Connecticut women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma is closing in on his 1,000th career victory; it could come Tuesday when the Huskies face Oklahoma at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.
When Auriemma took over the Huskies in 1985, the program had only one winning season -- at 16-14 -- in its 11-year history. Since, UConn has won 11 NCAA titles and 999 games under Auriemma.
What are the 10 biggest victories of his UConn career? It'd be obvious to pick all of his national championship games, plus one -- he's 11-0 in the NCAA final, and no game is bigger.
But what about the victories that seemed to have a special meaning when they happened? Not that the championships weren't special; all of them were. However, some breakthrough moments along the way -- although their significance might have faded in the avalanche of titles -- were critical.
10. April 6, 2010: 53-47 over Stanford
An ugly game at the Alamodome in San Antonio, but a great result. UConn finished its second consecutive perfect season by topping the Cardinal in the NCAA final. There had been unbeaten teams before, but no program had done it in back-to-back years. UConn had a woeful 12 points at halftime, as neither team could get into any rhythm. But Auriemma refocused the Huskies during the break, and they scored 41 points in the second half. It was the lowest point total of any of UConn's championship games, but it showed that even when the Huskies were in an offensive slump, they could play very strong defense and find a way to win.
9. April 6, 2003: 71-69 over Texas
A stirring rally in the NCAA semifinals was Auriemma's 500th career victory and led to another title. The Huskies had lost four senior stars from the previous season's undefeated team, but they still had Diana Taurasi. She had 26 points against the Longhorns, who appeared to be taking control of the game when they led by nine points with 12½ minutes left. But Willnett Crockett helped spark the Huskies, and Taurasi's 3-pointer with just over 2 minutes to go gave UConn the lead for good. UConn carried that momentum into the final versus Tennessee, which it won 73-68.
8. Jan. 6, 1996: 59-53 over Tennessee
It was just the third meeting in the series with Tennessee, and the first in Knoxville. The Huskies were defending national champions, but their two wins over Tennessee had come at home and on a neutral court. This time, they went into enemy territory and snapped the Lady Vols' 69-game home winning streak. They did it with defense, holding Tennessee scoreless for a six-minute stretch near the end of the game. There were 21 lead changes, and the Huskies committed 26 turnovers. Auriemma credited his team for its strong will, even if the execution left something to be desired.
7. Dec. 9, 1990: 67-63 over Auburn
Hard to believe now, but UConn was in the program's 16th season -- and Auriemma's sixth -- before the Huskies got their first victory over a ranked team. It came against the No. 2 Tigers in the Connecticut Classic at Gampel Pavilion. This was the season after Auburn had made three consecutive appearances in the Final Four. Meanwhile, the Huskies had yet to win an NCAA tournament game, having lost in the first round of their previous two appearances, in 1989 and '90. But beating Auburn was an indication that 1990-91 would be the Huskies' breakthrough year; three months later they would advance to the Final Four.
6. April 2, 2000: 71-52 over Tennessee
This gave UConn its second NCAA title, and it came in Auriemma's hometown of Philadelphia. The rivalry had reached red-hot status between the programs, but coming into this game, Tennessee had six NCAA titles to UConn's one. The Huskies fell in the Sweet 16 in 1999, but led by juniors Shea Ralph and Svetlana Abrosimova and sophomores Sue Bird, Swin Cash and Asjha Jones, UConn was nearly perfect in 1999-2000. The Huskies' only loss was to Tennessee, 72-71 on Feb. 2, 2000, in Storrs, Connecticut. UConn got revenge in Philly, led by a combined 29 points from Ralph and Abrosimova.
5. Feb. 18, 1989: 70-65 over Providence
Yes, there was a time when winning a conference title wasn't a forgone conclusion, it was cause for a celebration. UConn clinched its first Big East regular-season championship with this victory in what would be a season of "firsts." The Huskies would beat the Friars again two weeks later for their first Big East tournament title, and they'd get their first NCAA tournament bid. It was also the first season that UConn won at least 20 games, finishing 24-6, and the first year the program had the Big East player of the year, Kerry Bascom.
4. April 7, 2013: 83-65 over Notre Dame
Breanna Stewart came to UConn announcing her intention to win four titles. She ended up doing it, but the first one was the most challenging. The Huskies had a semifinal matchup with a Notre Dame team that already had defeated them three times that season. After UConn's loss to the Irish in the Big East tournament final, Auriemma told his disappointed team if they listened to him, he could show them how to win an NCAA title. The freshman Stewart had 29 points and four blocked shots against the Irish, and then UConn finished off the title in New Orleans with a 33-point rout of Louisville in the final.
3. March 23, 1991: 60-57 over Clemson
As mentioned earlier, the 1990-91 season was a magical one for the Huskies. Nine years later, Philadelphia would be the site of a UConn title, but this year, Auriemma's hometown was where the Huskies advanced to their first Final Four. Bascom scored 22 points against Clemson, making 7 of 8 free throws in the last 1:09 of the game. Clemson cut the Huskies' lead to 59-57 with six seconds left, but Meghan Pattyson's free throw gave UConn a three-point lead. The Tigers missed a desperation 3-pointer, and UConn made the first of what is now 18 Final Four appearances.
2. Jan. 16, 1995: 77-66 over Tennessee
Some might say this victory should be No. 1 on the list, but it's second because it led to what is No. 1. This game, held on Martin Luther King Day and nationally televised on that Monday afternoon, was the first meeting of what became a legendary rivalry. The Associated Press delayed its poll voting for one day (it's usually done on Sunday night) to account for the result of this game. The Lady Vols were 16-0 and ranked No. 1, the Huskies 12-0 and No. 2. UConn led 41-33 at halftime, and never let Tennessee get closer than four points in the second half. Kara Wolters had a team-high 18 points, Jennifer Rizzotti had 17 and Rebecca Lobo 13 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 5 blocked shots. The joyful fans didn't want to leave Gampel Pavilion when it was over.
1. April, 2, 1995: 70-64 over Tennessee
The dynasty officially was launched with this victory, as the Huskies finished a 35-0 season with their first championship. The final in Minneapolis was UConn's second-closest game that season; the closest had come in the regional final, 67-63 over Virginia. UConn trounced Stanford in the national semifinals, and Tennessee did the same to Georgia. It set up a rematch of the January showdown that had gotten so much attention. It was the last year the Final Four games were played on back-to-back days, so there was little prep time for the championship match. Tennessee led by six at halftime, as Lobo battled foul trouble in the first half. But she had 11 of her 17 points in the second half, with Rizzotti adding 15. It wasn't the start of Huskymania -- that had been building awhile -- but the title made it a full-fledged phenomenon that's still going strong two decades later.