Auriemma Knows That N.C. State and Yow Are Everybody's Favorite

Yow's plight has turned nearly every neutral observer into an N.C. State fan

March 23, 2007

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) - Geno Auriemma isn't expecting much support for his Connecticut Huskies when they take on coach Kay Yow and North Carolina State.

Yow's courageous fight against cancer and the way the Wolfpack have rallied around her cause is the most compelling story in the entire NCAA tournament. Yow's plight has turned nearly every neutral observer into an N.C. State fan and might have even won over a few partisans heading into Saturday's game.

"There's a pretty good chance that if the game goes down to the wire, there will be some people in my family who might not be rooting for me," Auriemma said Friday. "I'll have to double check. Tomorrow is going to be a hard day."

The top-seeded Huskies (31-3) will face the fourth-seeded Wolfpack (25-9) in the opener of the Fresno Regional semifinal doubleheader.

Auriemma and Yow have known each other since his time as an assistant coach in the early 1980s at Virginia. She remembers him as a "good-looking" charismatic assistant who was bringing in top recruits to one of her ACC rivals.

Auriemma recalls Yow as a pioneer in the industry, one of the first coaches to truly build a program at a school.

After Auriemma left for UConn in 1985, the two coaches' paths have crossed a few times, including NCAA tournament meetings that haunt each of them. In 1991, Yow took what she called her best team ever into the regional in Philadelphia, sure she had a team good enough to compete for a national title.

But there the Wolfpack ran into an upstart UConn team that was still a few years away from becoming a dynasty and lost 82-71 in the regional semifinals. The Huskies went on to their first Final Four. They have made seven more trips there under Auriemma, winning five national titles and becoming perhaps the pre-eminent program in the country.

"The odds were we'd beat Connecticut nine out of 10 times," Yow recalled. "Well, that day they got us. They won that game and they won the next and went to the Final Four. The rest is history. It all started with our loss to them."


 

 

Auriemma chuckled when he was told that story and pointed instead to another meeting seven years later that Yow didn't mention. It was that year in Dayton, Ohio, that the Wolfpack upset the third-ranked Huskies 60-52 to send Yow to her first Final Four.

"We were up 10 with 15 minutes to go in a final eight game and N.C. State beat us," he said. "So I paid Kay back in full and I feel that going into tomorrow we're even."

While the Huskies might have an edge in talent with a lineup that features talented freshman Tina Charles and four other double-figure scorers, emotion will be on the Wolfpack's side. They have 12 of 14 games since Yow returned from a 16-game leave because of cancer treatment.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1987 and it first recurred during the 2004-05 season, forcing her to miss two games. She is coaching in the tournament despite enduring chemotherapy sessions that have weakened her, forcing her to leave one practice on a stretcher.

She admits she was hoping to have been placed in the Dayton or Dallas regionals so she wouldn't have to make the cross-country flight to California. There was no way she was going to miss this game, however.

Her nurse and oncologist will be on hand and she planned to go to a clinic in Fresno after practice Friday to "get everything checked out." Yow's fight has served as an inspiration to her players.

"She's the strongest person I have come across," Wolfpack center Gillian Goring said. "She was able to make the flight out here to be with us. There was a possibility she wasn't going to able to travel. She's here with us and that has shown us a lot."

As much as Yow's inspiration is credited for the Wolfpack's remarkable run to the regional, Auriemma said it takes a lot more to beat top teams like Duke and North Carolina as N.C. State did since Yow's return last month.

Goring, a native of Trinidad who originally committed to UConn out of high school before going to junior college and ending up at N.C. State, has been called "the female Olajuwon" by Auriemma. Khadijah Whittington is averaging a double-double and had a career-high 23 points and 11 rebounds in a second-round win over Baylor.

"Obviously they're good enough to beat anybody in America and win the national championship," Auriemma said. "You don't do that on emotion only. At this point in time, talent wins out and they have the talent to win a national championship."