Arena builders

Auriemma, VanDerveer and Walz join Staley in bringing familiar notoriety to the Final Four

With a combined 80 years of coaching, UConn’s Geno Auriemma and Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer are two of six all-time coaches with more than 1,000 wins in women’s college basketball. This week, they join South Carolina’s Dawn Staley and Louisville’s Jeff Walz — both power builders in their own right — on the Target Center floor as the quad of Women’s Final Four coaching icons.

“We’re dream-dealers for young people,” Staley said after the Gamecocks defeated Creighton to reach the Final Four. “The kids on our team want to win. They want to go to the Final Fours. They want to win national championships. We’re making memories for life.”

(Tap here to read Kent Youngblood’s story on Dawn Staley)

Here’s a look at the coaches who lead the teams in the Women’s Final Four.

It’s been 27 years since Geno Auriemma led UConn to its first NCAA championship. The Huskies coach said every detail of that 1995 Final Four at Target Center was etched in his mind, the unforgettable start to an incredible run.

Since then, Auriemma and the Huskies have won 10 more NCAA titles, creating one of the most dominant programs in college sports history. On the eve of this Final Four — its 22n/a overall and 14and in a row – Auriemma feels a bit more introspective. While it may seem routine for UConn to be in this location, the coach has never seen it that way, and arriving here after a tough 37and the season makes it all the more precious.

“I think you’re thinking more,” Auriemma, 68, said. “You appreciate more. Every year that you continue, you are reminded of how hard it really is. ”

Born in Montella, Italy, Auriemma – whose first name is Luigi – came to America with his family when he was 7 years old. UConn had only one winning season before arriving on campus in 1985. Under his leadership, the program won 11 NCAA championships. , went six undefeated seasons and won 55 conference crowns, while every player who stayed four years earned a degree.

Auriemma’s numbers are simply staggering. His career record is 1,148-149, and that .885 winning percentage is the highest ever in college play, men’s or women’s. He has the most NCAA tournament wins (129) in history. Auriemma also won two Olympic gold medals as a head coach, leading Team USA to Summer Games titles in 2012 and 2016.

After the Huskies’ double overtime win over North Carolina State in the Elite Eight, Auriemma wiped away tears. When UConn won their NCAA title in 1995, their son, Michael, was 6 and got lost at Target Center. Auriemma will return as a grandfather, grateful to have coached in another Final Four.

“When you’re younger you think, ‘I’ve still got a million in me,” he told ESPN. “You get to a certain age when you’re like, ‘I don’t know how many have quits.’ It means more.”


Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer noticed her basketball team wasn’t focused during their cinema session last week on Sweet Sixteen’s 72-66 win over Maryland, so she quit the meeting room to everyone.

After the players returned, VanDerveer said she had special treatment for them if they were more engaged in the video session this time around.

This treat was a chance to work on the Electric Slide line dance, so they could perform it on the court if they won the Spokane Regional to earn a trip to the Final Four in Minneapolis. The Cardinal is here to defend last year’s national championship, after toppling Texas 59-50 on Sunday.

“We don’t look to the future, but we have to plan ahead,” VanDerveer said. “So if we’re in a situation where we can do that, let’s practice and make sure everyone knows the dance.”

One of the highlights of the NCAA Women’s Tournament this year was the 68-year-old Stanford Hall of Fame coach lined up with his Final Four cap turned inside out, Electric Sliding on the floor next to his players.

VanDerveer is an avid motivator, but she’s also adept at a different type of dance this time of year. Stanford played in its 34th consecutive NCAA tournament this season, which includes three national titles in 1990, 1992 and 2021.

Before returning to the Stanford program in 1985, VanDerveer coached Ohio State to three NCAA tournaments, including the Elite Eight. A native of Massachusetts, she started coaching in Idaho in 1978, three years after her playing career ended in Indiana.

VanDerveer told Stanford players they couldn’t use their cameras to capture the moment working with All-America guard Haley Jones on the Electric Slide last week. But the idea lightened the mood and showed the confidence she had in them to win.

Of course, everyone on social media saw videos of VanDerveer and his team Cardinal showing off their moves at Spokane Arena over the weekend – and they were a huge hit.

“Sometimes you just think about things, like different things that will help your team stay loose,” VanDerveer said. “You know, kind of the whole idea of ​​dancing, and they know I can’t dance, so they look at me and laugh… It was all good.”


Louisville senior forward Emily Engstler’s eyes widened when asked about coach Jeff Walz after Monday night’s 62-50 win over Michigan to win the Wichita Regional.

Walz, overseeing the fourth trip of the Final Four program, stood up, approached and kissed Engstler, returning the support she had just given him in a dynamo defensive effort against the Wolverines.

“I love you too, man,” Engstler told Walz. “He’s a good person and he’s a good person on the pitch. He’s really fun to play for. He lets you be yourself and he protects you and you can trust him, and that is tough in this industry. So, I’m grateful for him, and I’m going to do everything I can to give him a national championship.”

Walz, 50, has been a galvanizing force on many occasions, from his days as an assistant at Minnesota (2001-02) and Maryland, where the Terrapins won a national title in 2006, to his 15 seasons making Louisville women’s basketball a powerhouse. .

The Cardinals’ stamina under Walz hinges on relationships as thick as defending the press that their opponents struggle to break.

“That moment on that podium,” Walz said, “when those ladies said what they said, that was — that replaced us winning that game [Monday] night. That’s what it meant to me.”

Louisville’s press defense foundation, forcing 21 turnovers per game in the tournament, was shaped in Walz’s first coaching jobs as an assistant to Western Kentucky and Nebraska under Paul Sanderford of 1996 to 2001.

As fate would have it, Sanderford and her fellow 2022 Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame inductees will be recognized in Friday’s semifinals.

“Playing in the Final Four the year Paul enters the Hall of Fame means the world to me,” Walz said. “It touches my heart to know that we are going to share this moment.”

Walz hopes more special moments will follow, should this Louisville team overturn a much-vaunted South Carolina program on Friday night for third place for the title in its tenure. They won in two decades. All that’s missing is a Cardinals Championship.

“[Associate head coach] Steph Norman and my team, we’ve been in four Final Fours with four completely different teams,” Walz said. “We’re very proud of the fact that we’ve been able to build teams over the years.