Geno Auriemma passes John Wooden with his 11th NCAA title

Geno: There are no more places to conquer (3:12)

Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma explains how important Connecticut players Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck were to winning UConn's 11th national title. (3:12)

INDIANAPOLIS -- Why has Connecticut's Geno Auriemma won so many national championships? There are multiple intersecting specific reasons that have helped in the construction of the Huskies' women's basketball dynasty that claimed its 11th NCAA title, all under Auriemma, on Tuesday. But there is also one overriding factor.

Which is this: Some people are exceptionally great at what they do.

Why is Mark Zuckerberg a gazillionaire? Why has Meryl Streep earned 19 Academy Award nominations? Why do the Beatles remain the best-selling musical artists of all time, even 46 years after they broke up?

The big "why" for the extreme end of greatness is always an extreme talent. Then there are other variables: opportunity, geography, timeliness, an ability to seize the moment.

Auriemma has that level of talent, and he has taken advantage of all those variables as he has guided his program to heights no one else in women's basketball has. Yes, he also technically "passed" UCLA's John Wooden for NCAA Division I hoops titles -- Wooden won his 10th and last in 1975 -- but Auriemma has always tread very lightly and with great respect in regard to that topic.

"When I was a kid, I was a great admirer of the UCLA basketball program," Auriemma said. "I knew every one of their players. I watched them play as much as I could. I read everything about them."

Auriemma has often referenced a story about how he met Wooden at one point years ago and spoke with him. Then later, when Wooden was asked about Auriemma's success, he said that Auriemma sounded like a nice young man, and he'd like to meet him sometime.

Auriemma has always laughed at that, and never taken the slightest offense that this legendary older gentleman, the gold standard of basketball coaches, didn't remember who he was.

But that's a real side of Auriemma: far more gracious and humble than his critics think he is.

"These are not things that you easily put words to. Even us as coaches, we looked at each other after the game and we just kind of shake our heads." Geno Auriemma, when asked to put Tuesday's victory in perspective

After Tuesday's triumph, Auriemma was asked again about Wooden, who died in 2010. But what Auriemma really wanted to talk about was the many players who've made these 11 championships possible.

He said that when he had looked around Monday night, on the eve of the championship game, at a gathering of former Huskies, it really hit him.

"I remember taking a step back and saying, 'This is an unbelievable scene,' " Auriemma said. "What those 11 national championships mean to me is how many great people I've been around."

Scott Rueck, coach of the Oregon State team that UConn dismantled in the semifinals, perfectly summed up the essence of why the Huskies are so difficult to beat.

"When you win as long as they have," Rueck said, "you create a momentum and an expectation that is innately conducive to winning. You know how to handle situations. The new class comes in. They learn from the people that have been there and done that."

Tuesday, no matter how big the Huskies' lead got, Auriemma was still working hard, wanting to make sure his team was doing everything right. When Syracuse made a 16-0 run in the third quarter, it annoyed him even though it didn't really put the Huskies in any peril.

What did he tell his team to counteract that brief flare-up of Syracuse power?

"We talked about that you can't stumble into the history books," Auriemma said. "If you're going to do this, you need to do it the right way. You need to break through the finish line.

"But that's the only time we talked about the meaning of the game, how big it is."

That's one of the key elements to Auriemma's success: how he keeps the focus on the details of each play, and is never distracted by the enormity of everything he and his program are accomplishing.

Maybe it's a little like how race-car drivers adjust so well to high speeds that going extremely fast seems normal, and not even actually fast. However, no matter how used to it they are, even the best drivers sometimes crash.

That has happened, in terms of NCAA tournament losses, to Auriemma a few times since his program won its first national championship in 1995. The Huskies actually haven't won every NCAA title since then, although it might sometimes feel that way.

But one place where things have never gone wrong for UConn is the actual championship game, where Auriemma is 11-for-11.

He doesn't really like to talk about why, and in fact tends to say he doesn't really know. Don't believe that, though. The people who have played for him say he makes the championship game just an extension of what the Huskies do every day of the season. And that is brilliant.

When current assistant Shea Ralph was a player for the Huskies in their second NCAA final, in 2000, she was expecting Auriemma to really amp things up before the last game of the season. But he didn't do that.

"What I realized is that when we get to that point, he doesn't want it to be any different," Ralph said. "He'll say, 'Even though this is the time we've been working for all year, we've also been preparing all year.'

"His speeches aren't any different. His bench demeanor isn't any different. He's almost more calm. And as a player, I appreciated that."

Auriemma and his top assistant, Chris Dailey, have been working together at UConn since 1985, and they had to build from the ground up. But once they got good, there was the advantage of a rather large East Coast media contingent that became interested. And Auriemma, the wise-cracking philosopher, was perfectly suited to engage reporters, even those who might have come to games initially very skeptical about women's basketball.

There was no denying, watching Auriemma's teams play and talking to him about it, that he was a fantastic coach. What Auriemma can't be held responsible for, though, is the notion that his program has become so good that it hinders interest in the sport.

That's not his problem, nor should he have to answer constant questions about it. But, of course, he gets them, and he answers. Sometimes with humor, sometimes with a bit of irritation. But always with a commitment to tell it like it is.

That said, when he was asked to put this latest championship into perspective, he acknowledged it was very hard even for such an orator as he is.

"These are not things that you easily put words to," Auriemma said. "Even us as coaches, we looked at each other after the game and we just kind of shake our heads."

He said he was more interested in how his players, particular seniors Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson, and Morgan Tuck, were mentally processing what they had just done.

"That's why we do this, right?" Auriemma said. "We coach, or we teach, or you raise kids because you want them to accomplish things that you never did. Or that are really hard to do, and enjoy doing it and have a love of it. And they do.

"We as coaches, we're so busy doing that, we don't have time to sit and think about what it means to us. We will, at some point. For sure. That's just not yet."

Indeed, Auriemma doesn't show any signs of losing his zest for adding to his massive trophy case. He'll be coaching the U.S. Olympic team later this summer, and then it will time to figure out what the Huskies will need to do after losing the caliber of players that they will after this season.

But Auriemma has done this so many times: reach an amazing height, and then climb to that level -- and higher -- again.

At this point, you expect nothing less.