what he looks like most of the time on the court. But when he yells at me, I'm just starting to translate it into 'I love you,' instead of 'you suck.' So when he goes, 'You suck,' I'm just like, 'Love you, too.'"

Said Auriemma, directed at Shade: "You need a new translator."

Said Bueckers: "It's a lot better feeling when you win it. Especially on a special day for him, you want it to be a special day. So to get this one, especially on his day, is really huge. I've learned so much under him. We all learned so much under him. But it's not just stuff on the basketball court, it's stuff as human beings."

That's goaltending

Bueckers started the second quarter Saturday with a steal and a layup, which initially appeared as if it was blocked by Jackson State's Miya Crump.

Crump, however, a 6-foot-1 guard, was called for goaltending, interfering with the ball on the way down, meaning Bueckers got credit for the shot.

Goaltending doesn't occur as often in women's basketball as it does in the men's game.

"She does that every practice," Jackson State senior Ti'Ian Boler said of her teammate's athleticm. "Literally. I was shocked but I wasn't shocked because she did it every day. If you go to our (conference) games, she does it every time she goes on a fast break. Every time."


UConn's Auriemma was complimentary of Jackson State coach Tomeikia Reed, who was making her third NCAA tournament appearance in her sixth season with the Tigers.

Jackson State was 26-7 this season, unbeaten in the Southwestern Athletic Conference and received a vote in the Associated Press Top 25 poll for the first time in program history.

Reed is 125-52 as the Tigers' head coach.

"I wanted to commend her on her season," Auriemma said. "... You play 18 conference games and you win them all and you win your conference tournament, that's a hell of a job and it's not like the first time, right?

"She's been doing this for quite some time now there and a lot of these coaches that work like that and have tremendous success and put together great teams and put together a terrific program, nobody knows about them.

"I think we need coaches like her to be celebrated and bigger schools need to not keep recycling coaches that are let go by other Power 5 schools, whatever you want to call them. They should start looking outside the box a little bit because there's a lot of great coaches out there, and she's one of them."