NEW YORK (AP / WCBS 880) — Geno Auriemma has kept relatively quiet during Connecticut’s record run.
After leading UConn to its 88th straight win Sunday to equal the men’s mark set by UCLA, the Hall of Fame coach finally let loose.
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“Because we’re breaking a men’s record, we’ve got a lot of people paying attention,” Auriemma said at his postgame news conference. “If we were breaking a women’s record, everybody would go, ‘Aren’t those girls nice, let’s give them two paragraphs in USA Today, you know, give them one line on the bottom of ESPN and then let’s send them back where they belong, in the kitchen.”
Tiffany Hayes scored 26 points and Maya Moore added 22 to help the top-ranked Huskies rout No. 11 Ohio State 81-50 in the Maggie Dixon Classic at Madison Square Garden.
Already with no equal in women’s basketball, UConn is now tied with late coach John Wooden’s Bruins teams that dominated from 1971-74.
The no-nonsense Auriemma had promised that once the run was over, he would finally open up. And Auriemma, known to rub folks the wrong way at times with his sarcasm, has never been afraid to say what’s on his mind.
“All the women are happy as hell and they can’t wait to come in here and ask questions. All the guys that loved women’s basketball are all excited, and all the miserable (people) that follow men’s basketball and don’t want us to break the record are all here because they are (ticked),” he said.
Auriemma’s comments resonated with Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer.
“As a man, that’s interesting that he would say that. But, you know, maybe he is on to something,” VanDerveer told The Associated Press after her team lost to Tennessee in overtime on Sunday. “It’s an incredible accomplishment. Whether it’s by a women’s team or a men’s team — it doesn’t matter what the sport — it’s truly an outstanding accomplishment.”
UConn already owned the longest winning streak in NCAA women’s basketball history. Next up, the Huskies (10-0) can surpass the UCLA men Tuesday night at home against No. 15 Florida State.
“I just know there wouldn’t be this many people in the room if we were chasing a woman’s record,” Auriemma said. “The reason everybody is having a heart attack the last four or five days is a bunch of women are threatening to break a men’s record, and everybody is all up in arms about it.”
Connecticut wrote itself into the record book before a crowd of 15,232 — the second-largest for a women’s game at Madison Square Garden — and with 40 seconds left, the fans rose and chanted “88! 88!”
Unlike most of their previous wins during the streak, UConn players stuck around afterward and celebrated at halfcourt. After the final buzzer, Auriemma found his family in the stands, hugged his smiling mother, then kissed his wife.
“It’s kind of mind-boggling,” Moore said. “It’s something special, but we’re still in the middle of our season. You can’t take in the full reality of what’s going on. Moments like this you can sit and appreciate where you’ve come from.”
The Garden seemed a fitting place for Auriemma to make history.
Despite being raised in Philadelphia, Auriemma grew up a Knicks fan. The prized possession in his office isn’t any of the trophies or awards he’s won at UConn — it’s a basketball autographed by the starting five from New York’s 1970 NBA championship team.
Coincidentally, the 88th straight win came against Auriemma’s good friend, Jim Foster, who gave him his coaching start. Auriemma was an assistant for the girls team under Foster back when both were at Bishop McDevitt High School in Philadelphia.
When Foster got the St. Joseph’s women’s basketball job in 1978-79, he brought along Auriemma as an assistant. Neither could have imagined that 35 years later they would be facing each other at MSG with so much at stake.
“The number’s the number. I don’t know if that changes me a whole lot right now,” Auriemma said. “I’m going to go to a good restaurant tonight. I’m going to have a good bottle of wine. I would have done that either way.”
The Huskies’ last loss came against Stanford in the NCAA tournament semifinals in 2008. Since then they have reeled off victory after victory, and only twice during their run has a team come within single digits: Stanford in the NCAA championship game last season, and Baylor in early November.
UConn has won by an average of nearly 25 points against ranked teams during the streak. Rarely have the Huskies found themselves in trouble in those 30 games. They have trailed for just 134 minutes — including only 13 in the second half.
“I’m really proud of my players right now,” Auriemma said.
AP Sports Writer Beth Rucker in Knoxville, Tenn., and Associated Press Writer Pat Eaton-Robb in New York contributed to this report.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.