Heading into UConn’s Final Four semifinal game with Arizona Friday night, Huskies head coach Geno Auriemma predicted the Wildcats would be the second toughest defense his team faced all season, trailing their Elite Eight opponent Baylor. Arizona proved Auriemma wrong by shutting down UConn’s scoring most of the night for a 69-59 upset victory.
After the game, Auriemma touched on his respect for Arizona’s performance Friday. Here are some of the highlights from his press conference.
On his overall impressions of Arizona’s win: “First I want to congratulate Arizona. They played amazing. That first half, it was incredibly difficult for us to get anything done. And I thought the intensity level that they played with and the aggressiveness on the defensive end, we just didn’t respond as I hoped we would.
That’s two games in a row now that we faced that kind of pressure. I think it took its toll. All the credit goes to Arizona. Aari McDonald, I said going into the game, I don’t think we’ve had to play against a guard as good as she is, and she proved it tonight. She just dominated the entire game start to finish. We pride ourselves on being pretty good at certain things. We had no answer for her.”
On whether the game’s 44 fouls affected UConn’s chances of winning: “Yeah, I mean, what are you going to do? You got to play the game the way that it’s called. Usually the team that’s most aggressive ends up benefitting from the way the game is called. I think Arizona put the officials in a situation where they had to decide almost every possession, Should I blow the whistle or not?
But, yeah, there were a lot. That certainly didn’t impact winning and losing. It might have impacted what the game looked like, how it was played, but it didn’t impact winning and losing at all.”
On whether UConn underestimated Arizona: “Well, you never know what’s in a player’s mind or what is in a team’s mind. You hope you do. I’ve said all along this year to those that have followed us all year long, we have a very immature group, not just young. We have a young group, but a very immature group. When we’re high and when we’re on top of the world, we think everything’s great. When things don’t go our way, there’s a poutiness about us, there’s a feeling sorry for ourselves about us that you don’t win championships when you’re like that unless you get lucky, if that indeed is what the mindset was because, believe me, the scouting report on Arizona and the game plan on Arizona was way more thorough and way more involved than the Baylor one was, to be honest with you. We spent more time on the Arizona game than we did on the Baylor game it seemed like. So if that’s the case, then it’s bad coaching by us. It’s a sign of immaturity on our team. We need to grow up if we expect to be back here in the future.”
On whether UConn was playing with added pressure because of their past success: “People think you go to the Final Four and that somehow the culture of your team, because it says “Connecticut” on your jersey or because you’re the coach that’s been there 20 times, that is what is going to get you over the hump. That’s not what it is. Every year I’ve come here, that’s not what it is.
I’ll bet you that if I were to count the 11 championships that we have, two of them maybe came out of the group, who we are. The other nine come from because you have outstanding individuals who have amazing performances. Kind of like Aari McDonald had tonight.
When you get to this level, you need to have a couple mature players that are capable of doing that because the other team is really good, too. They’re going to take you out of a lot of things you want to do. You’re going to have to have players who are that good, who rise above it. Arizona proved that tonight, for sure.”
On the difficulty of any program reaching the national title game: “Yeah, when we were making it look so easy, I try to tell people this is really hard, and nobody believed me. When you’re winning all the time, you’re winning four years in a row, X number of years out of X number of years, people start to believe this is real easy.
It’s not. This is really, really difficult. If it wasn’t difficult, more people would win that many times. This is very, very difficult. Arizona is in their first one. If Stanford wins Sunday, it will be their first title in 30 years. These are not easy. And they’re not getting any easier, as you mentioned with the games you have to play to get there. Not easy at all.
What we’ve talked about, what was missing tonight, their defense took us out of our offense. We were in a scramble mode a lot offensively. We got it back I think, then we just missed shots that you got to make at this level at this point in time.
You got to make those shots. You got to make those free throws. You got to make those layups that you get. You have to make those open threes that you get. They’re not easy to come by.
I think the growth of our team is going to be in those areas. You got to be able to play a bunch of high-level games in a row, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, in order to win the whole thing. And you got to get a little bit of luck. Look at that first game tonight. It could have gone either way. A bounce of the ball there, a bounce on the rim either way... You need to be really good and you need to get a little bit of luck.”