The world according to Geno Auriemma

UT and UConn may be going into their annual tussle with three losses apiece, but coach Geno Auriemma is pretty sure that nobody will want to draw either team come tournament time. <p> "I think more than anything we're probably experiencing a sense of normalcy that most programs experience," Auriemma said in his teleconference with the media before Saturday's game between his Huskies and the Pat Summitt-coached Lady Vols at the Hartford Civic Center in Connecticut.

"The fact that it's happening is not necessarily a bad thing if you look at the big picture. It's January. I'm sure (no other team is saying) ‘I hope we get Tennessee or UConn in our bracket. ' "

Auriemma was in usual form for his press conference – sarcastic, funny, insightful and excitable. It took a few minutes for him to get started as a technical glitch kept him from being able to talk so he listened to reporters talk about travel plans, the Big East, snow and Hartford.

"I could hear you guys, but you couldn't hear me," Auriemma said.

Here are Auriemma's thoughts on the game and other matters.

Likely starters:

Mel Thomas, guard (freshman, 5'9, Cincinnati); Ashley Valley, guard (senior, 5'9, Colchester, VT.); Jessica Moore, center (senior, 6'3, Palmer, AK.); Ann Strother, forward (junior, 6'2, Castle Rock, Colo.); and Willnett Crockett, forward (junior, 6'2, Harbor City, Calif.)

Crockett is starting in place of junior Barbara Turner, who is out for the game with a foot injury.

"Ashley is going to be bringing the ball up the court," Auriemma said. "Half of America (watching on CBS) is going to say, ‘Who the hell is that,' " Auriemma said. "Is this a great country or what?"

Who he'd like to play:

Last year's seniors, Maria Conlon and Diana Taurasi, are on campus and taking classes.

"D and Maria are in school," he said. "I'm trying to see if I can sneak them in."

Auriemma said he recalls the grief Conlon took from some UConn fans, who were sometimes less than enchanted with her play. The coach said he hopes those same fans know what they're missing now.

"Now they realize how much Maria handled the ball, how much she got the ball to the right (place and player), how she gave Ann Strother another opportunity to get open," Auriemma said.

"People called us arrogant. Whether it's true or not I don't care. We walked on the court with a certain attitude. And when Maria and Diana left, that attitude left."

On his team's mental edge against Tennessee. UConn leads the series, 13-6. Nobody on Tennessee's roster has ever beaten Connecticut:

"From a mental standpoint, the best way I could describe our team is mental," Auriemma said.

UConn has struggled this season at times to score and is still looking – much like Tennessee – for the right combination of players on the floor.

"I hope the Tennessee kids feel that way, that we've got their number," he said. "We can use any edge we can get."

Is Tennessee difficult to scout since they have used various lineups and have had to juggle personnel because of injuries?:

"Every team is difficult for us to scout right now," said Auriemma, who added his biggest concern is "who's going to play well for us."

Watching Tennessee on tape, he said, is like watching his own team.

"They're having some of the same issues we're having. They look like they haven't practiced; so do we. It's kind of like we're a mirror image of each other."

On UT's Candace Parker and freshmen in general:

"Obviously that's a big loss if she's not playing because she can do so many things," he said.

But he added that freshmen shouldn't be the ones who are counted on all season long, and cited Thomas as an example.

"When you're dealing with freshmen it's very difficult," he said. "You don't see the same thing everyday. I've seen her lose focus, and the ball flies all over the place. We need her to be really good."

He noted that Shanna Zolman, Loree Moore, Brittany Jackson and Shyra Ely have "played in a lot of big games."

"You hope that these people are the ones who step up for you," Auriemma said. "You can't expect freshmen to play great every night. It has to start with the upperclassmen. I'm sure Pat's tremendously frustrated."

The unlocked car/stolen briefcase episode:

Auriemma had four championship rings in his briefcase for a photo shoot. He went to dinner in Manchester and left the briefcase in his unlocked car in a parking lot on Nov. 28, 2004. Also stolen were a cell phone, cash and a watch.

"I was stupid enough to not lock my car," he said. "It's been that kind of year."

Two teenagers are suspected in the theft. Police estimated the rings were worth $800 each (Auriemma's fifth title ring was at a jeweler for an alteration), but the teens sold them for $150 for the lot.

"Just because somebody steals something and wears it around doesn't make them good at anything," Auriemma said. "Whoever has them out there, God bless them. Have fun with them and enjoy them."

When asked what else was stolen from his car, Auriemma joked, "All my plays I wanted to run on Saturday."

"So if it looks like we've never practiced before and my guys can't get shots against Tennessee, it's because my playbook was stolen," Auriemma said. "What does it mean that it happened? I haven't really thought of it that far. I used to be real superstitious, but I'm not anymore. I'm more worried about one of our guys making some shots and playing well than I am about getting my rings back."

On the play of Rutgers, a fellow member of the Big East Conference:

Rutgers, over the past eight days, beat three top 10 teams, Tennessee and LSU at home and Texas on the road. The victory in Austin ended the Lady Longhorns' 41-game home court winning streak. In all three games, the opposing team struggled mightily to score.

"Did Rutgers play this week?" Auriemma joked when asked about the play of the Scarlet Knights. "I wasn't paying any attention. I'm trying not to pay attention to anyone playing really good right now."

He noted that Rutgers won the games with their defense.

"If you're having trouble scoring that day, you're going to get beat," he said. "I wasn't surprised at all."

Auriemma is pulling for Rutgers to continue slaying its foes until Feb. 3 when Rutgers comes to UConn to play.

"Playing them is going to be an incredible challenge for anybody," he said. "I hope they keep it up until we play them. Because I want to kick their ass."

On how UConn's defense and rebounding have been overlooked in the past because of its efficient offense:

"People have always been enamored with our offense," he said. "We've made it look easy. We look so pretty doing it. I think it masked the fact we" (also rebounded and played defense)."

He would like to see that offensive ease return.

"One of reasons we're struggling is we don't have anything but our defense and rebounding that we can hang our hat on."

The team will run 20 offensive plays in practice that will break down to: 10 turnovers, eight made shots and "something really bizarre," Auriemma said.

"It's hard to develop any consistency doing that," he said. "We're 8-3, and we can't seem to sustain anything. We're UConn, and being 8-3 is tantamount to failure."

On whether senior guard/forward Ashley Battle should start or come off the bench:

"I think the best position for Ashley Battle is wherever Ashley wants it to be," he said. "Everything is dependent on her state of mind and where she is mentally at a given time. Now she's hit a lull, and she's struggling again."

On coaches:

"Generally speaking there are two kinds of coaches in America," he said. "There are coaches who coach really good players, and there are ex-coaches."

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