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Despite being in 36th season, Geno Auriemma still evolving

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

A new season is underway for Geno Auriemma and UConn women’s basketball. The Huskies kicked off their first official practice on Wednesday, beginning a countdown to the team’s opening game on November 28.

The 2020-21 campaign will be Auriemma’s 36th season at UConn and not much has stayed the same for him over those years. Players cycle in and out every four years, assistant coaches come and go, even conferences don’t stay the same. But for Auriemma, that constant change has been the one constant throughout.

“I don’t think I ever come into any season wanting to do things exactly the way I did it before,” he said. “So there will be things that we did this season that we didn’t do last year. There will be things we do this year that’ll look like we did last year but we’ll go about it in a different way.”

Embracing his evolution as a coach is part of what makes Auriemma great. The foundation of the program stays the same every year, but he’s not married to one system or style of play. In fact, Auriemma challenges himself to find a different way of doing things instead of falling back on what’s worked in the past.

“I’m a tinkerer. I like [to add] new wrinkles to what we do and still hold on to all the stuff that’s great about what we do,” he said. “But if I have to get a certain thing done, I want to find a different way to get to the same spot. It’s exciting for me because I get to teach it and it’s exciting for our players because if you play in our program for four years, you might do the same thing every year, but you might do it a different way to accomplish the same thing.”

This year, change was inevitable. UConn lost six players from last year’s team and replaced them with six freshmen and now-eligible Tennessee transfer Evina Westbrook.

The most visible difference will be on offense. Last season, the Huskies ran everything through point guard Crystal Dangerfield but with her now in the WNBA, there’s no clear replacement for her on the roster.

That’s fine with Auriemma, though, who prefers to have as many playmakers on the court as he can if the team doesn’t have one elite point guard like Dangerfield. And from the early returns, UConn isn’t short on players that can move the ball around.

“I believe we have more ways to score than we did last season at this time,” Auriemma said. “Paige and Nika are excellent passers. Like, excellent passers. So that creates more scoring opportunities by itself. Liv has become a way better passer, and she was already a good passer. So that creates more scoring opportunities.”

The other notable change is less quantifiable. Last year, there seemed to be a constant dark cloud hovering above the team, which often put Auriemma in a sour mood. But so far this season, the coach is back to his usual gregarious self and the entire aura around the team is noticeably different.

“Like CD said, we may not win as many games as we did last year but we’re going to enjoy coaching this group, that’s for sure,” “Auriemma said. “There’s a certain vibe that the young guys have brought that’s distinctly different. Distinctly.”

In more ways than one, this year’s team is shaping up to be a sharp contrast from the squad last season. But really, that’s no different than any new season – which is exactly how Auriemma likes it.