STORRS, Conn. — Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma has a special place in his heart for Saint Joseph's University.
The Hall of Famer coached high school ball with Saint Joseph's men's coach Phil Martelli and got his first college coaching job as a Hawks assistant under women's coach Jim Foster in 1978. But Auriemma says he was a fan way before that, watching Jim Lynam play for the school in the 1960s.
"When you grow up down there, you either have your favorite school thrust on you or you just gravitate toward a certain school for whatever reason," Auriemma said. "I never saw myself as a Villanova guy or a Temple guy, certainly not a Penn guy. So even before I coached there, there was a huge love affair I had with Saint Joseph's University."
Auriemma will put that love aside on Tuesday when his top-ranked Huskies (35-0) face Saint Joseph's (23-9) in the second round of the NCAA tournament. UConn is looking for its 42nd consecutive win while hoping to finish the season with a ninth national championship and second in a row.
Saint Joseph's won its first NCAA tournament game in 14 years on Sunday, a 67-57 victory over Georgia.
"It's no secret that UConn is the best team in the country, but it's an opportunity," Saint Joseph's coach Cindy Griffin said. "If you're going to play in this tournament then why not play the best and challenge yourself against the best."
The Hawks are led by guard Erin Shields, who scored 18 points in the win over Georgia. Auriemma coached her mother, Renie Dunne Shields, at St. Joe's.
He also coached Griffin's sister, Kim Anderson House, at Bishop McDevitt high school in Philly. Griffin said she's always respected Auriemma's coaching, but that's not what she remembers most about his days in Philadelphia.
"Geno had some crazy hair," she said. "You know he had that Afro. Geno had some big hair when he was young, and I have my sister's yearbook to prove that."