Ho Hum? UConn’s latest title spawns smaller party

A crowd greeted the champs at the airport and another waited

inside the home arena of a UConn women’s basketball team that

hasn’t lost a game in more than two years.

But this was no delirious victory rally – 90 percent of the

seats were empty.

UConn officials estimated about 1,000 fans were inside Gampel

Pavilion on Wednesday to celebrate with the Huskies a day after

UConn defeated Stanford for its 78th straight win and back-to-back

national championships.

In an arena that seats just under 10,200, the atmosphere was

something less than electric.

“It was so disheartening,” said Dawn Riquier-Shayer, who

arrived two hours before the rally. “It upset me that there were

so few people here. Almost embarrassing. I think No. 1, the

students don’t support it and it’s really disheartening. I think

the other thing with a lot of the fans, I think they’re taking (the

team) for granted.”

The celebration drew more fans to Gampel than the game itself.

Only about 650 people showed up to watch the game being televised

from San Antonio.

“I was kind of surprised because I came last year and I think

it seemed a little bit more full,” said Sam Simons, 19, a

sophomore. “I think people feel sometimes they don’t even have to

watch the women’s games because they already know what’s going to

happen, but this was the national championship.”

There were no bonfires or impromptu parades on campus Tuesday

night after the game, in which UConn rallied from a horrible first

half to win, 53-47.

Is UConn’s dominance – seven national titles since 1995 –

causing even the Huskies’ fans to lose interest?

“I think it’s decreased over the years with these

championships,” said Mary Duprey of Tolland, Conn. “In ’95, the

place was packed. Maybe it’s complacency.”

Joan Schulte from Prospect, Conn., wasn’t going to miss the

victory rally, but found the low attendance disappointing.

“I think that’s very sad,” Schulte said. “I think these girls

and the coach put a lot of hard work into it. They make it look

easy. They’ve accomplished things that no other teams have

accomplished, and they deserve all the praise and encouragement

that they could get.”

At the airport, even coach Geno Auriemma joked about the size of

the crowd – about 175 fans waiting in summer-like heat for the

Huskies’ plane to land.

“I know there would be a lot more people but they’re probably

hospitalized,” Auriemma said, referring to UConn’s rally after the

Huskies scored only 12 points in the first half. “So if you see

any of your friends, tell them we won.”

Sue Lindgren of East Longmeadow, Mass., made her first trip to

Bradley International Airport to cheer her favorite team.

“I thought there would be more people here,” she said. “This

is kind of special, back-to-back and how long its gone without

losing.”

Anita Clinton-Briley drove nearly the entire width of

Connecticut, a 72-mile trip from Bridgeport on Long Island Sound to

Windsor Locks near the Massachusetts line to see the Huskies, as

she has done in past years.

“I remember when the boys came here,” she said, referring to

UConn’s men’s team, which last won a title in 2004. “I have the

time. It’s a beautiful day.”

Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell, mingling with the airport crowd

before the team arrived, said it didn’t matter how many

well-wishers showed up.

“Five people, 500 people, 5,000 people. We’re the best fans,

the best supporters.”

At the celebration inside Gampel Pavilion, stars Maya Moore and

Tina Charles wore the nets from the Alamodome around their necks.

Moore wasn’t concerned about the size of the crowd.

“I appreciate the people who are here today for our

homecoming,” Moore said. “We had a great time in San Antonio with

the crowd there. In that championship game, we really felt that we

had a lot of fans there and there was a lot of blue in the

crowd.”

Devoted fans didn’t let the lack of a throng diminish their

party. Riquier-Shayer held up a sign that read “Got Champs” on

the front and “Simply the Best” on the back. When players walked

around the arena giving fans high-fives, she handed the sign to

senior Kaili Maclaren.

The national championship trophy sat on a small table on the

stage where Auriemma and the rest of the team gathered. Highlights

of the team’s second straight perfect season were shown on the

video board.

“Great teams have great fans. Give yourself a round of

applause,” UConn president Michael Hogan told the crowd.

The crowd gave Auriemma a 20-second standing ovation when he was

introduced.

“People say, ‘Does it ever get old to win the national

championship?”’ he said. “No, it never gets old because the

seniors on my team, whenever it happens, and especially this group,

aren’t going to ever let it get old and aren’t going to ever take

it for granted.”

AP contributor David Heuschkel in Storrs, Conn. provided details

for this report.