STORRS, Conn. (AP) — Kerry Bascom Poliquin remembers exactly what made her want to play for a brash young Geno Auriemma and his unheralded UConn Huskies back in 1987.
While other coaches were telling her how big a star she was going to be in college, Auriemma told her how hard she would have to work and that she would get out of his program only what she put into it.
“The same thing he said to us is what he says to his players now,” said Bascom Poliquin, who starred on Auriemma’s first Final Four team in 1991. “It’s about hard work; it’s about practice and it’s about doing things the right way.”
Auriemma’s way has led to nine national titles and 899 wins in 30 years. He can get win 900 against Cincinnati on Tuesday, a team the Huskies beat on the road just over a week ago, 96-31.
The victory would tie Auriemma with former Texas Coach Jody Conradt for fifth place on the all-time list, 198 wins behind former Tennessee coach Pat Summitt. The list of college women’s basketball coaches who have reached the 900-win plateau also includes North Carolina’s Sylvia Hatchel (953 wins), Rutgers’ C. Vivian Stringer (945) and Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer, who was going for her 944th Monday night against Washington.
If UConn wins Tuesday, Auriemma would have 900 wins in 1,034 games, faster than any coach in men’s or women’s basketball.
Conradt, who like Summitt coached for 38 years, said she marvels at how well Auriemma’s teams do the little things — making the extra pass, getting back on defense and taking the best available shot in the flow of the offense.
“He’s really become the gold standard,” she said. “His legacy won’t be about how many games he’s won, it will be about how many championships. He’s built a dynasty up there out of basically nothing.”
Auriemma doesn’t like to talk about milestones, but said reaching win no. 900 gives him a chance to thank players such as Bascom Poliquin, Rebecca Lobo, Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore and everyone else who bought into his system along the way.
He’s also at the root of a coaching tree that includes Cincinnati coach Jamelle Elliott, who played on his first national championship team in 1995, Tonya Cardoza, who was an assistant for 14 years before becoming Temple’s coach, and Jen Rizzotti, the guard on the 1995 team, who now coaches at Hartford.
“It’s been a lot of great players and a lot of great coaches and the thing I’m most proud of is once we got it going in the ’90s we didn’t ever have that where you go three or four years trying to catch up or rebuild, get your program back where it used to be,” Auriemma said “To stay consistent for all those years, that’s the biggest thing I’ll take away from it.”
Auriemma is still getting many of the best recruits to come to Storrs. And his current players say he still does it not by telling them they are going to win championships, but by challenging them to become championship-caliber players.
“Every day in practice he challenges us more than we will be challenged in the game,” said guard Moriah Jefferson. “He makes us do things that at the time seem impossible. We know if we can beat six or seven guys during a practice, then playing against five girls in a game, we can beat them.”
AP Sports Writers Doug Feinberg in New York and Dan Gelston in Philadelphia contributed to this story.
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