Geno Auriemma Talks About Expectations For New Basketball Season

STORRS — Geno Auriemma's media sessions, especially the ones near the start and end of each basketball season, are an Italian meal. The tasty stuff just keeps coming and the meal lasts forever.

College freshmen, meanwhile, can say their fill in 140 characters.

So when Breanna Stewart tweeted last Friday, "Bye twitter see you in April, we got some business to take care of! #chasing 8," the most celebrated woman's arrival at UConn since Maya Moore provided us with a pithy indication of both the expectations for her and the storied program she has joined.

Twitter accounts on Auriemma's team go dark when practice starts in October, which, by no coincidence, is when the bright lights of expectations begin to flash. Even the new kid on the blocks knows the score on national titles.

The advent of another basketball season and the glorious sprint of the NCAA Tournament always have been Auriemma's time to brush his broadest strokes. And the broadest and boldest ordinarily come in response to this question: Are you going to win it all, or just make the Final Four?

"If everyone expected us to go to the Final Four and contend for a national championship without Maya Moore, isn't the expectation level this year to go undefeated and win every game by 100?" Auriemma said Tuesday at the team's unofficial preseason media day. "I may as well say, yeah, that's what we're going to do. So, yeah, that's what we're going to do."

Auriemma is not averse to using October to motivate his players and manipulate the media's outlook. The truth is that this group of players, with juniors Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley, sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and freshmen Stewart and Morgan Tuck, is poised to make an extraordinary and extended run. The only thing standing between another 90-0 run? Brittney Griner, and she's gone in 2013.

"When you've done what we've done, how do you temper the expectations?" said Auriemma, who has seven national titles. "You can't even try. It's silly. At the same time, what are we going to do that hasn't been done?"

This run won't put Auriemma in the Hall of Fame. He's already there. This run won't make him Olympic coach. He already has the gold. So how about this one? This run is going to move him past Pat Summitt's record eight national titles at Tennessee and draw him to John Wooden's 10 men's titles at UCLA. Now, that's never been done.

"Believe me," Auriemma said. "If my career ends at seven and I shoot something in the 70s sometime in October [on the golf course] when somebody else is coaching here, I ain't thinking about eight, nine or 10."

Check back with me in April 2016 on that one, Geno.

With the arrival of Stewart, another new era dawns at the dynasty that Geno built at Connecticut's corner of nowhere and cow chips. Last season's Final Four appearance would qualify as a delightful surprise. This season, it's a necessity. Yet as he shoots for title No. 8, Auriemma also enters with what the rest of the nation sees as the second-best team. Baylor has Griner. Baylor has won 40 in a row. Baylor has the heavyweight title belt.

"We've reached a level here that what am I supposed to say that's newsworthy?" Auriemma said. "What could I possibly say that you guys would go, 'Damn, I've never heard him say that.' There's nothing I can say that's going to change what the expectation level is."

"This year we might have a great team and Baylor might be better. There's no point in us predicting."

So, of course, he did.

"I'm predicting Baylor will go undefeated and win the national championship."

That came after he took a little jab at Jets coach Rex Ryan's predictions, saying, "We win more games than he does." Geno, bless his lips, just can't help himself. That Baylor prediction? It might best be described at the Auriemma meal as a side of stuffed sarcasm.

"Look, we lost five games last season, and I think in four we had the lead late in the game," Auriemma said. "We didn't lose because we weren't talented enough. We lost because we were dumb and made dumb mistakes. We made the wrong play at the wrong time. That goes from me on down. I've got to make sure this team is smarter and makes good decisions."

That probably is much closer to Auriemma's true feelings.

"I don't think our role really matters to us," Mosqueda-Lewis told the Associated Press. "Our goal never changes whether our role is being Darth Vader or people are actually rooting for us. We're going to try to win the national championship and if we need to knock off Baylor, which is probably going to have to happen, then we will."

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