INDIANAPOLIS – Breanna Stewart is in a class by herself. Even her decorated coach, Geno Auriemma, found himself in a place he couldn’t imagine.
The 31-year coach who has won 10 national championships fought back tears after receiving The Associated Press Coach of the Year award on Saturday, one day before his Huskies open the Final Four in their bid for an unprecedented fourth consecutive NCAA title.
“I can’t describe it. I don’t know why it happened,” Auriemma said. “It’s been really different from the time the NCAA Tournament started. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
UConn’s star senior won the AP Player of the Year award for a record third time. She was also the unanimous choice, the first time that’s happened since the award was first given in 1995.
“When it was announced, I didn’t know that was the case,” Stewart said. “I never knew there wasn’t a three-time award winner for basketball. It definitely resonates a little bit. I’m sure it will sink in more tonight. It’s an unbelievable honor to do something in a sport that’s never been done before.”
Stewart was surprised to see her coach so emotional.
“I’ve never seen him like that, but I think it showed he’s human and cares so much about this team and this group,” she said.
Auriemma has never been one to shy away from questions or stir up controversy with his answers. Yet on Saturday, he was emotional in a different way. He was talking about making it to the Final Four again and his group of seniors when he started to choke up as his team watched from a few feet away.
“I usually don’t get like this, I don’t know what the hell’s going on … I don’t, I don’t, I don’t get like this, not for stuff that concerns me personally,” said Auriemma. “I don’t know why but for some reason, this week has been really different for me. I don’t know why. It just has been really different.”
He tried to steady himself by mentioning longtime assistant coach Chris Dailey before asking Stewart, sitting next to him, to start talking.
Stewart won as a sophomore and junior and joins Ralph Sampson of Virginia as the only college basketball players ever to be honored three times by the AP. She has helped UConn to win 73 consecutive games and is the only player in the history of the sport with 400 assists and 400 blocks in her career. She’s led the Huskies to 149 wins over four seasons and with two more victories will win a fourth championship and have the most victories for a player in NCAA history.
“It’s funny, I was at Virginia when Ralph was the national player of the year,” said Auriemma, who won the AP award for an eighth time. “The impact he had on that school and that basketball program. Thirty-five years later, to have it happen with Stewie. It almost doesn’t make sense that could happen. I witnessed it. Experienced it with Stewie.”
If UConn does win its next two games, Auriemma will have an 11th national championship that would move him past UCLA coach John Wooden for the most all-time in college basketball history. Auriemma received 16 votes. Scott Rueck of Oregon State, UConn’s opponent in Sunday’s semifinal, and Muffet McGraw of Notre Dame were second with three votes each.
He also won the AP Coach of the Year Award in 1995, 1997, 2000, 2003, 2008, 2009 and 2011.
Both awards were chosen by the 32-member national media panel that selects the weekly Top 25 poll. Voting was done before the NCAA Tournament.