|Thursday, January 30
Updated: January 31, 7:09 PM ET
Auriemma calls Cameron Crazies 'overrated'
DURHAM, N.C. -- With three national titles and a record 58-game winning streak, Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma hasn't slipped up too often.
This time, though, he might have picked a fight he can't possibly win -- with the Cameron Crazies.
Auriemma insulted Duke fans Thursday, adding more intrigue to Saturday night's game that will feature the two best teams in women's college basketball this season -- the top-ranked Blue Devils (20-0) against No. 2 UConn (19-0).
"As far as the Cameron Crazies are concerned, I think they're a little bit overrated,'' Auriemma said. "I don't think the Cameron Crazies would be as effective if the Duke basketball players weren't as good.''
"The Cameron Crazies are worth about 20 points. There's no way we can win this game,'' the coach added in jest.
The students at Cameron Indoor Stadium have had little trouble over the years getting under the skin of such Atlantic Coast Conference stars as David Thompson, Michael Jordan and Tim Duncan.
They promise to be out in full force for the Huskies, and have been planning for months to ridicule Auriemma. After his comment Thursday, they plan a 24-hour cram session to try to come up with something special for the coach.
"Tell him this is the real thing,'' said Merrill Roller, a sophomore who was sitting in a driving rainstorm patrolling tents as students waited for tickets next to Cameron. "He's open season on Saturday night. He has not seen fans until he comes into this place.''
Duke coach Gail Goestenkors laughed when told of Auriemma's comment about the Duke students.
"Well, he hasn't been here yet,'' Goestenkors said. "We'll see if he says the same thing after the game.''
Duke's players have seen how the Cameron crowd can influence opponents in men's games, throwing off even some of the best players. They expect the same kind of support for their game, which has been sold out for weeks.
"Hopefully, the Crazies will really get into it and mess with their heads a little bit. It's a tremendous advantage for us,'' said senior Michelle Matyasovsky.
That might be wishful thinking against a UConn program that has beaten perennial power Tennessee three times during its long winning streak and faced the pressure of last year's run to the national title.
"It's possible for the crowd to be intimidating if your opponent isn't mentally tough,'' said Iciss Tillis, who averages 15.7 points and 7.3 rebounds for the Blue Devils. "We've played in gyms where the crowds are rude. But you can't let that affect you. I'm sure UConn is a pretty stable team and will be able to ignore that.''
The game will feature the nation's two best players in Duke's Alana Beard and UConn's Diana Taurasi, both All-Americans.
Beard averages 23.5 points and 7.4 rebounds, while Taurasi averages 17.8 points and 6.9 rebounds while holding together a young team.
"We didn't meet this morning to talk about how we're going to stop Alana Beard or devise some grand scheme to play against her,'' Auriemma said. "Our approach is going to be like an NCAA type of game, where you're playing a team as good as you are or better. You don't concentrate on any one individual or any one thing.''
Duke has already beaten then-No. 2 Tennessee in late November and won a pair of overtime road games in the ACC, impressing Goestenkors with her team's mental toughness.
However, keeping emotions in check early against a team the Blue Devils so badly want to beat will be something Goestenkors will monitor closely.
"I hope the Duke players are so motivated they can't see straight,'' Auriemma said.