Mind the gap: Auriemma doesn't expect dominance to last

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STORRS, CONN. >> UConn coach Geno Auriemma doesn't believe his program will dominate women's college basketball forever — maybe just through April.

No. 2 South Carolina this week became the seventh ranked team this season to fall to the three-time national champions, who used the 12-point road win to extend the third-longest winning streak in NCAA and team history to 60 games.

Led by two-time national player of the year Breanna Stewart, UConn is winning games by an average of 40 points and has beaten ranked opponents by an average of 19.

The Huskies enter the stretch run as prohibitive favorites to go undefeated and win a fourth straight national title.

"I think they've proven it, nobody can beat 'em," said Baylor coach Kim Mulkey. "Until somebody beats 'em, I guess there's a big gap."

This is not his first UConn team to dominate women's basketball. The Huskies have won 10 national titles since 1995.

But the dynamic this time around is different, Auriemma said.

The Huskies, he said, used to compete each year with Tennessee, and one or two other programs for the nation's top prospects. Those two or three programs would then compete each year for national championships.

Now, there are more top athletes and they are being spread out among more schools, Auriemma said.

So when one team is able to land Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck and Moriah Jefferson in a single class, it is going to create a gap between that program and everyone else for a few years, he said.

He jokes that he needs five cellphones to handle all the calls he's getting from teams that want to play UConn next season, when he won't have his big three.

"Then it will be somebody else's turn to get on one of those runs, maybe," he said.

The Huskies went five years between championships after Rebecca Lobo graduated in 1995. They had another five-year championship "drought" after Dianna Taurasi left 2004. And it was three years between Maya Moore's last title in 2010 and Breanna Stewart's first in 2012.

DePaul coach Doug Bruno said those who criticize UConn for being so dominant over the last two decades are misguided. Because of UConn, there is more talent in women's basketball and more schools are putting resources into their women's programs, he said.

That has actually led to a lot more parity, a lot more good teams and more great games, he said.

"Take UConn out of the mix, they're in another class," he said. "But the rest of the field should make for an absolutely great NCAA Tournament this year. I think anybody can get to the Final Four in the other three regions."

Bruno and other rival coaches expect the Huskies won't be quite as overpowering next season. But they also don't believe the loss of Stewart and Co. will mean an end to the UConn era in women's basketball.

Louisville coach Jeff Walz said a down year for the Huskies might mean an appearance in a regional final.

"I don't think it will ever be the end when Geno Auriemma is the coach," said Maryland coach Brenda Frese. "Without Jefferson and Stewart it's going to take time to build that back. But it's not like they don't have any talent on that roster that's not returning."

The Huskies play just one more ranked team before the postseason. They face No. 22 South Florida in Storrs on Feb. 29. They beat the Bulls 75-59 in Florida last month.

Forward Morgan Tuck said the players know they will be expected to continue beating everyone by double-digits right through the Final Four.

"I think we enjoy that gap," Tuck said. "We want to show that we are on a different level than everybody else."

AP Basketball Writer Doug Feinberg and AP Sports Writers Dave Ginsburg in Maryland, Pete Iacobelli in South Carolina and Stephen Hawkins in Texas contributed to this report.


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