It was the day on the basketball calendar that East Carolina fans anticipate with a discomforting mixture of pride and dread. The best women’s basketball team in history, led by the sport’s most dominant coach, was playing in Minges Coliseum.
On the other hand, dismay over the final score might eclipse any other aspect of the visit.
On Wednesday the women’s basketball team from the University of Connecticut defeated the Pirates 96-35 in an afternoon game moved up because of pending winter weather. The Huskies’ fourth visit to ECU was a grab bag of elements on and off the court, even if it was only satisfying for the visiting UConn fans.
Some insights from the day:
■ The Husky Way
Any aficionado wants to see greatness in person, and Coach Geno Auriemma has constructed a masterpiece with materials like 11 national championships, 10 straight trips to the Final Four, 84-0 in American Athletic Conference games and 45 conference titles. Auriemma, whose record at UConn is an astounding 1,003-135, is regarded as a master developer of players even while maintaining a winning system that he sustains through focus on fundamentals and elite recruiting.
Auriemma’s remarks in his postgame press conference ranged from his respect for Alabama coach Nick Saban to the difficulty of building momentum with a young roster like East Carolina’s, but he pulled back the curtain on his dynasty when he discussed the hunt for another key contributor to his core lineup. Even though the 12-0 Huskies have an average margin of victory of 33 so far this season, Auriemma described his deliberate search for a guard who can make his offense even more effective.
“I don’t like being limited,” he said. “But it hasn’t been easy, because no one has separated themself. We need another ball handler for sure. I would love for somebody to step up and do that. Every day in practice, you’re watching and seeing what’s going on, and you come to a game and you say, ‘Let’s try this.’ And right now, that’s (where) we are. There’s no definitive, ‘You’re it.’ Some days it’s going to be you, some days it’s going to be someone else, until you make us have to put you in more. And that hasn’t happened yet.”
■ N.C. Ties
Azura Stevens, a 6-foot-6 forward from Raleigh and a Duke transfer, had a rare opportunity to play in front of her family, and she proved again that she is one of UConn’s most valuable contributors off the bench. Stevens, who sat out last season when she opted to become a Husky after two seasons with the Blue Devils, contributed 16 rebounds and 8 points in the victory.
Auriemma praised her skill set as a unique asset to his squad.
“She’s so much different than anybody else we have on our team,” he said. “She’s got a dimension that’s hard to find anywhere else in the country, someone with that length that has those kinds of skills. And she’s getting better all the time. She’s figuring out where to blend with this team. She’s not anywhere near where I think she’s going to be.”
■ Takeaways for the Pirates
ECU head coach Heather Macy’s first priority is to put together a win, and a secondary goal is to make sure her team grows through each game.
Macy struggled to find a silver lining in Wednesday’s defeat, saying, “UConn dominated every facet of the game tonight,” and citing fatigue at inopportune times as a factor in the growing deficit. But she did say that junior point guard Alex Frazier, who finished with 6 points and 8 rebounds, was a point of light in the afternoon.
“I thought Alex competed really hard,” she said. “She led us in rebounding at the half, and hit some tough shots and played with a lot of confidence.”
■ The Things That Can’t Be Controlled
At the top of this list, of course, is the weather, which forced ECU athletics officials to move the game time from 7 p.m. to 2 p.m. The size of the crowd reflected that unconventional tip-off time. With only 1,823 fans in attendance on Wednesday, the game marked the lowest crowd by far in the four-game series of UConn visits. The first time the Huskies visited, in 2014, 4,706 people were watching the contest.
Auriemma, a native of Montella, Italy, who has spent the past 33 years in Connecticut, said he understands that fan and player safety come first when making schedule changes, but like most Northerners he notices the distinction in the way Southern states handle winter storms.
“I spent four years in Charlottesville, (as an assistant at Virginia) and I remember when they said it was going to snow on Wednesday, and they closed schools Monday to Friday,” Auriemma said. “But here, and especially further South, they don’t have the equipment and they don’t have the know how to deal with it.”
■ Fans Who Travel
No collegiate women’s team comes as close to being a true national team as UConn, and that phenomenon was on ample display at Minges on Wednesday, even with fewer than 2,000 fans there. Thirty minutes after the game was over, more than 70 fans were waiting near Gate 4 of Minges to hear from Auriemma and take photos with the legendary coach.
The annual Huskies visit gives the Pirate Nation a chance to show some hospitality, but it’s a fair bet that all of the fans wearing purple and gold on Wednesday would rather find a way to ruin the night for Huskies fans than show them a nice time.