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UConn Coach Defends Sales Shot

February 26, 1998 GMT

Geno Auriemma wanted a happy ending. Now the story won’t go away.

The Connecticut coach assailed the media Thursday for sensationalizing the gift shot that allowed Nykesha Sales to set a record, prompting a debate about the integrity of women’s basketball.

``You guys just want a freaking story. And I gave you something to write about for two days,″ he said during a conference call. ``We’re feeding the fire. So let’s just get on with it.″

Auriemma contends the shot, which allowed Sales to break the school scoring record, was a gesture of affection for a deserving player. But even as friends and many colleagues rallied behind Auriemma, others insist the move trivialized the women’s game.

Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese, who approved the staged shot for the start of the Connecticut-Villanova game Tuesday night, conceded he would never have approved a similar ploy in men’s basketball. He said male and female athletes should not be treated the same.

``It’s a women’s sport; this was a female player,″ he told the New York Daily News. ``I am a man. I am not going to pretend to handle decisions on (men and women) exactly the same way.″

Tranghese was traveling by train from New York to Providence, R.I., and could not be immediately reached for comment, the Big East office said.

Barbara Kennelly, the Connecticut congresswoman running for governor, said Tranghese should retract his comments, noting women for the last 25 years have ``competed at the highest levels of their sports and broken down stereotypes.″

``These efforts deserve our praise, not the thoughtless criticism offered by Mr. Tranghese,″ she said.

Auriemma is held in high esteem in Connecticut and the basketball community for the success of the Huskies. He is rarely, if ever, subjected to negative publicity.

The Hartford Courant, Connecticut’s largest newspaper, and several others in the state, were highly critical of the shot. One syndicated radio host even called Auriemma a ``pig.″

``I’m a pig? Because I did something nice for a kid,″ Auriemma asked.

Auriemma, in turn, called an ESPN Sportscenter host ``stupid″ and an ``idiot,″ ripped a radio host for reducing his daughter to tears, and questioned the manhood of male callers to radio shows. He said many were unemployed and probably too afraid to call while their wives were home, if they had wives.


The furor began shortly after UConn’s regular-season finale at Villanova. In a prearranged deal with Wildcats coach Harry Perretta, Sales was allowed to take an uncontested layup for her 2,177th and 2,178th points, eclipsing the school record set by Kerry Bascom from 1987-91. Villanova got a matching freebie, and the Huskies won in overtime.

Many coaches contend no harm was done because no rules were broken. They add that the former record-holder signed off on the idea, and it was a school record, not a league or NCAA record.

``Sales has embraced what a true champion is all about,″ Rutgers coach Vivian Stringer said. ``My hat goes off to Geno, the program and Nykesha. The gesture itself was one of being humane. And I wish that more people could be more humane.″

St. Joseph’s men’s coach Phil Martella, a friend of Auriemma’s who talked with the UConn coach Sunday night, said he doesn’t understand the fuss. He also questioned whether there be would be this kind of commotion if a school with a lower profile had orchestrated a similar event.

``I think it was a statement by a coach to show the love he has for a player and what she has done for the program,″ he said. ``I wonder if it was not UConn women ... whether there would be such an uproar.″