PHILADELPHIA — From coach Geno Auriemma’s point of view, UConn’s stunning upset loss in the Final Four last season was a blessing.


Mississippi State actually did the Huskies a favor by beating them in the semifinals, ending a dominating run of four straight NCAA national titles and stopping an amazing 111-game winning streak.

“They, us, everybody thinks it is probably the best thing that ever happened,” Auriemma said during American Athletic conference media day on Monday. “Best thing that happened to some of these kids, best thing that happened to our program and our fans, and best thing that happened to women’s basketball.

“I think it was refreshing. The worst thing that could have happened is Connecticut wins another championship in a down year. What’s that say about everybody else in our game?”

UConn went 36-1 overall during its “down year.”

Nothing has changed as far as UConn’s status in the AAC. The Huskies, who’ve won four previous conference regular season titles without suffering a loss, are overwhelming favorites once again. They received 11 first place votes in the preseason coaches’ poll, with Auriemma’s vote going to second-place South Florida.

UConn finds itself in an unfamiliar position, entering the season coming off a loss in the Final Four.

“We’re using it as motivation,” said junior Napheesa Collier, the AAC preseason player of the year. “We’re not trying to forget it, by any means. We’re using it to make us stronger, faster and smarter than we were last year so we don’t repeat what happened.

“It’s actually harder (to get over) because we’re not used to the loss, especially for it to happen in the Final Four like it did. It definitely hurt. I think I speak for everyone, we never want to experience another loss to repeat that feeling.”

Auriemma believes the Final Four defeat provided a harsh dose of reality as well as a valuable lesson.

It also served as a reminder that the Huskies aren’t invincible.

“In the real world, when you don’t play well, there’s a pretty good chance you lose,” Auriemma said. “For the first time, it happened to them. To me, it was just getting dropped into the real world for one day.”

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Senior Kia Nurse, an AAC preseason second team pick, says the Huskies won’t be taking anything for granted this season. Their goal is to complete every practice, every weight lifting workout, every film session to the best of their ability.

Of course, it will help that the Huskies are loaded with talent. Collier and junior Katie Lou Samuelson were Associated Press First Team All-Americans last season and senior Gabby Williams was a second team All-American.

Collier, who led the conference in scoring last season, and Williams were unanimous picks to the AAC preseason first team. Samuelson also made first team.

The Huskies added two talented transfers in Batouly Camara (Kentucky) and Azura Stevens (Duke), who are both eligible to play this season.

“We’re certainly going to be much deeper than we were last year and we will certainly have more options than last year,” Auriemma said. “Just knowing that we’ve got a couple of kids that have already played college basketball that can contribute changes the look of our team.”

This article is written by Gavin Keefe from The Day, New London, Conn. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.




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