UConn again sends men and women to Final Fours
STORRS, Conn. (AP) Shabazz Napier and Niels Giffey were texting Stefanie Dolson on Monday moments after the UConn women beat Texas A&M to earn their way into the Final Four.
The guys were making fun of her postgame television interview and teasing her over a reverse layup she had made after putting the ball high off the glass.
But most of all, they were congratulating her for helping to secure the school’s bragging rights as the college basketball capital of the nation.
”That’s the magic about UConn,” Giffey said Tuesday as his team prepared to leave campus for Dallas and their own Final Four. ”You just have those two big-time programs and everyone gets along really well.”
The women’s 69-54 win, coupled with the men’s 60-54 upset of Michigan State on Sunday, advanced both UConn teams to the national semifinals in the same year for the fourth time.
”We were in the hotel room and watching their game, and when we realized they won and made it to the Final Four, we all ran out to the hallway screaming and excited,” Dolson said. ”It’s just a camaraderie between the two teams, and it’s pretty special and something not a lot of schools have.”
There have been just seven other schools that have sent both its men’s and women’s team to Final Fours in the same year.
Louisville did it last season. Georgia was the first to do it in 1983.
The feat has also been accomplished by Duke, Oklahoma, Texas, Michigan State and LSU.
But UConn is the only school to do it more than once.
In 2004 they went a step further, becoming the only school to win both the men’s and women’s national titles.
The teams have appeared in a combined 20 Final Fours since 1991.
”What’s happened and what’s happening is just nothing short of remarkable, and the only people who probably don’t celebrate it enough are the people in Connecticut – us,” women’s coach Geno Auriemma said Monday.
”We at times take this stuff for granted that, yeah, we’re UConn and we’re supposed to be there. I like that, but I think every once in a while we should sit back and go, `What we’ve done is absolutely remarkable.”’
The teams open each season bonding in a joint practice they call ”First Night.” This year, for the first time, that included a scrimmage, with each coach leading a mixed roster of men and women against each other.
They share the same weight room in Gampel Pavilion, and split the court for practice time. That will change this spring when a new $40 million practice facility next door opens, with separate courts for each team.
”But we share so much, classes, what we do,” DeAndre Daniels said. ”We’ve always been close, and we always will be close.”
Auriemma is much closer to Kevin Ollie than he is to former men’s coach Jim Calhoun.
But that frosty relationship never extended to the players.
Ray Allen said he was waiting for the Huskies at their locker room when the women won the first of their eight national championships in 1995.
Dolson has helped lead the student cheering section at the XL Center during the men’s games.
Auriemma sometimes lifts weights with the men’s players. They will, on occasion, sit in the stands during his practices to watch and learn. Napier said he treats the guys just as if they played for him.
”He’ll come to me and he’ll be like, `You need to stop fouling so much,’ or `You need to take control of the team,’ just give me advice that’s much needed,”’ he said.
”He’s a great coach and he understands a lot. It’s always good to pick somebody’s brain. I’d take advice for him on any given day, and he continues to help me out and help me grow, and I appreciate every time he does that for me.”
Ollie brings his 13-year-old daughter, Cheyanne, to UConn women’s games and talks about how excited she was to meet former Husky Maya Moore.
”It’s great to have those girls doing a great job, being great student athletes, being role models to my kids,” Ollie said. ”But also have the men’s team doing what they’re doing is a great synergy. It’s great to see both programs, to see UConn on ESPN, any TV outlet each and every night.”
AP Sports Writer Eric Olson in Lincoln, Neb., contributed to this report.