STORRS, Conn. (AP) Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma has a special place in his heart for Saint Joseph’s University.
The Hall of Famer coached high school ball with Saint Joseph’s men’s coach Phil Martelli and got his first college coaching job as a Hawks assistant under women’s coach Jim Foster in 1978. But Auriemma says he was a fan way before that, watching Jim Lynam play for the school in the 1960s.
”When you grow up down there, you either have your favorite school thrust on you or you just gravitate toward a certain school for whatever reason,” Auriemma said. ”I never saw myself as a Villanova guy or a Temple guy, certainly not a Penn guy. So even before I coached there, there was a huge love affair I had with Saint Joseph’s University.”
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Auriemma will put that love aside on Tuesday when his top-ranked Huskies (35-0) face Saint Joseph’s (23-9) in the second round of the NCAA tournament. UConn is looking for its 42nd consecutive win while hoping to finish the season with a ninth national championship and second in a row.
Saint Joseph’s won its first NCAA tournament game in 14 years on Sunday, a 67-57 victory over Georgia.
”It’s no secret that UConn is the best team in the country, but it’s an opportunity,” Saint Joseph’s coach Cindy Griffin said. ”If you’re going to play in this tournament then why not play the best and challenge yourself against the best.”
The Hawks are led by guard Erin Shields, who scored 18 points in the win over Georgia. Auriemma coached her mother, Renie (Dunne) Shields, at St. Joe’s.
He also coached Griffin’s sister, Kim Anderson House, at Bishop McDevitt high school in Philly. Griffin said she’s always respected Auriemma’s coaching, but that’s not what she remembers most about his days in Philadelphia.
”Geno had some crazy hair,” she said. ”You know he had that Afro. Geno had some big hair when he was young, and I have my sister’s yearbook to prove that.”
Here are five things to watch in Tuesday’s matchup between UConn and Saint Joseph’s:
SENIOR NIGHT: The game against Saint Joseph’s will be the final one in Gampel Pavilion for UConn seniors Bria Hartley and Stefanie Dolson. Both already have plaques on the school’s ”Huskies of Honor” wall in the building, which recognizes the best players in the program’s history. They have compiled a 139-11 record in their four years at UConn. Auriemma says he’s seen some seniors struggle in the NCAA tournament, knowing that any game could be their last. But he doesn’t see that happening with these two. ”They are pretty confident individuals and they know what we’ve got going,” he said. Dolson said she got all the ”emotional stuff” out of the way during the school’s official ”Senior Night” celebration before the last home game of the regular season.
ASSISTS RECORD: Natasha Cloud needs just four assists to tie Saint Joseph’s single-season record of 241 set by Angela Zampella in the 1999-2000 season. Shields says that statistic reflects Cloud’s giving personality. ”She’s a nice person, but on the court, she even passes too much, as Coach will tell you,” Shields said. ”But she is always looking for the next pass and I think that’s why she’s so hard to defend.” Cloud also is averaging better than 11 points per game. She had 13 points in the Hawks’ first-round win over Georgia.
LAST SCHOOL STANDING: Saint Joseph’s is the only Atlantic 10 team left in the tournament. Fordham, the conference tournament champion, lost by a point to California on Saturday. Dayton, the regular-season champion, lost to Florida on Sunday. ”It was important for us to A, represent Saint Joe’s, but also to represent the Atlantic 10, and almost to prove ourselves a little bit,” Griffin said. ”And we did that.”
SECOND ROUND DOMINANCE: UConn is 21-2 in second-round NCAA tournament games. Its last second-round loss came 22 years ago, a 75-47 setback against Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn. Since then, the Huskies have won 20 second-round games by an average of 28 points per game.
NAME RECOGNITION: UConn’s Breanna Stewart had her coming out party in last year’s NCAA tournament, averaging 21 points over the six-game run to the program’s eighth national title. She says this season another Husky may make a name for herself. Sophomore guard Moriah Jefferson had 14 points, five rebounds and four assists in the first round. ”I think sometimes she doesn’t get all the recognition she deserves,” Stewart said. ”If she keeps playing the way she’s been playing this whole season throughout the NCAA tournament, people are going to have to look at her even more.”