Under their demanding coach they play tough, fundamental basketball and methodically pick apart other teams. Auriemma makes sure they pay attention to the smallest detail, from how to block out under the basket to how to line up _ shortest to tallest with hands behind their backs _ for the national anthem.
The few times they’ve been tested, they responded, and no better example was when they rallied last month from a late eight-point deficit to hold off No. 2 Baylor in a game as exciting as any played by men so far this season.
They’ve done it this year with just two returning starters on a team that includes five freshmen. While the players change, the system keeps working as evidenced by the seven national titles and four perfect seasons UConn has compiled in Auriemma’s 26-year reign as coach.
Walton himself is among their admirers.
“They play with great sense of team, great purpose, phenomenal execution of fundamentals, relentless attack,” Walton told The Associated Press recently. “It is what every team should aspire to, regardless of the sport.”
That this sport is women’s basketball means UConn will never get its proper due for one of the most remarkable runs in all of sports. It also means Auriemma’s name won’t automatically come up next to Wooden’s when the talk turns to the greatest college coaches.
Auriemma and his Huskies seem to have accepted that. They understand that the only thing they can control is on the court.
They’re not the UCLA of the ‘70s. They’re the UConn of another gender and another era.
That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy their dynasty all the same.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org