Auriemma celebrates 65th birthday ahead of 2nd round game
STORRS, Conn. (AP) — UConn coach Geno Auriemma celebrated his 65th birthday on Saturday, but there was not much love from his team.
“We are going to see how many times we can make him angry in practice today,” UConn senior Katie Lou Samuelson said.
Second-seeded UConn’s opponent in Sunday’s NCAA Tournament second-round game, No. 10 Buffalo (24-9), have shown nothing but admiration for the Hall of Fame coach and his program since arriving Thursday at Gampel Pavilion.
“A great coach wins championships and he’s been the last guy standing 11 times,” Buffalo coach Felisha Legette-Jack said. “I have great respect for someone who can do their craft so well.”
However, that fandom will change when the Bulls meet the Huskies (32-2) and try to end their streak of 25 straight Sweet 16 appearances. Buffalo will play for its second straight and third overall after upsetting No. 7 Rutgers 82-71 in the first round.
“We respect them without a doubt,” Buffalo senior Cierra Dillard said. “They have a legendary coach, legendary kids . and what they have been able to do in women’s basketball is very respectable, but we fear no one.”
While Buffalo is the lower seed, the Huskies continue to carry a chip on their shoulder from not receiving a No. 1 seed and perceive themselves as an underdog, too.
“It’s one of those situations where you’re always considered the underdog (as the lower seed), so you have a lot more to fight for,” UConn junior Crystal Dangerfield said. “It’s kind of funny because we’re in a similar position this year being put at a two seed, so it’s going to be a dog fight tomorrow.”
With the return of Samuelson, who missed four games with a back injury, the Huskies have their 1-2 punch back, along with senior Napheesa Collier, to make a run at a 12th national title.
Samuelson eased her way back into the lineup with 11 points in 22 minutes Friday in UConn’s 110-61 victory over No. 15 Towson in opening round.
“I feel pretty good, just moving forward every day and making sure it doesn’t get tight again,” she said.
Samuelson (18.8 points per game) and Collier (21 ppg, 10.6 rebounds per game) are the highest scoring pair of classmates at the school with a combined 4,592 points.
They are the lone holdovers from UConn’s last championship team in 2016 and have never lost at Gampel Pavilion, where they will be playing their final home game.
“We’ll soak it in but there’s still business to be taken care of,” Samuelson said.
The Bulls have their own offensive star in Dillard, who almost quit basketball three years ago after two seasons at UMass. In her second season at Buffalo, Dillard not only leads the team in scoring, but is the second-leading scorer in the nation (25.1 ppg).
“She has a little bit of an older game to her,” Auriemma said. “She knows how to use her body really well.
“She sees the floor, gets rid of the ball at the right time and gets it to the right people. .. She just has a good way about her.”
WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN
Auriemma and Legette-Jack first crossed paths back in 1984 when the former was an assistant coach at Virginia and one year removed from coming to UConn. Legette-Jack was a standout player and looking for a college, but spurred Auriemma to remain close to home at Syracuse.
“I’m glad I didn’t sign with him,” Legette-Jack said. “He was at Virginia, and that year I decided to go to Syracuse . and he ended up coming to this great place called UConn.”
UNLUCKY TWO: This is UConn’s fourth time as a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament (1998, 2004, 2006). The Huskies only advanced to the Final Four once out of the previous three, winning the 2004 national championship.