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Geno Auriemma addresses ‘asinine’ interpretation of ref comments

(David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports)

Geno Auriemma clarified his comments Wednesday on the physical play in UConn’s 81-77 loss to No. 1 South Carolina on Sunday.

The UConn coach had criticized the refereeing after the game, saying “what teams do” to Lou Lopez Sénéchal is “appalling” and “not basketball anymore.” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley took issue with Auriemma’s characterization of her team’s defense on her call-in radio show Tuesday.

“They play the right way and approach it the right way whether they win or lose,” Staley said of her players. “We don’t denounce anybody’s play. They are always uplifting the game of women’s basketball, and when we were getting our heads beat in by UConn for all those years, I said nothing.”

“We’ve been called so many things and I’m sick of it,” Staley added. “I’m sick of it because I coach some of the best human beings the game has ever had.”

After UConn’s 59-52 defeat to Marquette on Wednesday night — marking the Huskies’ first consecutive losses since 1993 — Auriemma said his comments had been directed at the referees, not Staley’s team.

“I don’t know whether Dawn was referring to me specifically or whether this has been happening to her team for quite some time now,” Auriemma said. “If people have been paying attention seriously, I’ve been making that statement for 20 some years, since Diana [Taurasi] was playing for us. And I said the exact same thing after the Villanova game, the exact same thing after — anybody that was paying attention, ask Holly Rowe what I said at halftime of the Tennessee game. I said it after the Providence game. And in each one of those instances, everything I said was directed squarely at the officials.”

Staley said she addressed the off-court dialogue with her team because she felt that it was a narrative that “could hurt us in the future.”

“I think if we have to play them again, that’s out there. And I just want people to know that this is us.  This is how we play,” Staley said. “Everybody’s got to pivot at some point, but don’t bring people down in the process. Again, I have never said one derogatory word about UConn or anybody that’s beat us over the years.”

In response, Auriemma cited his own track record with criticizing officiating and said he doesn’t want that to be misinterpreted.

“You have a right to coach your team any way you want. I have enough trouble coaching my own team. But I can have a say in how officials call the game,” Auriemma said. “And if rules are supposed to be the rules as they’re interpreted to me, then they’ve got to be called according to the rules. If I’m never allowed to question an official about their calls and criticize them for the way they officiate a game without someone thinking I’m casting [aspersions] toward their team, that’s just asinine. And if you’ve been paying attention, I’ve been saying it for 20 years.”

The UConn and South Carolina rivalry has only escalated since the Gamecocks beat the Huskies in the 2022 national championship game. Sunday’s game between the teams drew 1.087 million viewers on FOX, making it the most-viewed women’s basketball game ever on the network.