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UConn women’s basketball set to make history

Connecticut's Breanna Stewart embraces coach Geno Auriemma as

Connecticut's Breanna Stewart embraces coach Geno Auriemma as she is taken out of the game late in semifinal against Oregon State at the Final Four on April 3, 2016. Credit: AP / AJ Mast

INDIANAPOLIS — Connecticut women’s coach Geno Auriemma compared his dynasty to the greatest one in men’s college basketball history, and it rang true.

Auriemma said Monday that his top-ranked Huskies — winners of three consecutive national titles and 74 straight games, second only to UConn’s 90-game streak from 2008-10 — are in a place similar to where the UCLA men were in the 1960s and ’70s. Coach John Wooden’s Bruins won a record 10 championships, including seven in a row from 1967-73.

“I really do think, from a historical perspective what the UCLA men were doing in the late ’60s, early ’70s, is where we’re at today,” said Auriemma, who can earn his 11th national championship by defeating Syracuse on Tuesday night. “I mean, this [women’s] NCAA Tournament didn’t start until 1983, I think, right? So we’re really, really young in our history. So we’re probably where they were.”

The women’s tournament actually started in 1982, but Auriemma’s point wasn’t lost. The Huskies won it in five of the previous seven years and are 115-1 the past three seasons. This year, Connecticut (37-0) has won its five NCAA games by an average of 41.6 points. But Auriemma doesn’t want this team to get lost in the historical significance of winning a fourth straight women’s title.

“This particular team is its own entity, and this is their one opportunity to win a national championship,” Auriemma said. “It’s this particular team with this group of individuals, and we happen to have three seniors that have been there for the other three. We’re trying to treat it as it’s for this particular team [and] keep that focus the way we kind of have all season long.”

One of those seniors, three-time Associated Press Player of the Year Breanna Stewart, said four years ago her goal was to win four national titles. “I’m on the verge of getting it, and kind of live up to my words,” she said. “I don’t wish that I hadn’t said that I want to win four national championships.”

Coincidentally, the fourth would come against Syracuse, which is located five minutes from where Stewart grew up. She spent many nights cheering for the Orange, and Auriemma called the situation “storybook.” He said Stewart likely would admit she still has a soft spot in her heart for Syracuse, but quickly added that won’t be the case Tuesday night.

“I do believe . . . it’s making things full circle to play Syracuse in my last collegiate game because that’s where I grew up,” Stewart said. “Being able to play against them is completely cool. It’s cool for the people back home.”

If the Huskies succeed, it will add to an amazing legacy for Stewart. But she said it’s up to others to determine the impact she’s made on the program.

“I’ll play and do the best I can on the court, and then you guys are supposed to decide,” she said. “But if I had to choose, I would like to be remembered as someone who was a winner. A winner, a great teammate, someone who loved to have fun. And then you guys can figure out the rest.”

A look at some of the most successful coaches in college athletics:

Coach, School Sport National Titles

Dan Gable, Iowa Wrestling 15

Rod Dedeaux, USC Baseball 11

John Wooden, UCLA Men’s basketball 10

Geno Auriemma UConn Women’s basketball 10

Bear Bryant, Alabama Football 6

Vic Heyliger, Michigan Men’s hockey 6

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