If you ask Geno Auriemma, UConn women’s basketball is right back on track.
After Sunday’s dominant Big East Tournament semifinal win over Marquette, Auriemma applauded his team for rebounding after a shaky end to the regular season. And Marquette coach Megan Duffy concurred.
“I felt like that was the UConn of March we’re used to seeing,” Duffy said.
The Huskies were helped by a healthier lineup, with both Caroline Ducharme and Azzi Fudd back in the mix. These players give UConn breathing room in their rotation, and Fudd in particular injects some star power.
Auriemma had been singing a different tune before the Big East Tournament. The legendary coach had been particularly critical of his team and their postseason chances, but he has seen the Huskies turn a page in the conference tournament.
“I guess I just needed to vent that I was tired of using the excuse of being tired, that we’re mentally fatigued and we’re physically fatigued and we play too many minutes and this and that,” Auriemma said. “Practices were a little bit different leading up to this tournament. We may have been guilty throughout the season in that we’re treating [players] like they’re fragile because they are. Every time somebody falls down in practice you go, ‘Oh, boy, there goes another one.’
“After the Xavier game we took a couple of days off, and when we came back it was back to the old days, going to the mattresses.”
UConn’s loss to Marquette near the end of the regular season was on their minds entering Sunday’s game, junior guard Nika Mühl said.
“It was on our minds, I’m not going to lie,” Mühl said. “I remember them celebrating after they won against us. And I definitely feel like we brought that in our minds with us to the game today and it definitely showed. I feel like we punched them. They sort of punched us back, but we kept punching throughout the game, and we won.”
There is no telling how UConn will play once the NCAA Tournament comes around. But the mood has definitely shifted in the locker room heading into the Big East championship game against Villanova at 7 p.m. ET Monday.
“You get to March, it’s not the same,” Auriemma said. “That’s all there is to it. It’s not the same. Playing a regular-season game in February, that’s one thing. Playing a tournament game in March, that’s a whole different mindset that you have to have. And you almost have to have two kinds of teams on your team. You have to have a regular-season team, and you have to have a tournament team.”