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CONNECTICUT Huskies Connecticut learns from late regular-season defeats to reach its fifth straight Women’s Final Four

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o most, two games are an afterthought. A minor blip on the radar. But to Connecticut and head coach Geno Auriemma two particular regular-season contests helped fuel yet another deep postseason run. On February 18 and 27, the Huskies women’s basketball team lost back-to-back home games for the first time in 19 years. Shortly after, questions about Connecticut’s mental and physical toughness began to arise. “Our team has no fight,” Auriemma said following his team’s 13-point loss to Notre Dame that was preceded by a one-point defeat to St. John’s (New York) nine days earlier. “We’re the kind of fighters that throw punches, and if you keep backing up, we’ll keep punching you. But if you punch us back, we’re going to run and hide.” That whimpering, Auriemma described, was quickly silenced by three straight wins in the Big

Connecticut is undefeated when sophomore Stefanie Dolson scores in double figures. 70

NCAA.com

OF NOTE Not only is this Connecticut’s fifth straight Final Four, but also its eighth straight 30-win season. If the Huskies win their next two games, it will be their eighth national title.

East tournament, which helped claim the program’s fifth straight conference crown. Add four more NCAA tournament wins to that streak, and the Huskies have gone from internal doubt to challenging for their eighth national championship. “They’re a little bit more grown up now,” Auriemma said. “They’ve come a long way. It seems like they’ve come a long way in a short time, but they’ve been building on this since September. I’m thrilled for them.” Minor questions surrounded the Huskies heading into the 2011-12 season, and the team’s head coach was addressing some of the most prudent ones. Auriemma said it would take three players to replace the Big East’s all-time leading scorer, Maya Moore, who graduated in 2011. On top of that, Connecticut was not selected to finish first in the Big East preseason coaches poll for the first time in six seasons. As it turned out, the coaches were correct when Notre Dame claimed the regular-season title before the Huskies defeated the Fighting Irish in the tournament championship game. Auriemma, however, helped offset any doubts in his locker room by bringing in the secondranked recruiting class in the country to complement four returning starters in sophomore guard Bria Hartley, senior guard Tiffany Hayes and sophomore center Stefanie Dolson. In typical Connecticut women’s basketball style, the Huskies began the season on a nine-game winning streak before being stopped at Baylor, 66-61, on December 18 in a battle between the topranked teams in the country. The No. 1 Bears gave Auriemma exactly what he was looking for in an early season evaluation of his team. “I think in a lot of other ways we leave here with a pretty good understanding of where we need to be as a team,” Auriemma said, whose squad could see Baylor in a possible national title matchup. “I think both teams come out of it feeling pretty good. I don’t see any downside to the way this game was played.”

Photos courtesy of Connecticut Athletics Communications

By Todd Krise

Head coach Geno Auriemma is the fastest Division I women’s coach to 800 wins.

Following that loss, the only two teams that defeated the Huskies the rest of the season were Notre Dame (twice) and St. John’s (New York). Connecticut began the Big East tournament with a shaky 49-34 victory against Rutgers. The Huskies then exacted revenge against St. John’s (New York), 74-43, in the semifinals and followed that with a pivotal 63-54 victory against Notre Dame in the title game. The championship win gave Auriemma his 800th career victory, making him the fastest women’s Division I coach to reach the mark. Connecticut opened the NCAA tournament against Prairie View A&M. It was then able to move past Kansas State, Penn State and Kentucky to claim the Kingston Regional title. The Huskies’ fifth straight Final Four appearance gives them another crack at rival Notre Dame, which defeated them in the national semifinals last season.

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