Cincinnati's Elliott knows what all are up against vs UConn
CINCINNATI (AP) Jamelle Elliott stood at the top of the circle formed by her Cincinnati players at midcourt. The former UConn star and assistant coach was getting her team ready to face the ultimate challenge.
A day later, the Bearcats would be hosting No. 1 UConn .
Elliott referenced New England's record comeback to win the Super Bowl in overtime the previous evening, how it's a reminder that a team should never give up. She didn't mention the Huskies' 97-game winning streak - no need for that.
Dressed all in black, Elliott emphasized that her team can't blink in the face of the team that never seems to lose.
''One thing we've got to do: Show up,'' Elliott said Monday afternoon, her voice rising for emphasis.
This kind of talk has gone on in arenas around the country since the 2014-15 season, when the Huskies' streak began. There have been some close calls, including a 78-76 win at Florida State on Nov. 14. But so far, nobody's been able to pull off the streak-busting upset.
Just as teams dreamed of finishing off UCLA's streak in men's basketball - the one that ended at 88 games on Notre Dame's court on Jan. 19, 1974 - the Bearcats (14-8, 5-4 American Athletic) have it in the back of their minds that they could be the ones associated with a great sports upset. But they also know that a whole lot has to go right.
''If it's our day, it's always a possibility - if the stars align,'' senior guard Bianca Quisenberry said before practice. ''But if not, we always want to give them good competition and prepare to make ourselves better in a game like this.''
That's part of every team's approach: Don't make the game bigger than it is. All that does is play into UConn's hands.
And nobody knows that better than Elliott. She was a star for the Huskies and an assistant coach before moving to Cincinnati in her first head coaching job for the 2009-10 season. She remembers what it was like to be on the other side, watching teams come in wide-eyed.
''They'd come in to shoot around and they're looking at the rafters, looking at the national championships (banners), looking at the 10,000 fans, and you can get caught up in that,'' Elliott said. ''It's well-deserved, but it feeds into the fire of you've lost the game before it started.''
The Bearcats have never beaten the Huskies, going 0-16. The last dozen have been during Elliott's tenure, with the closest loss by 30 points.
Facing UConn for the first time is one of those moments that leave an impression.
''The first time I played them, I think I was kind of in awe just because it became a reality,'' Quisenberry said. ''Coming from high school, you hear about UConn. To seem them for the first time - I wasn't scared, but it was like, OK, I actually get to do this. It was fun being in that position.''
Elliott remains a close friend of Huskies coach Geno Auriemma. She was on his staff as the United States won its sixth Olympic gold medal in women's basketball in Rio de Janeiro last summer. They had planned to have dinner on Monday night to catch up on things.
And then, UConn (22-0, 10-0) will try to get its streak one win closer to triple digits.
''He's a mentor who plays a huge role in my life decisions,'' Elliott said. ''Once the game starts, we're competitors. He wants his team to continue to be successful, and I want my team to grow.
''After the game, we'll go back to having that personal relationship I've had since I was 18 years old.''
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