UConn men and women celebrate opening of practice season
STORRS, Conn. (AP) UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma called out Husky fans on Friday night during the team’s annual First Night, the on-court celebration that marks the unofficial start of the season.
Auriemma pointed out to the crowd at Gampel Pavilion that the Huskies don’t regularly sell out their home games, while teams such as Kentucky and North Carolina play to ”standing room only,” crowds every night.
”You fans have got us,” he said, gesturing at the UConn programs that have won a combined 14 national titles, including three in the past two seasons.
Both teams entertained the more than 10,000 fans with the traditional 3-point shooting and slam dunk contests. For the third consecutive season, they played an intersquad scrimmage, with a mixed men’s and women’s team coached by Auriemma beating one led by men’s coach Kevin Ollie, 63-56.
”It’s good for the guys to get out and spend a little time with the girl’s team,” Ollie said. ”What Geno’s done over the years is just remarkable.”
The men finished 20-15 and lost in the first round of the NIT last season, a year after winning the program’s fourth NCAA championship..
The women are coming off that program’s 10th national championship and will be favored to win an 11th. Seniors Breanna Stewart and point guard Moriah Jefferson have a chance this season to win the title for the fourth consecutive time, something no player has done.
”It excites us,” Stewart said. ”We know it’s there. We know what we’ve done and the position that we’ve put ourselves in to be extremely successful. We want to enjoy this year more than any other year.”
Jefferson won the 3-point contest. Shonn Miller, a graduate transfer from Cornell, took the dunk contest by jumping over a seated Sterling Gibbs, a graduate transfer from Seton Hall, who is expected to start for the Huskies at point guard.
Ollie ”was probably sweating a little bit,” Miller said. ”But I told him I was going to make sure nobody got hurt, me included.”
First Night is the Huskies version of what used to be called Midnight Madness, which has traditionally marked the first day of practice. But practice rules no longer have all teams starting on the same day.
The UConn women have already had three practices and the men have been practicing since Oct. 3.
The Huskies won’t unveil the women’s latest national championship banner until an exhibition game on Nov. 8.
Auriemma is hoping the fans show up.
”He’s challenging them,” Stewart said. ”Can we get all of our home games sold out? Because as important as this year is to our team, it’s the same for everyone in this community, the fan base, everyone.”