Three other women’s college basketball coaches reached the 1,000-win milestone before Geno Auriemma did Tuesday night.
None of them enjoyed it anymore than he did.
After UConn secured his 1,000th career victory with an 88-64 rout of overmatched Oklahoma, Huskies players took turns dumping Gatorade buckets of confetti over Auriemma’s head as he tried in vain to protect his well-coiffed hair. The longtime UConn coach then exchanged hugs with the 32 former Huskies players on hand and soaked in applause from fans waiving signs commemorating his accomplishment.
Auriemma downplayed the 1,000-win plateau leading up to Tuesday’s game, but he was reflective, appreciative and emotional afterward. He thanked his family, longtime associate head coach Chris Dailey and all the former players on hand who have helped him join former Tennessee coach Pat Summit, Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer and North Carolina’s Sylvia Hatchell as the only Division I women’s basketball coaches to reach 1,000 wins.
“Obviously I’m just really proud of what we’ve been able to do,” Auriemma said after the game on CBS Sports Network. “I don’t think we would have ever been able to imagine it in our wildest dreams.”
“We’ve poured our heart and soul into this and we’ve gotten more back than we ever deserve,” he added a few minutes later when addressing the crowd.
Before UConn hired an Italian-born coach with a wry sense of humor and an insatiable work ethic in 1985, the school wasn’t exactly a women’s basketball powerhouse. The Huskies had only produced one winning season in 11 years and had never reached the NCAA tournament.
Auriemma and Dailey elevated the UConn program quickly, reaching the NCAA tournament in year four, advancing to the Final Four in year six and capturing the national title in year 10. The impact of the Huskies’ 35-0 season in 1995 cannot be overstated as it inspired Huskymania in the state of Connecticut, made the program attractive to recruits outside the Northeast and signaled that Tennessee was no longer the clear-cut No. 1 program in women’s college basketball.
From Rebecca Lobo, to Sue Bird, to Diana Taurasi, to Maya Moore, to Breanna Stewart, some of the greatest women’s basketball players in the sport’s history have played for Auriemma at UConn. Those players have helped Auriemma produce 29 consecutive NCAA tournament bids, 18 Final Fours, 11 national championships and six undefeated seasons.
Not only did Auriemma need the fewest number of games to reach 1,000 victories, he’s 800-54 since his first 200 victories. In the past four-plus seasons, Auriemma is 162-2.
UConn’s latest win was seldom in doubt as the top-ranked Huskies improved to 10-0 so far this season. Oklahoma made a brief surge early in the second half to cut the deficit to seven, but UConn pulled away once again behind 21 points from junior Napheesa Collier and 20 from senior Azura Stevens.
The day before the Oklahoma win, the 63-year-old Huskies coach fielded questions about whether he has begun to think about retiring. Auriemma quickly shot down that idea, insisting he will coach at least another five years before he entertains stepping away.
“If all of a sudden we can’t get the kind of kids that can live up to the standards we have here, then that will be a signal to me,” Auriemma told reporters in Connecticut. “But each year we keep getting them. That’s another sign, I guess, that I need to keep doing it.”
If Auriemma coaches until he’s 70, it’s tough to imagine him not retiring as women’s basketball’s all-time wins leader.
Auriemma will likely pass the late Pat Summitt (1,098 wins) sometime in the next four years. VanDerveer (1,082 wins) and Hatchell (1,000 wins) are still active, but both are a little older than Auriemma and neither are winning at the same ridiculous pace he is these days.
There’s a chance Auriemma could hit another few round-number milestones before he’s done.
If he does, expect more confetti, more applause and more reverence for one of basketball’s most charismatic and accomplished coaches.
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