UConn coach Geno Auriemma is a fixture at the Final Four, but this year he’s preparing to face an unfamiliar opponent—the Arizona Wildcats.
Auriemma spoke to the media Wednesday, where he touched on his respect for Adia Barnes, scouting for Aari McDonald and why Arizona is a tough matchup. The Wildcats and Huskies face off Friday at 6:30 p.m. PT in San Antonio.
Here are some of Auriemma’s highlights.
On coaching against Barnes in the 1998 NCAA Tournament: “They would have played in it last year. Obviously we didn’t have a tournament. But I remember Adia as a player, clearly. She was an impossible matchup for anybody, at any level. You couldn’t guard her with a guard, you couldn’t guard her with a forward. She just was an absolute great basketball player. Smart, really tough, skilled. And I remember playing them in the Sweet 16 game in Dayton and we were missing a couple pretty good players… We kind of dominated the fourth quarter, the last 10 minutes of the game and ran away from them, but it was all about for us it was all about guarding her and trying to contain and isolate her as much as possible. But she took up the focus of our scouting report.”
On seeing Barnes mature into a coach: “Now you fast forward and you go, when Adia took the job at Arizona, (women’s basketball) is not even the number one women’s sport at Arizona. Softball is. So here you’re coming into a program where basketball has never been it. And she’s made it. Their softball program is legendary, don’t get me wrong, but she has made women’s basketball at Arizona supremely important. She’s a coach for the future who’s having tremendous success in the present. But she’s what future coaches are going to be like. Players that played, they were tough, they were smart, they go into the game, they understand it, they manage the game, they interact with their players in a way that’s just really impressive. I’ve gotten to know her and her family and I couldn’t be happier for any individual to see them in the Final Four.”
On Arizona alum Tee Tee Starks’ role as a UConn graduate assistant: “I don’t think we’re gonna be able to sit down and get an insider’s view of what exactly it is that they’re going to do Friday night. Obviously Tee has friends there. She knows the layout. She knows how things go. But I don’t know that these are some secret war plans that we just have access to that are going to put us over the hump. I don’t think that’s how this goes. Tee, she’s a great young lady. She came here to learn. She came here because she wants to coach. She came here to be a part of all this and she’s worked exceptionally hard. She has some tough shoes to fill when we think about some of the people that we’ve had in that in job. And I couldn’t be happier. Really, I think she’s done a magnificent job.”
On how Aari McDonald compares to Paige Bueckers: “She’s way more experienced than Paige. When you get (McDonald) in that pick and roll, she is snaky, and sneaky and tricky and talented. She knows every ins and outs of how to run that. She’s fearless as an offensive player. She’s a first team All-American defensive player. So Jamelle Elliott, who’s handling the scouting for us, I said, ‘Jay, what are we doing here?’ She said, ‘I don’t know coach, we’re playing against Allen Iverson.’ So I said, ‘okay.’ I’m gonna have to call some of my old coaching buddies in the old Big East and go, ‘How do you prepare for Allen Iverson?’ But she’s a dominant player who, kind of like Paige, the similarities are there have been numerous times, more than you can count, where she just carries her team and wills them to win. Both with her physical talents and the intangibles that she brings. How hard she plays. So I think she’s a phenomenal player. She’s a tremendous individual. And I don’t know that there’s anything that any one team or any one player I should say has been able to do to completely stop her from doing what she wants to do. So our staff feels like this is probably the most dominant guard that we will have played against this year. No question.”
On what else sticks out about Arizona’s style of play: “Well, first of all, they play exceptionally hard. They compete exceptionally hard. Defensively they just are relentless and they get contributions from the whole team. So when you have that kind of base to work with then anything’s possible. They shoot it just well enough, and lately in the NCAA tournament they’ve shot it great. So between their defense, how incredibly hard they compete and they’re making shots and they’re getting contributions from everybody. I think Adia has got this kind of temperament so she’s going to keep them level. I don’t think they’re going to be afraid of the moment and I don’t think they’re going to be whacked out over the moment. I think they’ve got a lot going for them. I could think of a lot of other teams I’d rather be playing on Friday night. Trust me on that.”
On what goes into beating Arizona’s full court press: “What goes into beating a full court press? Well, you’ve got to be able to pass the ball. You have to have enough perimeter players that that can attack it. And that goes back to, how would I feel if we had Nika (Muhl)? One more guard to attack it. The best defensive team we played this year is Baylor, bar none. And Arizona has a different kind of defensive team. They do it a little bit differently. But I think the two best defenses that we’ve seen, we’ve played one of them already. And that was Monday night. And we’re getting ready to play another one on Friday. How do you beat a full court press? You score? Score. So I’ve always said, when a team presses you and you score, and you score, and you score, what are they gonna do, press harder? I don’t know. When a team presses you and you don’t score and you turn it over and you don’t score and you turn it over, then you know what they do? they press harder and you get blown out. So yeah.”