STORRS, Conn. (AP) — Geno Auriemma, in the middle of his own Hall-of-Fame career, famously incurred the wrath of Tennessee fans 18 years ago when he jokingly referred to Pat Summitt’s women’s program as the “Evil Empire.”
But after 11 national titles at UConn and on the verge of tying Summitt for second place on the wins list with 1,098, Auriemma says he better understands what his long-time rival was dealing with while at the top of her profession.
He, like Summitt, finds himself put on a pedestal by many fans, while being loathed by others who consider him to be the Darth Vader of college basketball because he continues to win.
“I admire Pat for the way she handled that all those years,” Auriemma said. “Because, I don’t think I’m handling it as well as she did. She had a lot more restraint and a lot more sense than I do. That’s probably what I miss about her. She was always able to look past all the trivial stuff and concentrate on the big stuff. Maybe someday I will grow into that role.”
Auriemma bristles when asked about what it will be like to match Summitt’s win total, something that is expected to happen Saturday when the Huskies (6-0) host Providence (5-6).
That would leave him several wins behind Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer, who passed Summitt earlier this season to become the winningest coach in Division I women’s basketball history, entering Friday with 1,103 wins.
“Pat being Pat and Geno being Geno, we have a long history,” Auriemma said. “So, if that didn’t exist, I don’t know that we’d be talking about it at all. We’d be talking about, ‘Hey, you’re not that far behind Tara.”
Others are taking note, in part because Auriemma has 1,097 wins in 1,239 games, a record 88.5% winning percentage. That compares to 84% for Summitt (1,098–208) , who finished her career with eight national titles. VanDerveer (1,103-253) has two championships and had led her teams to wins in 81.3% of their games..
Auriemma was 13-9 against Summitt’s Tennessee teams and is 11-7 head-to-head agains VanDerveer.
DePaul coach Doug Bruno, who was Auriemma’s assistant coach on the U.S. national team when it won two gold medals, said those numbers show why Auriemma’s program should be considered the greatest in all of college basketball — men or women.
“I know how hard it is to win one college basketball game,” he said in December after losing his 18th straight game to Auriemma. “And I know how difficult it is to grovel up the food chain trying to win 70 percent of your games. And here this program is winning 90 percent of their games.”
“Believe me I have all the respect in the world for coach Summitt as well and coach (Hall-of-Fame UCLA men’s coach John) Wooden and coach Tara and all these other coaches that are in the speaking point of who is in the top 5,” he said. “I’ll put Geno’s teams above coach Wooden’s teams because of who he’s had to play and the amount of Top-25 competition he’s competed against both in the old Big East and also his non-conference schedule.”