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Top Dogs

UConn proved that perfectionism has its benefits as the Huskies rolled to their third unbeaten season and sixth title

WITH ITS litanyof rules about decorum, appearance and respect for others—players are notallowed to have visible tattoos, use iPods in public or wear dresses or skirtswithout stockings—the Connecticut women's basketball program run by coach GenoAuriemma and associate head coach Chris Dailey has been likened to Catholicschool. But the comparison only goes so far. In putting together a perfect39--0 season that ended with a 76--54 win over Louisville in the NCAA titlegame in St. Louis on April 7, the Huskies showed opponents neither charity normercy, going on devastating scoring runs that often put games out of reach bythe 25th minute. "Last year if a game was close, it might have stayedclose," says junior guard Kalana Greene. "This year we took a lead andstretched it. We had poise, experience, a killer instinct and atake-no-prisoners defense."

The Huskies, whohad been upset by Stanford in last year's national semifinals, were thepreseason favorites to win a sixth national title, but few foresaw a thirdperfect season for the program. The team's Big Three—6-foot sophomore forwardMaya Moore, the consensus player of the year, and All-Americas ReneeMontgomery, a 5'7" senior point guard, and Tina Charles, a 6'4" juniorcenter—made the team look strong on paper, but there were difficulties toovercome.

UConn lost itstop recruit, national high school player of the year Elena Delle Donne, lastsummer before she'd even played a game at UConn. She enrolled at Delaware,citing basketball burnout, and played volleyball last fall instead of hoops.The Huskies also lost starting shooting guard Caroline Doty, a freshman, to atorn left ACL in mid-January.

Even with ashallower bench than usual—only eight players averaged more than 11 minutes pergame—UConn found a way to beat every opponent by double digits, something noprevious Division I team had done.

The Huskies ranthe table not because they pursued perfection in the win-loss column, butbecause they sought it in every possession. As with all of Auriemma's teams theplayers were constantly reminded of their weaknesses. Even after blowouts he'dshow his players a "low-light" tape before practice the next day thatfeatured all the little things they didn't do well. After a subpar defensiveeffort in a 76--63 win over LSU in January the Huskies had to endure 2½ hoursof defensive drills. "It was terrible, but he got his point across,"says Montgomery. "Even though we can outscore most teams, we don't want tobe a team that just does that."

For Auriemma, whois now 6--0 in NCAA title games, winning isn't the point. "The NBA is allabout winning, but at this level winning doesn't make you happy," he says."You can win, play lousy, and in my program, feel lousy. To me it's about:How good can we be?"

This year'sHuskies showed that a team with the right mix of stars and role players,exceptional chemistry and, yes, a killer instinct can be very good indeed. TheHuskies will have every starter back except Montgomery, and they'll add KellyFaris, a McDonald's All-American guard from Indianapolis. But will they findthat unbeatable combination and go undefeated again? One thing is certain: Aslong as Auriemma is in charge, the standards will remain uncompromisingly high.As Auriemma's daughter Alysa, a 23-year-old aspiring actress, noted on her bloglast week, her dad was eager to watch the championship game on tape when thefamily returned to Connecticut on April 8. "So we did," she wrote,"and he proceeded to complain the entire game. Some things neverchange."

Past Perfect

The 2008--09Huskies are the fifth Division I women's team to go undefeated. Here's how thatquintet stacks up.

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

Find Tracy Schultz's projected 2009--10 Top 10.



NET PROFIT Auriemma (inset) made Montgomery & Co. better by harping on flaws.



[See caption above]