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Even when Auriemma's at a loss, he has something to say

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Connecticut losing two women's basketball games
last month rates as a mild surprise next to the real shocker: Geno
Auriemma struggling for words.

The UConn coach conceded to the rare verbal deficit in recounting
the frantic final minutes of a 68-67 loss to Duke on Jan. 3.

"Each time out it got worse and worse,'' he told reporters
afterward. "I didn't know what to say.''

Of course, the condition was temporary. There's considerable
evidence to indicate that he's back in form as the No. 3 Huskies
(16-2) prepare to face No. 1 Tennessee (18-1) Thursday at
Thompson-Boling Arena here.

Auriemma met with his team for an hour after Saturday's 82-49
victory over St. John's, delivering what he referred to as a state of
the union address. Then after the locker room doors opened, he opened
up on the game officiating. He believes that opponents are getting
away with abusive play against Huskies' star Diana Taurasi.

Taurasi, the reigning national player of the year and a two-time
All-American, is a big reason behind the Huskies' two consecutive
national championships and their 124-6 record during the past
three-plus seasons. Yet when identifying the source of the team's
success, she speaks of her coach.

"It's him,'' the senior said. "He knows how to put 12 people
together and have them see one thing.''

Depending on your point of view, Auriemma's discourse reflects his
competitiveness or his combativeness.

"He likes to create these challenges for himself and his kids and
his program,'' Connecticut associate head coach Chris Dailey said.
"You don't want to walk around with a chip on your shoulder all the
time. That can wear on you. But in terms of getting energy up for a
new battle, that works. You don't want to ever get complacent. You
don't want the program to be complacent.

"He likes to stir things up. He's a master when it comes to
working the media.''

He has spent more time and verbiage lately working his team, which is
bearing the program's ever-increasing legacy. The losses, which
include a Jan. 13 game at Notre Dame, combined with some prevailing
inconsistency reflect the strain.

"We're on an emotional roller coaster right now,'' junior forward
Ashley Battle said after Saturday's game. "It really doesn't matter
who we're playing on Thursday. We know what we need to do, but I don't
know why it's taking such an effort to let it come out and let it
shine.''

The Huskies have won three of the last four national championships.
They haven't lost to Tennessee in the past four meetings -- an eternity
considering UT's legacy.

Villanova coach Harry Perretta is a long-time Big East colleague of
Auriemma's. He looks at the Huskies and wonders, "They could be
bored.''

He held the thought for a few moments and admitted, "It sounds
awful.''

"When you win so much, what do you tell your kids?'' Perretta
said. "It's tough for them to get up for every game.''

It's not so tough, however, for Auriemma to keep talking. His
hour-long address on Saturday covered numerous topics. The most
important might have been the reminders of what it means to play
women's basketball at Connecticut.

The hour itself was a reminder. Whether it be a breeze or a gale,
the wind keeps blowing.

"We'll see where it goes,'' Auriemma said. "I'm confident that
we'll be fine. I'm not worried about that.''