Auriemma: 10 defining moments

Whenever coaches reach career victory milestones, they almost always say the actual number is not really that important. But, in fact, it really is a big deal when you are talking about a number such as 900.

That's what UConn coach Geno Auriemma is closing in on as his Huskies are in the midst of plowing through their American Athletic Conference schedule. The Huskies play at Temple on Sunday (ESPN2/WatchESPN, 2 p.m. ET) and host Cincinnati on Tuesday (ESPN3, 7 p.m. ET) in what could be Auriemma's 900th win.

Here we take a look at 10 defining moments -- in chronological order -- of Auriemma's career with the Huskies. Admittedly, you could pick 10 times that many moments -- and still leave out some important ones. But these are all crucial in the development of a program that has -- under Auriemma -- become one of the gold standards in all of collegiate athletics.

1. Hiring Chris Dailey as an assistant

From the start, Auriemma had a vision of what UConn -- and the sport in general -- could aspire to be. That took imagination, optimism and a lot of willpower. Those were all things that Dailey shared, and so when Auriemma took over in Storrs, Connecticut, in 1985, Dailey was the perfect hire as an assistant coach. They were enough alike and enough different to complement each other. Neither could have guessed that three decades later, they'd still be at the same place working together. Then again, it's not really the same place at all, thanks to their sustained success.

2. Signing Rebecca Lobo

She had every necessary characteristic to become both the first true national star to represent the UConn women's hoops brand name, and also the longest-lasting. Lobo was a New Englander, with the wry wit of the region. She was talented, but also aware of her flaws and able to refine Auriemma's sarcasm into fuel for improvement. She was "the face" of the first NCAA championship team, but also its "voice," at least from the players' perspective. She has been exactly what Auriemma wants a "finished product" from UConn to be. And after her pro playing career ended, she became a respected basketball analyst.

3. Making the 1991 Final Four

While Lobo led the way for the Huskies to win the 1995 title, it was the Kerry Bascom-led Huskies who broke through on a national stage first in 1991. That was just six years after Auriemma had come to Storrs. And even though UConn didn't make it to the '91 title game -- losing in the semifinals to Virginia, where Auriemma previously had worked as an assistant -- the Huskies had made their breakthrough. The next time they got a chance at the Final Four, they won the title.

4. Beating Tennessee in first meeting in 1995

That next chance would come four years later, when the Lobo-led Huskies went undefeated. It might seem mandatory that the '95 NCAA final would be on this list. But we're saying the "defining" moment in that historic season was the Huskies' victory over Tennessee in the schools' first meeting. That January showdown before a packed Gampel Pavilion confirmed the Huskies were a serious threat for the NCAA championship. And it signaled a clear challenge to the program that was at the top of the heap, Tennessee. Might UConn still have won the '95 championship if the Huskies had lost that regular-season matchup? They might have ... but they wouldn't have been perfect.

5. Signing Diana Taurasi

Everyone who saw Taurasi play high school/club ball knew she'd be an epic game-changer for women's basketball no matter what college got her. When it was UConn, a connection was cemented between Taurasi and Auriemma that is still bearing fruit today. Auriemma challenged her mightily during her freshman year, but then consoled her after a 1-of-15 shooting performance in UConn's national semifinal loss to Notre Dame. Auriemma and Taurasi would go on to win the next three NCAA titles, and they're still together with the U.S. national team.

6. Winning the 2000 NCAA title

It's not as if there was a serious question about whether UConn was a one-hit wonder after 1995. Still, Auriemma was eager to add another title, and it took what surely seemed to him to be a long time. UConn lost to Tennessee in the '96 national semifinals, to the Lady Vols again in the '97 regional final, to NC State in the '98 Elite Eight, and to Iowa State in the '99 Sweet 16. Then, in 2000, the Final Four was in Auriemma's hometown of Philadelphia, with Tennessee as the opponent in the final. Auriemma ended up with his second championship in the perfect setting.

7. Signing Maya Moore

The Huskies didn't reach the Final Four for three years after Taurasi graduated in 2004, but Moore was on the way. Winning the recruiting battle for her set the stage for four consecutive trips to the Final Four in her Huskies career, two NCAA titles ... and the deep-freezing of UConn's relationship with Tennessee. The Lady Vols also desperately wanted Moore, and various allegations about her recruitment further soured a UConn-Tennessee relationship that already had gone south. Tennessee and UConn haven't played since 2007.

8. Becoming U.S. national team coach

Auriemma previously had been involved in various USA Basketball initiatives. But moving into the "head honcho" coaching role for the senior women's basketball team with that organization was a new challenge. So far, so great: Auriemma-led U.S. teams have won two gold medals at the world championship in 2010 and 2014, and a gold in the 2012 London Olympics. The Americans are the favorites for the upcoming Rio Games of 2016.

9. Winning the 2010 NCAA title

It was the final piece of the puzzle to complete two consecutive undefeated seasons, but the Huskies did not play typical UConn basketball that night in San Antonio. They were, frankly, terrible in the first half of the championship matchup with Stanford. But the Cardinal weren't much better, resulting in Stanford holding a hideous 20-12 lead at the break. It didn't get a whole lot better in the second half, but the Huskies played well enough to rally and pull out a 53-47 victory. Auriemma has always taken pride in his teams being at their best for NCAA finals, but this game showed that he could coax his Huskies across the finish line even when they were struggling.

10. Tying Pat Summitt for most women's NCAA championships in 2013

Despite all the acrimony that built up -- and still exists in some cases -- between UConn and Tennessee, Auriemma has always respected what Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt means to the game. When UConn won its eighth NCAA title in 2013, Auriemma tied Summitt for most national championships in D-I women's basketball. In his news conference after the final, Auriemma said Summitt was the professional colleague he always measured himself against, and that it was a proud accomplishment for him to be tied.