Geno Auriemma Gets His 900th Win: A retrospective interview of the Big East Conference (links to other icon convos as well)

Geno has an outstanding legacy at UConn — one that is still unfolding.

After a 96-36 drubbing of Cincinnati on Tuesday, Geno Auriemma became the fastest to win 900 games in the sport. Auriemma’s winning percentage of 87% is best all-time. Auriemma has won a record 9 National Championships at UConn, and has appeared in 15 Final Fours — also a record. Jamelle Elliott, Cincinnati’s head coach, played for and later was an assistant coach under Auriemma (He’s 48-0 vs. former players as coaches). The second ranked Huskies are riding a 20 game winning streak since losing to Stanford in November, and have yet to lose a AAC Conference game since moving over from the Big East. The Huskies sit a 21-1. Geno Auriemma won his 900th game in 1,034 games; Pat Summitt, formerly of Tennessee, did it in 1,072 games; Tara VanDerveer, Stanford 1,104 games; Barbara Stevens, Bentley (DII), 1,146 games and Mike Krzyzewski on the men’s side, accomplished the feat at Duke 1,183 games. Coach K recently won his 1000th game. 

March Madness will be here before you know it. As a precursor, here’s lost interview I did with Geno Auriemma while I was working on covering the BIG EAST conference as it was…

Michael Tillery: First thought on the Big East Conference.

Geno Auriemma: Since 1995 when we won our first national championship, the BIG EAST has been, in some ways, at the forefront of women’s college basketball.  I know we we’ve won seven and, counting Notre Dame’s, the BIG EAST has eight national championships since 1995.  Since 2000, we have seven national championships in 13 years, that’s more than every other conference in the country combined.  I would say we have had a huge impact on the game.  The depth of the league, measured by the number of programs that have become NCAA Tournament programs, has been enhanced too.  When I started, we had two teams in the tournament and we had nine in the tournament two years ago.  You look at the impact we have had, as a league, on the WNBA and how many players we have competing at a high level, I would say from where we started to where we are today, has been remarkable.  We’ve been able to make up a lot of ground in a relatively short period of time.

When you play against the same teams for 28 years, you have an attachment to playing that game.  Especially when it’s home and home like it was when we started and we had a true regular season champion.  I am going to miss the old rivalries like Villanova, Providence and Syracuse and the new ones like Notre Dame, Louisville and Rutgers.  I think those kinds of things are hard to replace within conference realignment.  Regardless of how it shakes out in the BIG EAST, it’s just never going to be the same.

MT: UConn winning men’s and women’s championships in 2004.  Surely, there’s much pride at the school of that moment. What thoughts come to mind about that particular year?

GA: It goes back before that when I remember St. John’s, Villanova and Georgetown on the men’s side were three of the Final Four teams and that was unheard of.  So the bar was set pretty high in the BIG EAST right from the beginning.  What’s happened on the men’s and women’s side at UConn is incredible.  We have a poster at school that says dual national championships for the first time in college basketball history.   How many schools get to say that they did something that’s never happened before in the history of college basketball?  To win two national championships on back-to-back days not only solidified the BIG EAST as the top basketball conference in the country, it also solidified UConn as the top basketball school in the country.

MT: What was your favorite rivalry during the conference’s late 80’s heyday?

GA: Georgetown/Syracuse.  I’m sure that’s a lot of people’s favorite.  That was pretty special.  The intensity, the fact that every year you had 10 guys playing against each other who are going to the NBA.  And the fact that there weren’t the one-and-dones so you knew that these guys were going to be playing against each other for a minimum of two or three years.  But it was just one of the great rivalries.  St. John’s/Villanova, Georgetown/Villanova, and Villanova/Pitt were all a really heated, heavy duty rivalry for a lot of reasons.  They were just the nationally known ones.  The local ones that were just as intense like Providence/UConn or BC/UConn were special too.  And Seton Hall was a sneaky rival.  No one really thought of them as a rival until they beat you!  And then you’re wondering why you spent all that time worrying about St. John’s, Syracuse and Georgetown, PJ and Seton Hall sneak up and whooped you!

At the time that it started, I was living in Philadelphia and Virginia.  But it didn’t matter.  I knew I was going to get together with a bunch of guys, eat pizza, drink beer and watch Big Monday.  You had to watch that Monday night game at 7 p.m. regardless of who was playing.  ESPN has become known as the Worldwide Leader in Sports but in the late 70’s and early 80’s I think the partnership between ESPN and the BIG EAST made college basketball must see TV for the longest time.  So those of us that came here a little later, like myself, already knew about the league.  We already knew what it stood for.  It t there was a sense of pride in that a lot of the schools didn’t have football and were basketball schools.  The conference was a basketball-only conference.  So you took tremendous pride in the fact that you had to be the best basketball conference in the country because that is who you were; it was your identity.  Basketball is what we were all about.

Other works I did on the BIG EAST: 

Interview with Syracuse legend Billy Owens

Interview with former UConn Head Coach Jim Calhoun

Former Boston Globe reporter Mark Blaudschun talks to TSL about the Big East as it was

One is forthcoming with Georgetown Hoya legend Patrick Ewing, sports writers JA Adande, Scoop Jackson Bomani Jones, BIG EAST co-founder Mike Tranghese, Georgetown Head Coach John Thompson III, Villanova’s Jay Wright, Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, Louisville’s Rick Pitino and many others. Look out for those as March Madness approaches.

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