Wednesday, all Final Four coaches were interviewed by a national media panel. Below is the transcript of the conversation with University of Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma.
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon. Welcome to everyone for today’s Women’s Final Four head coaches media teleconference. For the next several minutes, you’ll have the opportunity to visit with UConn head coach Geno Auriemma. UConn will be playing in its ninth straight Women’s Final Four in 2016 and is seeking an unprecedented fourth straight Women’s National Championship.
At this point, I’ll ask Coach Auriemma to provide an opening statement.
GENO AURIEMMA: Thank you, Rick. And thank you, Chris. As I was saying to Chris earlier, the committee did a phenomenal job of putting together a great tournament. It was by far the most exciting tournament we’ve had in all the years that I can remember. Tremendous games, amazing upsets, fabulous performances by individuals, and I want to congratulate the other three teams and Mike and Q and Scott. Wish you the best of luck and stay healthy, and let’s have a great weekend.
As far as we’re concerned, obviously, it’s been a goal of ours since the first day of the season. We have a group of seniors that have done an awful lot for the University of Connecticut. They’ve done an awful lot for college women’s basketball during their four years here. And I know that they are, and the rest of the team is, unbelievably excited to have this opportunity. It was something that we’ve worked incredibly hard for. It may look easy sometimes, but believe me, nothing comes easy. I think every coach out there knows that.
And when Sunday comes around and we play Oregon State, I expect us to play great. I expect them to play great. We’re anxious to get the thing started.
Q. Hi, Geno. One of the teams that you faced in the preseason, Lubbock Christian, is going to be in town playing for the D-II title game. Back at the time of that game, you had praised them for just playing and not getting caught up in kind of the surroundings of playing UConn. So I’m curious, how does that manifest itself? What signs can you see in a game that a team is too caught up in the idea of playing UConn as opposed to just playing?
GENO AURIEMMA: I don’t know. That’s a hard question to answer, Graham. I think for a Division II team or NAIA team or someone that we play in an exhibition game, sometimes they do it for a lot of different reasons. They do it because they want to take their kids on a trip or they want to give them an opportunity to play at Gampel Pavilion or play against University of Connecticut. So it’s difficult to tell.
I think the fan base that came out with Lubbock Christian was fabulous. The way they played was admirable and how they competed. So it’s different on those exhibition games.
But when we play regular season games or tournament games, if we’ve never played a team before, there might be a sense of, hey, this is something we’re really excited about. We don’t know what we’re in store for, depending on the level of experience the other team has. If it’s a bunch of young players playing us for the first time, they may be more anxious than they need to be. If it’s a veteran team that’s played us before, they may say, we’ve got this.
I just think the teams that we play, they sometimes don’t get the respect they deserve because we play so well in those particular games that happen to be on television. Everyone is paying attention to them, we play particularly well. That doesn’t necessarily mean the other team played poorly or they were intimidated or they were in awe, all that other stuff. I just think sometimes we play so well that it’s not necessarily about that the other team is not prepared or that they didn’t play well. So it’s hard. It’s a hard question.
Q. Good morning, Coach. You were alluding to how this is one of the most exciting tournaments. You have three teams, in Oregon State, Syracuse, and Washington, who are in the Final Four for the first time. Does that speak really to the parity that we’re starting to see in women’s college basketball?
GENO AURIEMMA: I couldn’t agree with you more on that. I don’t think anything speaks more to that than what this Final Four looks like. And maybe it’s been a long time coming, and maybe it’s taken a little longer than some people would have wanted, but I remember in 1991, when we went to the Final Four and we were the first team from north of the Mason Dixon line to ever play in the Final Four, and it was like we had somehow landed on the moon and what were we doing there.
Now 30 years later, 20-some years later, you have three teams in the Final Four for the first time, and not three teams that were knocking on the door and finally got there. These are three teams that by all measure only the kids on those teams and only the coaches expected them to be there. I don’t think anybody could foresee what happened.
So I think this is a great message to everybody. Stop focusing on what Connecticut does and start paying attention to what a lot of these other schools are doing, and you will see that there’s a lot of great stuff going on out there. It just sometimes doesn’t get the attention that it deserves because it’s easy to write about Connecticut. If you work a little bit harder, there’s a lot of great stories out there.
Q. As a kind of quick followup, as far as your team, everyone knows about Breanna Stewart, but if you could, talk about some of the other key contributors on your squad. Maybe their efforts don’t show up in the stat sheets. Who else has been a big contributor for you that we should know about? Who’s been under the radar, if you will?
GENO AURIEMMA: That’s the problem with playing at Connecticut. There’s not many people under the radar. For us, because we were there last year, I think everybody knows who the main characters are in our program, and certainly Breanna Stewart is the biggest, and Moriah Jefferson is a first team All-American and a great point guard. And Morgan Tuck, day in and day out, is probably our most consistent player, and she showed the other night against Texas that, when Morgan Tuck plays great and when Morgan Tuck plays the way she played in the Texas game, we are really, really, really hard to play against.
I mean, I understand it’s hard to play against Connecticut, but if Morgan Tuck plays the way she played the other night, it just makes us a completely different team.
And then once you get past those three — now, Katie Lou Samuelson has come on the last half of the season and become great at what we need her to be great at. Gabby Williams has given us some unbelievable minutes. And Napheesa Collier was really the difference in us being up by 5 or us being up by 15 in the first half against Texas. Of and these are freshmen and sophomores we’re talking about.
So obviously, we’re as good as our big three make us, but I don’t know that we can be successful this coming weekend without the other three.
Q. Good afternoon, Coach. Calling from Syracuse, New York, the hometown of Breanna Stewart. I’m sure this is an impossible question to answer, but I’ll ask it anyways. Is it Breanna the best UConn player? And if she’s not, where do you think she ranks?
GENO AURIEMMA: That’s a hard question to answer because of who I’ve coached in the past and teams that we’ve had in the past and teams that have won multiple National Championships and players that have won multiple National Championships.
I would answer the question by saying that I think, in the three-plus years that Breanna Stewart has been here, she has probably impacted the NCAA Tournament in those three years unlike anybody ever has in the history of the tournament at Connecticut or anywhere else. I’m not talking about the rest of the regular season or anywhere else. I’m talking about no one ever has impacted the NCAA Tournament as many times and as well as Breanna Stewart in the history of college basketball and women’s basketball. That’s all I’ll say.
Q. And as a followup to that, obviously, you went to Central New York and played at Colgate. Was there ever any possibility of playing a team this year at Syracuse instead of playing down at Colgate?
GENO AURIEMMA: Well, it didn’t seem to fit into Syracuse’s schedule, so we found somebody up there that it did fit into the schedule. We got what we wanted to accomplish.
Q. This is kind of a followup to the question that was just asked about Breanna. Would you consider her, not just in UConn history, but one of — or if not the greatest women’s college player of all time maybe?
GENO AURIEMMA: You know, we have a tendency to do that in America. If you’re the best right now, you’re the best of all time. I don’t necessarily live in that world. I just, suffice to say, that what Breanna Stewart has done during her four years at Connecticut and what she’s especially done in the NCAA Tournament, the way she’s competed, the way she’s played in the Final Four, that’s never been done. Does that make her the greatest player ever in the history of college basketball? You know what, that question is going to be answered 10, 15, 20 years from now.
Q. And I have one more question for you. A couple years ago I know you suggested the possibility of maybe lowering the rims in the women’s game. This week, and actually a couple weeks ago, Elena Delle Donne mentioned she was also in favor of doing that, and this week it’s kind of come up again just with Diana Taurasi saying she’s against that. So I kind of wondered if you still believe the rim should be lowered and if your mind’s changed at all and what you still kind of think about that.
GENO AURIEMMA: Well, you know Elena is going to agree with anything I say. She’s trying to make the Olympic team for the first time. Diana, she don’t care. She knows she’s probably on the team.
You know, when I made that comment, it was in reference to why are we leaving anything off the table when it comes to changing the rules that might make the game better? Why should anything be left off the table? And there are some coaches out there, if you talk to them, that they will be in favor of that. Is it realistic? Probably not. Is it ever going to happen? Probably not. But if somebody told you, did you know the women play with a lower net in volleyball, you’d go, no, I don’t know that. Of course you don’t know that because it doesn’t matter, does it?
Is it realistic? Probably not. It would be too much of a change probably. But because we started that discussion, there’s been a lot of rule changes, and there’s going to be more to come, that have made the game better and will continue to make the game even better.
Q. Hi, Geno. I was just wondering if you had any particular reaction to the fact I believe this is the first Women’s Final Four in NCAA history that has four male coaches. Is this sort of just a quirk, an anomaly? Or does it mean anything at all?
GENO AURIEMMA: I’m sure that people are going to read into that maybe more than they should. I think that what it means — to me, the meaning of it is that these three coaches have done a phenomenal job of getting their teams to the Final Four. I think the fact that they happen to be men is irrelevant. They’ve done a great job of coaching their teams, and the players have responded in a way that has allowed them to get to the Final Four.
I think, if we read anything more into that at this time, I think it takes the focus off what the players have done and what the coaches have done and how they’ve earned the right to play in the Final Four. And I think this weekend that’s where the focus for me lies, and I think — I would hope that’s where the focus should lie with everybody. Whatever the greater meaning is, whatever the social commentary is and all that, we can save that for another time in another place, and I’d be happy to talk to you about that.
Q. Exciting time for you because one of your former players has broken through as a coach. You have a lot of former players coaching, but one that you don’t have to coach against, and that is Carla Berube from your championship team. How excited are you for her, and how has she kind of reached out to you during her time as she leads Tufts to her first Championship game as a head coach?
GENO AURIEMMA: First of all, I’m glad they play Monday so that whatever happens with our team, win or lose, I’m going to go to her game Monday. If I can, obviously.
When Carla Berube was a player at Connecticut, I think she probably said one word as a freshman, two as a sophomore, three as a junior, and then I think she may have said a sentence when she was a senior. So for her to go into coaching was an unbelievable shock to me. For her to be a really good coach, I’m not surprised because she’s really competitive, she’s very bright, she’s a tough kid. I singled her out to shoot the two free throws that iced the game in the National Championship Game her sophomore year, and we had Jen Rizzotti and Jamelle Elliott and Rebecca Lobo and Nykesha Sales and Kara Wolters. And I’m not surprised.
Does she reach out to me? You know, after spending four years with me, very few of my former players that are coaches reach out to me for everything except when they need me to buy dinner when we’re traveling and we run into each other. What I’m most proud of is they’ve all gone out and did it their own way and coached the way their personality coaches. I think the biggest mistake that any one of my former players that went into coaching, the biggest mistake they could make is go out and say, well, I’m going to do it exactly the way Coach Auriemma did it. That’s not the winning edge, and I’m really proud of her.
Q. One of the things, Geno, that I know you know is that, when it comes to dynasties in sports, whether it’s Alabama football or the Patriots, or if you go back, obviously, to UCLA’s days, there generally speaking isn’t a national conversation about whether that dynasty was good or bad for the game. The dynasty is accepted and often celebrated. That is not seemingly the case when it comes to UConn women’s basketball, where there always seems to be a discussion as to whether the success of your program is good or bad for the game. Do you have any thoughts as to why that your program becomes sort of a centerpiece for this discussion when other similar dynasties have not?
GENO AURIEMMA: Well, the easiest answer is because it’s women’s sports. So the people who write, for the most part, are men. They’re people who follow sports a lot that have opinions, that are quick to voice their opinions, are men. So the easy answer — I’m not saying it’s the right answer. The easy answer is it’s a male bias. That’s easy. And because we’re in the news when we do something and we’ve been in the news and we’re thrown out there against a lot of people’s wishes. So it’s like it’s as if it’s our fault.
Or that’s women’s game is not a sport, that it’s a joke. We’re not even the most dominant women’s program in the country, when you look at Penn State volleyball, North Carolina soccer. But because those sports are not — you know, there’s not a lot of national television coverage, there’s not a lot of talk around it, they get to just do their thing, and God bless them. I’m really happy for them, and I’m proud of them because they’ve set a standard that we should all aspire to be at.
But the right answer, I don’t know what the right answer is. I have no idea. I have no idea. I mean, we do what we do, and the people that appreciate it appreciate it. Yet it’s a constant battle, it’s a constant fight to prove we’re legitimate, to prove we’re deserving of some of the attention that we get. But what’s the absolute right answer? I don’t know, Richard. I have no idea. And maybe it’s because it’s basketball and because it’s easy to compare. It’s easy to compare basketball. What other sport are you going to compare it to?
If there was a woman’s professional football league, maybe they would compare it to the Patriots, but there isn’t. If there was a baseball league, they would compare it to the Yankees. I don’t know. I just know that what we do is really, really hard to do. What these three seniors in particular and what this team has done is really hard to do.
And for those out there that don’t appreciate it, that’s fine. I’m not asking you to. But don’t demean those that do appreciate it. That’s all.
Q. How dangerous do you think this Syracuse team is, and what do you think of the job Coach Q has been able to do in sort of turning the program around?
GENO AURIEMMA: Well, how dangerous are they? Just ask all the teams that they’ve beaten the last couple of weeks. They’re the kind of team that wins in the NCAA Tournament because they’re fearless and they make shots. The highest premium there is at this time of the year is teams that can make shots, and they make shots. They make shots under pressure, they make tough shots, they make big shots, and they don’t just make them from one person and they don’t just make them from one spot. They are fearless.
And he has done an amazing job up there of getting his players to believe in what he’s doing, and he’s rallied them around the fact that they can do something that no one gave them an opportunity to do. Even in their own league. Who’s talking about Syracuse in the ACC? There’s Notre Dame and Louisville, and Syracuse quietly has had a great year, and as far as building a program, you don’t even want to know. Well, maybe you do if you cover them. You don’t even want to know where Syracuse’s program was before Q took over. You don’t even want to know. That’s how far he’s come.
Q. Just going again on Syracuse, how important is getting to this Final Four for a program like Syracuse?
GENO AURIEMMA: Well, it depends what happens the next five years after this year because I’ve seen a lot of teams get to the Final Four and then you never hear from them again. I’ve seen some teams get to the Final Four, and that’s the beginning of a lot of runs to the Final Four.
I’ll give you Notre Dame for instance. When Muffet took over at Notre Dame, it was a little bit of a struggle. Then they got into the Big East. And then next thing you know, they get to the Final Four, they win a National Championship. Yeah, it took a few years, but after that, now, it’s a surprise when they’re not there.
So it’s what you do after you get home. What happens next year, the year after, the year after, and the year after. Is this a one-time deal, or is this the beginning of something that’s going to last a long time at Syracuse? And really nobody has the answer to that, but certainly they’ve put themselves in a position where anything’s possible now. Anything’s possible now.
Maybe somebody that they were recruiting that goes, oh, you know, I want to go someplace where I have a chance to win a National Championship, all of a sudden, Syracuse is a place that can do this.
Q. So then if Stewie was a senior at CNS, she might go to Syracuse instead of here, right?
GENO AURIEMMA: Hardly. Let me put it this way. I’m saying hardly and crossing my fingers.
Q. So just one more question. Just to elaborate a little more about where Syracuse was before Q got there?
GENO AURIEMMA: Where were they? They were someplace that even Syracuse didn’t know there was a program. That’s how far away they were from where they are now, and he’s done an unbelievable job. I mean, as good a job as anybody in the country.
Q. I just wanted to ask, going back to when you said male bias and there’s double standards, what are your thoughts on the women’s basketball programs getting paid less than the men’s basketball programs in the NCAA?
GENO AURIEMMA: I just saw something about that in the paper, and I don’t know anything about the finances or how that works. I don’t really pay that much attention to how that works. I know, for instance, each conference allocates a certain amount of money to each team that goes to the NCAA Tournament and how well they do in the NCAA Tournament. What that number is, I really don’t know.
But if you told me that women get less money than the men to participate in the NCAA Tournament, I would tell you I’m not surprised. Neither should anyone else be surprised. Is it right? I don’t know. That’s a topic for another way. Right now it is what it is, and all we can do as coaches is go out and try to win games.
Q. I know the word parity has a lot of discussion around the program and the state of the women’s game, but beyond this year, how do you think either the perception or the conversation about parity in women’s college basketball has changed or evolved since the topic really became a discussion about ten years ago.
GENO AURIEMMA: Well, I don’t exactly remember — this is 2016. So ten years ago, in the year 2000, 2001, that was Notre Dame’s first National Championship in 2001, and they’ve been a fixture ever since. No one was talking about South Carolina back then, and they’ve become a top ten program. Oregon State, obviously. Washington, obviously. Syracuse, obviously. I think, if you look at who some of the traditional powers were ten years ago and where they are today and how hard it is for them to maintain and how far they’ve slipped, and then you look at some of the teams that maybe weren’t that interested maybe or maybe didn’t know how to be successful in women’s basketball, and then they hired the right coach, put more resources in, did whatever they had to do, and it’s changed. It’s changed a lot, and it’s going to change more. It’s going to change more.
Mississippi State being another one that we just played a couple days ago. Duquesne in the second round game that we played that had never been in the tournament before. I think this is the wave of the future. There are a lot more good players in America today than there ever have been, but there’s not as many great teams, and the reason for that is they’re all going to a lot of different schools. 15 years ago, a majority of the best players in the country all went to the same few schools, Connecticut being one of them. But now you’re seeing more high school players going to more schools. So there’s less great teams, but there’s a whole bunch of really, really good teams, and it’s going to get even better.
Q. Right. And just to follow up, I don’t know if you were asked this previously or not, but going into this weekend, obviously, you have a chance to win your fourth straight national title. If you so kindly can, can you take us back to the 2012 Final Four and what you remember most about losing to Notre Dame in the Final Four the last time you guys lost in the NCAA Tournament.
GENO AURIEMMA: Where was that? What city was that in? Denver, right?
Q. Denver, correct.
GENO AURIEMMA: Yeah, Denver. You know, when you go to the NCAA Tournament, generally speaking, all four teams can win, and you just hope you play great that night and then you play great the next night and you come away with a championship. But if you don’t, you’re going to lose.
So what do I remember most about that? We weren’t good enough to win. You know, we weren’t good enough to win, and Notre Dame beat us. And that’s what’s supposed to happen at the Final Four. If you don’t play well, you’re supposed to lose. This is not the time of the year where, you know what, we’ve played lousy, but we won. This isn’t December, January, or February. This is March and then April. So what I remember most about whether it was Denver or whether it was last time we were in Indianapolis and we lost in the Final Four or whether it was in Tampa in 2008, if you don’t play great that night, then you know what, it’s a pretty good chance you’re going to lose, and that’s what I remember happening. We weren’t good enough, and we learned a lot that night, and it helped us the following year.
Q. Hi, Coach. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on Oregon State’s rise under Coach Scott Rueck, if you’ve been able to see any of their games there on the east coast or what you know about the team.
GENO AURIEMMA: Well, I’ll tell you what. It’s not that much different story than the Syracuse story, just happening 3,000 miles away. When Scott took over that program, he was looking for tryouts, right?
GENO AURIEMMA: He didn’t have enough people to fill a team. And there weren’t a whole lot of big time coaches and big time assistant coaches, people lining up to take that job. And here he comes, and in a short period of time he’s built this. Yeah, I’m very familiar with the work that Scott’s done. I had a chance to spend some time with him this past summer. He was the assistant coach on the Pan Am team that
Stewie and Moriah Jefferson played on.
He’s done it with players that you would go like, where did they come from? Now they’re going to be playing in the Final Four, and all the coaches around the country are going, how come we didn’t recruit that kid? How come we didn’t recruit that kid? It’s not like all of a sudden he got ten high school All-Americans and now here he is in the Final Four. That coaching staff has done an incredible job with the perfect mesh of players that play his style, and the fan base has rallied around them.
I watched one of their NCAA games that the crowd was great, and they are a really, really, really hard team to play against. I don’t think it’s any upset that they’re here. I really don’t. When you’re the 2 seed and you beat the 1 seed, I don’t know that it’s that big an upset.
Q. Jamie Weisner at Oregon State, who’s one of those good players, has talked about her development over the years. She attributes a lot of it to Gabby Hanson, who’s a starter for them and their best perimeter defender. When you look at Stewie’s career, is there someone who’s made her better every single day in practice because she’s just gotten her butt kicked by them?
GENO AURIEMMA: Well, I think that happened earlier in Stewie’s career, when Stewie got here as a freshman and Stefanie Dolson was here for two of those years. I think that was a big help to Stewie. I think Stefanie helped make Stewie more comfortable, helped her out in a lot of different ways on and off the court.
And I think the last two years specifically, I think it’s more just Stewie has this tremendous drive to be the best player in the country. And she comes to practice every day, and we try to put her in positions where it’s very difficult for her, and she has to try to figure things out. And I understand what Jamie’s saying because, when you have somebody at practice every day that you can compete against, there’s no better way to get better. And I think the lessons that Stewie learned the first two years have helped her the last two years, in addition to some of the players that we have that come help us practice.
Q. And then I also wanted to ask about Oregon State, not just on their rise, but when you look at them, do you think they’re obviously a team that’s made a lot of shots? Also, you talked about with Syracuse. I don’t know if what worries you about the matchup is the right way to phrase it, but what do you think about them? Is what’s going to be tough? What do you have to stop besides the big three?
GENO AURIEMMA: Well, you asked the right question. You know what worries me? What worries me is what I think. Because what I think is they’re really, really good. They’ve got great size obviously inside, so that takes care of a lot of problems that a lot of teams don’t have to worry about — that have to worry about that they don’t have to. As you said, they’ve got two kids on the perimeter that are just dynamite. I love watching the way they play, I love watching the way they interact. They’re hard-nosed, tough kids, gritty. They’re not all just — you know, some kids love to play as long as it’s not getting down and dirty. Those kids are tough.
So what worries me? What worries me is they’re used to playing in big games. They’re used to making plays. They’re used to making free throws. They just beat a really, really good team to get here. They’re playing their best basketball at the perfect time of the year. They’re really well coached. There’s a lot of things that worry me about them.
I got to tell you that this team is as good as any team that’s in the country today. You look at both of them coming out of the Pac-12, you look at them and Washington and just go, wow, that’s just — that conference has not been very good in the NCAA Tournament traditionally in the last 10, 15 years, and now they’re maybe the best conference in the country. Both of those teams, they’re just really fun to watch. They’re really dynamite to watch.
Q. You mentioned earlier your first Final Four trip, and that was 25 years ago, and a lot has changed about this event since then. Could you have imagined anything like where you are now and where the Final Four is now, but specifically in regards to the domination that your program has enjoyed, especially the last 10 to 15 years?
GENO AURIEMMA: No. In 1991, when we went to the Final Four, it was held in New Orleans, Louisiana, Lakefront Arena, 8,000 people were at the game, I believe. That might be stretching it. I don’t know. I think we played Saturday, Sunday. I think we played back-to-back days. At that time, I was just hoping that we would get back to the Final Four. When we got home, I said, boy, you know what, Rebecca Lobo is coming in, and I hope she’s good enough to get us back to the Final Four. It never, ever crossed my mind that what has happened since then was even remotely possible.
That would have been like you telling me back then, you know what, in 2016 you’re going to have a phone in your hand, and it’s going to make you drive into other cars because you’re going to be on it all the time. I would have said you’re out of your mind, right? That’s how improbable it would have been to tell me we would be where we are.
Q. I’m not trying to stir up anything with the male coaches —
GENO AURIEMMA: Yes, you are.
Q. No, actually, I’m not because I have no problem whatsoever with male coaches, but what I’m interested in is about Frank Deford did a big story on you maybe 12 years ago. I don’t know the exact year. I’d have to look it up. But at that time, it was the idea that you were a dinosaur, that male coaches were going by the wayside, and you even thought that and said that several times back then. That’s not been the case. So what do you think changed in terms of the idea of hiring male coaches? Because it obviously has changed, and men get jobs at good places, and it doesn’t seem to be an impediment to that now.
GENO AURIEMMA: You know, it’s a different kind of root that I think has happened over the last maybe 20 years or so, 15 years. If you look at just these three coaches, including me — you know, I got the job at Connecticut a long time ago, and there weren’t a lot of people that wanted this job, period.
With Scott, same thing. Mike, he went up there with McGuff at a time when the program was really, really, really down, but they had spent time together, and Mike has coached at other places before you get there.
I think the one thing that I see from my vantage point is a lot of the really good young women’s coaches that get really big jobs, important jobs, one of the first things they do is hire a guy that maybe has coached a little bit, that’s been around a little bit, and they hire him as an assistant, either because they know them and have a relationship from somewhere else or think they can be a really good recruiter or think they can help them with Xs and Os. So you’ve got a bunch of guys that are getting jobs as assistant coaches.
And then because they do a pretty good job at a mid-major, which is usually where it happens, they get an opportunity to coach at a mid-major, and then when something happens at a school that may have the resources to be like Oregon State or Washington, they get an opportunity.
It’s not like athletic directors around the country are sitting there at their desk and saying, I’m going to go out and get the best man I can find to coach women’s basketball. That’s not what happened, and that’s not what should happen. What should happen is every athletic director should go, I have the chance to have a really good program if I put some time and effort into it, and I’m going to go out and find a good coach.
A lot of these guys spent a lot of time in basketball in mid-majors when nobody was paying attention, and all of a sudden, they got a break. But still, if you look at the majority of the BCS, or whatever they’re called now, the Power Five conferences, the schools with the most money, the most resources, the most of everything, that’s still not happening. And I’m okay with that too. I’ve always said, the best coaches should be coaching. I don’t care what they look like. I don’t care where they come from.
My daughter went to an all girls private school. If I’d have known there were men teaching there, I might not have sent her. You can’t be like that. You’ve got to have the best people coaching no matter where they come from. These three guys are really, really good at what they do. They’re good coaches. And the fact that they’re guys, that’s secondary. That’s besides the point. We could go the next ten years and not have one guy in the Final Four. It is what it is right now.
Q. If I could follow that up a little bit on Scott, he coached Division III for so many years and really was an Xs and Os guru. What do you see in particular about their defense? Because they were able to hold Baylor some almost 20 points below their average. They’ve just been one of the best teams, other than your team, of course. They’ve been one of the best teams in the country at keeping teams from doing what they want to offensively. What have you seen about Oregon State that makes them so good at that?
GENO AURIEMMA: They have a great game plan, and their game plan very rarely changes because it’s so solid. They don’t — they don’t take a lot of risks. They don’t take a lot of chances where the risk/reward hurts them. They make you take the shot that they want you to take. They make the ball go where they want it to go, and they limit you, for the most part, to one shot, and they’re really good at it. Some teams you try to figure out what are they trying do on defense? And you have no clue because I don’t think they know.
But when you see Oregon State play, there’s a really good — you watch them play for five minutes, and you go, yeah, I get it. I know exactly what they’re trying to do, and they’re really good at it. You can’t just walk in against Oregon State and say, don’t worry. We can get this shot, this shot, this shot. No, you’re not. You’re going to get the shot they want you to take, and you’d better make it. That’s how they play.
Q. There’s another team in Indy on a multiple season win streak, winning their teams by almost 40 points a game that, when you get to this point, a lot of teams, every other team in the country that’s not here this weekend, probably in Division I, would be excited if UConn fell. I feel like Thomas More in Division III is kind of in the same boat. How do you — do you embrace that? It’s not just your opponent you’re going up against, but maybe the rest of the teams you played all year kind of want to see the favorite fall.
GENO AURIEMMA: Yeah, when I was a kid in high school, I rooted for UCLA in every NCAA Tournament. Every one. I didn’t know any like bookies or anything like that when I was in high school. But a lot of guys I went to school with, they hated the favorite. They were always rooting for the underdog. So I would always go, you know, I’ll bet you $5 or bet you lunch money, whatever the case may be. Always on UCLA, always. I don’t know why. I just said, you know what, I just want them to win and I want them to keep winning. I don’t care if they win every year for the next 50 years.
You know, I think the average person does root for the underdog. I think that’s the American way. I think that’s the way maybe it is all over the world. You root for the underdog because you love to see somebody that doesn’t have a chance. You know, Philadelphia, the home of Rocky, the guy that can’t win. I’m rooting for St. Thomas More for the next 30 years. I root for the top dog because I know how hard it is to be there, to stay there, to accomplish what you’re trying to accomplish when everybody’s taking shots at you.
So I was like that when I was in high school, and I may have gone the other way a little bit, but I know what they’re going through, and I root for the top dog all the time. When I’m playing cards, I want four aces in my first four cards. I don’t want to sit there and come out of nowhere and win. Once we start losing, then I’ll start rooting for the underdog.