Lincoln, Neb. • Connecticut doesn’t schedule many home-and-home series with schools more than 2,000 miles away. A few years ago, the Huskies made an exception: BYU.
Coach Jeff Judkins thinks it has a lot to do with Geno Auriemma’s love for the Boston Celtics.
"Usually it’s a payoff: You get drilled by 30 and go home with a paycheck," Judkins said. "He didn’t want to do that. He wanted to come out and play us. When I played for the Celtics, I think he knew that and it made it easier."
The two head coaches in the BYU-UConn Sweet 16 game on Saturday will be aiming for a big win over each other, but afterward, they’re likely to have a warm handshake.
They’re friends off the court, as Judkins illuminated on Friday afternoon.
Like Judkins, there have been questions around Auriemma: Would he ever coach in the men’s game? Would he succeed there? While his place in Storrs, Conn., is hardly in flux, there always seem to be those that speculate.
No need for speculation, Judkins said: Auriemma would succeed anywhere. And like Judkins, he’s chosen the women’s game.
"In my book, he’s one of the best coaches ever," he said. "They ask me all the time, ‘Why haven’t you left?’ I don’t know what it is, but coaching the women’s game is different. They’re more emotional sometimes, but they work their tails off and they execute. This game means a lot to them."
Hamson pitted against an All-American
BYU senior Jen Hamson has gone against some of the nation’s best posts in the last week, yet Saturday, she may see the best of them all. She’ll likely match up — at least on offense — with 6-foot-5 UConn center Stephanie Dolson, a 2013 All-American who could be in line for such honors again this season.
The senior is the leading rebounder for the Huskies, and she has 77 blocks this year. Dolson said she hasn’t faced anyone quite like the long-armed BYU center who leads the nation in blocks, but she expressed confidence going into the matchup.
"She’s extremely tall and is going to change a lot of shots and probably block a lot of shots," Dolson said of Hamson. "I think for us, it’s almost the same thing about them not being intimidated by us, we have to make sure we’re not intimidated by her size."
Sympathy for the Huskers
If anyone knows the pressure to play the NCAA Tournament at home, or to be playing for a home berth, it’s UConn. The Huskies often play in Storrs for the opening rounds, one of the tournament hosts.
That’s why Auriemma said he felt for Nebraska, which fell out of the Big Dance against BYU last week. Had the Cornhuskers managed to come back against the Cougars, they would’ve been able to play for the home crowd.
Auriemma called playing NCAA Tournament games at home or to get home "one of the most difficult games to win in postseason play." But he didn’t go so far as to say BYU was undeserving — in fact, he held the opposite.
"BYU deserves to be here," he said. "If they didn’t deserve to be here, they would not be here. So for every team disappointed, there’s another celebrating."
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