women’s basketball UCLA coach Close admires Geno’s ‘sustained excellence’

March 29, 2019

ALBANY, N.Y. — Cori Close says she’s not buddy-buddy with Geno Auriemma, but she does share a few of the same passions.

Basketball and wine.

Close, now in her eighth season as the UCLA women’s basketball coach, said Auriemma gifted her a bottle of wine when the Bruins played UConn in the Sweet 16 in Bridgeport in 2017. She returned the favor when the Huskies visited Los Angeles last season.

“What can you say?” Close remarked following a second-round victory over No. 3 Maryland. “I mean, we live in the incredible tradition of John Wooden and (Auriemma) is the next, on the women’s side, the one with that kind of sustained excellence. There is such incredible respect.”

Auriemma has led UConn to a record 11 national championships, one more than Wooden won with the UCLA men. While Close doesn’t have any titles of her own, she has guided the Bruins to four consecutive Sweet 16s.

The two coaches will meet when the No. 6 Bruins (22-12) face No. 2 UConn (33-2) in the semifinals of the Albany Regional on Friday at 7 p.m. at Times Union Center.

“We may have gotten the worst draw of any team in the country playing UCLA right about now, as well as they’re playing, and all the great things they’ve been able to do,” Auriemma said Thursday.

Close has great admiration for Auriemma, saying the Huskies’ coaching staff has been a valuable sounding board during her time with the Bruins. She even attended one of the Huskies’ practices years ago.

“Their ability to communicate, to have attention to detail, and to play at a higher tempo than everybody else, that is what has led to their consistency,” she said.

SN(Why?): Auriemma expressed concerns about fewer games being broadcast on SNY as part of the American Athletic Conference’s new 12-year media rights extension with ESPN.

“I don’t have all the details of it, obviously,” he said. “I know that it’s probably a great deal for the league as a whole, and I’m sure that was the intent, to get a great deal for the entire league. I think any deal that keeps us off of the kind of television we’ve come to understand, and our fans have come to appreciate, specifically SNY, anything that keeps us from being able to do that for our fans is not such a great deal for UConn.

“Hopefully, they can work something out.”

The Huskies played 15 games on SNY this season, a majority of those within the AAC. However, as part of the new deal, more may be on ESPN+, a subscription service that costs $4.99 per month.

“We have a great relationship with SNY,” Auriemma said. “They’ve done a great job for us, probably a better job than anybody in the country does for their teams.”

UConn said in a statement, “We understand that the conference has an obligation to make decisions based on what it thinks is most beneficial to our membership as a whole. However, based on UConn’s understanding of the deal, there are certain exclusive components which we believe are not in the best interest of our fan base or representative of maintaining and building our brand.”

Pay them! U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy advocated for college athletes to be paid, as part of a report released Thursday titled “Madness Inc.: How Everyone is Getting Rich Off College Sports — Except the Players.”

Apparently, Auriemma agrees.

“There’s some value to what he said. I think players should get paid,” Auriemma said. “It’s somebody else’s job to figure out how they’re going to do that.”

Change in the AAC: University of Hartford women’s basketball coach Kim McNeill has left to take the same position at East Carolina, it was announced Thursday.

“I would like to thank Kim for all that she has done to take Hartford women’s basketball to the next level,” Mary Ellen Gillespie, the director of athletics at Hartford, said in a release. “East Carolina is getting an outstanding coach, and an even more special person and family. We will miss the McNeill family, and will certainly follow Kim’s career.”

Over three seasons at Hartford, McNeill amassed a record of 59-38. She takes over a team that finished 16-15, including 6-10 in the AAC, and lost to UConn in the conference quarterfinals.

dbonjour@ctpost.com; @DougBonjour