No surprise: UConn women picked to win AAC
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) When you’ve won 10 national championships, you don’t need to constantly talk to your players about winning another one.
So Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma and his coaches don’t bring it up very often.
”The only time we talk about it is the first day of practice,” Auriemma said Monday at the American Athletic Conference women’s basketball media day. ”It’s understood. That’s what the goal is. That’s why they came to Connecticut.”
The Huskies, who will be playing for a historic fourth consecutive national title this season, were the overwhelming choice to win the AAC this season. Connecticut received all 10 possible first-place votes. South Florida was picked second with one first-place vote, followed by Temple, East Carolina and Tulane.
Connecticut senior forward Breanna Stewart was named the preseason Player of the Year with the rest of the first team consisting of UConn seniors Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck and USF’s Alisia Jenkins and Courtney Williams.
AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco began Monday by congratulating the Huskies on winning another title, but also stressed the league has gotten stronger as a whole.
Proof of that could come in the number of teams who ultimately make the NCAA tournament.
”I think definitely, without a doubt, we can get four in,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said. ”Who those four are, we’ll see.”
The Bulls, who have made the postseason 11 times in the past 12 years – including their third trip to the NCAA Tournament last year – return all five starters and play a tough non-conference schedule that includes games against Penn State, Oklahoma State and Mississippi State.
Victories in those games, and by other AAC teams in non-conference play, could raise the awareness of the entire conference outside of UConn.
”How we do in non-conference in the national landscape will help this league continue to grow,” Fernandez said.
Of course, focusing on winning the conference championship is something UConn gave up 10 years ago. The Huskies are after the big prize and this year has a chance to be a historic one.
With an 11th championship, Auriemma would pass UCLA’s John Wooden for the most titles won by a coach. It would also mean seniors Stewart, Jefferson and Tuck would end their college careers with four national championships.
”It’s not anything that’s talked about every day, but I know that’s what they want,” Auriemma said.
That they do. Though Tuck said the players will be too focused during the season to really think about it until the postseason draws near, they’re well aware of what they can accomplish.
”I think it’s really special because that’s something we did talk about before we even came to Connecticut, that we wanted to win four national championships,” Tuck said. ”To have the opportunity to do that, I think this would be the most special season so far.”
Jefferson said the Huskies are motivated because of the type of player Auriemma recruits and the attitudes they bring to never be satisfied and take a day off.
If anything, Jefferson is surprised at how fast her senior year has arrived.
”It’s so hard to believe,” she said. ”I feel like I just got here and now it’s my senior year. I really want to go out with a bang.”