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UConn WBB Weekly: Behind the scenes stories from the Huskies’ 2000-01 season

Plus Geno on his relationship with Jim Calhoun; Another Husky signs overseas.

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Shea Ralph (33) Getty Archives

Welcome to the UConn WBB Weekly, a recap of everything that happened in the world of UConn women’s basketball over the past week.

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Leftovers from last week

One thing stuck out from Geno Auriemma’s appearance on the Chaz & AJ Show. The coach was asked about his famously frosty relationship with Jim Calhoun, who once called UConn women’s basketball’s fanbase the world largest nursing home. According to Auriemma, the two still don’t have a relationship — which is just fine with him.

“People expect you to go out to dinner and hang out. Why?” Auriemma said. “He and I travel in different worlds, so why should I and why should he? I did my thing, he did his thing and we both lived happily ever after.”

On its own, that’s nothing groundbreaking. Two coaches that weren’t friends when they were both at UConn still aren’t friends today. But it does make some of Auriemma’s recent comments stand out.

Last week, Auriemma was effusive with his praise for Dan Hurley and UConn men’s basketball and also took the time to highlight positive developments for Randy Edsall’s football program. He’s also been supportive of Ray Reid’s men’s soccer team along with Mike Cavanaugh and the school’s burgeoning men’s hockey program as well.

Auriemma isn’t required to support UConn’s other teams — it’s not like his rivalry with Calhoun affected either program. But there’s no question the athletic department is better off with its most prominent coach backing the school’s other programs.

Camara signs in Spain

It’s been a good few weeks for Batouly Camara. First, she was given the Billie Jean King Youth Leadership Award at the ESPYs. Then, she released her new children’s book, A Basketball Game on Wake Street.

Now, she’s going overseas to continue her basketball career. On Monday, CB Bembibre in Spain announced Camara as the team’s newest addition.

To this point, Camara is the fifth former Husky signed to play overseas: Katie Lou Samuelson (and her sister, Karlie) are also set to play in Spain with CB Avenida, Megan Walker and Gabby Williams signed with Sopron Basket in Hungary and Evelyn Adebayo joined on with Phantoms Boom in Belgium.


Some years, as Geno Auriemma says, all he has to do is show up at practice and roll the ball out on the court to win a national championship because his team is just that much better than everyone else in the country.

The Huskies’ 2000-01 team was supposed to be that type of team. If there was ever a UConn squad pre-destined to win a national championship, it was this one. The Huskies returned everyone from the 2000 title team except Stacy Hansmeyer and Paige Sauer while adding a five-player freshman class that included some kid from California named Diana Taurasi.

It wasn’t just media hype either. At the team’s national championship parade in 2000, Auriemma made the bold declaration that everyone would be back again next year celebrating ring No. 3.

However, the Huskies ultimately fell short of the goal, losing to Notre Dame 90-75 in the Final Four. What went wrong? The season-ending injuries to Svetlana Abrosimova and Shea Ralph certainly played their part. But there was more to it.

In The Same River Twice, John Walters was granted inside access to the program for an entire season. Throughout the book, he details how the team that was crowned as the greatest of all time by numerous coaches throughout the season struggled to live up to its full potential. We see a team that Auriemma just couldn’t seem to get through to no matter what he tried.

This week, we look at some of the best stories from The Same River Twice — though not all take place during the 2000-01 season. Next week, we’ll look at what’s changed (and what hasn’t) in the last 20 years and tell a few more stories from the book.

Kerry Bascom 1, Seniors 0

To an outsider, UConn rarely seems to have any chemistry problems between its players. However, that wasn’t always the case. During the 1987-88 season, the seniors were resentful of a talented freshmen class that included Kerry Bascom, Laura Lishness and Meg Pattyson (now Culmo).

Before one game, a senior told Bascom to give her shorts up, which were newer. Bascom held her ground.

“You want ‘em, come get ‘em,” Bascom challenged.

The senior accepted and a fight broke out. Bascom won and continued to wear her own shorts.

Diana Taurasi once got locked in a bus bathroom

In 2000, Taurasi was far from the greatest women’s basketball player of all-time. Back then, she was just an annoying freshman. So during one bus ride early in the season, Taurasi decided to treat the entire team to her rendition of OutKast’s “Ms. Jackson.”

The seniors decided they had enough of the impromptu concert. Christine Rigby and Kelly Schumacher grab Taurasi and stuffed her into the bathroom at the back of the bus for the reminder of the ride back to the hotel.

“Keep it up and you’ll have the same seat on the flight home,” Shea Ralph told her.

Maria Conlon, assuming it was just a lighthearted joke, stood up to release Taurasi. But Schumacher intervened.

“I wouldn’t if I were you,” the senior said. “But we’ll let her know you tried.”

Freshman DT was really annoying, part two

The bus bathroom fiasco wasn’t Taurasi’s only incident. One night over winter break, Taurasi, Sue Bird and a manager were playing Morgan Valley, graduate assistant Stacy Hansmeyer and another manager in Pictionary.

The latter team was dominating before Taurasi’s side made a late comeback — potentially due to some less-than-legal tactics by the freshman. After winning, Taurasi got up and began boisterously parading around the room in celebration when Hansmeyer called her out for cheating.

Taurasi didn’t take too kindly to the accusation and started jawing in her face, which resulted in Hansmeyer gabbing the freshman by the throat.

Without flinching, Taurasi said “What you gonna do Stacy? Hit me?”

Cooler heads prevailed and not long after, things were smoothed over between Taurasi and Hansmeyer.

“Did you win?”

On Christmas morning, Abrosimova awoke at Ralph’s home in Florida unable to bend over enough to even put her socks on. The day before, the two were playing in a pickup game when Abrosimova got pushed down from behind while going for a rebound.

Two days later, they decided to break the news to Auriemma.

“Well, did you win?” he responded after getting briefed.

They did, Ralph said.

“Okay then.”

Morgan Valley could’ve been UConn football’s punter

We’ll continue on the theme of “Diana Taurasi pissing everyone off”, this time featuring fellow freshman Morgan Valley. During practice, the two often played each other in one on one and kept track of who won on a piece of paper in Taurasi’s locker. By January, Valley had yet to win a game (the book never said whether she ever did).

Valley didn’t handle losing well. Sometimes, she’d get so frustrated that she would punt the basketball into the empty stands of Gampel. These kicks were so impressive that her teammates often stopped to watch the ball sail through the air.

“I saw her kick one into the upper deck once,” Maria Conlon relayed. “Morgan has a cannon.”

“These two should be fired”

The UConn-Tennessee rivalry wasn’t always acrimonious. During a US Junior National Team tryout, Auriemma and Chris Dailey were sitting near Pat Summit and her associate head coach, Mickie DeMoss. One of the main standouts on the court was Alana Beard, an incoming freshman at Duke that neither UConn nor Tennessee noticed during the recruiting process.

It was Dailey and DeMoss’s job to find players to recruit, yet both missed Beard. After a little while of watching Beard play, Auriemma turned to Summit and pointed to the two deputies.

“These two should be fired,” he said.

Summitt nodded in agreement.

Not one, not two...

The 2000-01 season is perhaps most famous for Sue Bird’s famous “Bird at the Buzzer” shot to beat Notre Dame in the Big East Tournament Final. Most long-time fans probably also remember that Bird made a near full court shot as time expired in the first half as well.

But that day, Bird actually hit three buzzer beaters.

Prior to the game, UConn ran its “11 Spots” drill, which requires the team to score 35 points in five minutes. The Huskies were at 32 with the clock running down and Bird had the ball near midcourt. She looked up, saw the clock and fired it as the buzzer rang. Swish.

Fast forward to Bird’s shot at the end of half and as Auriemma left the court, he quickly stopped by press row and said to Walters, “You saw us practice that today.”

Sveta’s premonition

The year prior, UConn’s sole loss came at home to Tennessee. The Huskies had a chance to win it at the buzzer but Abrosimova turned the ball over trying to pass to Tamika Williams instead of taking the final shot. After Bird hit her pre-game buzzer beater, Abrosimova made a prophetic statement.

“After we lost to Tennessee last year, I had a dream about that play,” Abrosimova said. “I dreamt that we inbounded the ball to Sue instead of me. And you know what? Sue made the shot.”

The selection committee hasn’t improved in two decades

When the NCAA Tournament selection show came around, UConn was given the toughest road to the Final Four of all the No. 1 seeds. The next day, Maryalyce Jeremiah, chairwoman of the selection committee, explained the decision to reporters.

“Notre Dame won the conference. UConn won the conference tournament. If you’re going to split that hair, you could say week in and week out, [UConn] didn’t win the conference.”

“Actually, Notre Dame and UConn tied for the Big East regular season title,” the Hartford Courant’s Lori Riley replied.

There was no response.

That’s the same logic the committee used in 2019 when it cited UConn’s “strength of conference” as a reason for seeding the Huskies as a two seed instead of a one. Which would’ve been fine except for the fact that not only did UConn finish undefeated in conference play (what more could it do?), it also had a better strength of schedule than Mississippi State, which got a No. 1 seed.


Best of social media

Napheesa Collier with some important advice about what not to do in the bubble. It also appears that the reigning WNBA Rookie of the Year will be roommates with Crystal Dangerfield.

Stef Dolson clearly didn’t have a problem keeping busy during quarantine:

A few weeks ago, both Auriemma and Breanna Stewart showed off their respective ring collections. One thing at went unnoticed? Look at how small the Huskies’ 2000 national championship rings (second from left) are, especially compared to the men’s basketball team’s 1999 rings:

Auriemma has often said he only thought he’d be at UConn for a few seasons before jetting off to a bigger school when he took the job. But he provided some unique insight into why he’s still in Storrs 35 years later:

Quotables

The best quotes from The Same River Twice:

  • “A helmet of immaculately blow-dried spun-gold hair.” — A writer describing Auriemma’s looks.
  • “That’s great. I am not even American and I still got it.” — Abrosimova on being named an All-American for the first time.
  • What’s it like to play UConn after it loses? “It’s kinda like kicking a hornet’s nest naked.” — former Old Dominion coach Wendy Larry
  • “There’s only room for one dumbass on this team. And that’s me.” — Auriemma to his team after Sue Bird picked up a technical foul for swearing.
  • “Diana Taurasi might already be the best player I’ve ever coached.” — Auriemma on Taurasi as a freshman.

History Corner

Awhile back, SB Nation featured Bird at the Buzzer on its “Rewinder” series: