When midnight struck on the east coast late Tuesday, Geno Auriemma wasn't about to call it a day.
No one would have blamed him, though. With the Seattle Storm holding a nine-point lead on the Phoenix Mercury with two minutes to go in Game 2 of the best-of-five WNBA semifinals, it would have been easy for the University of Connecticut women's basketball coach to turn off the television.
Surely, the Storm would finish the job with veteran point guard Sue Bird and league MVP Breanna Stewart guiding them. But the Mercury had the third former Huskies' star on the KeyArena floor late, Diana Taurasi, and you know the rest of the line.
"Against any other opponent, Sue would be pretty sure that the game was over," Auriemma said Thursday. "But she also knew what could happen in that 1:30 with D on the court. That is what has made the games so compelling. You have two great players, and the only player in the world that they're afraid of is right across from them."
Taurasi scored 11 points in the final two minutes, including a game-tying 3-pointer with 3.6 seconds to go to send the game to overtime. But Bird's layup with 1:03 left in the extra session put Seattle in front and her two free throws with 2.1 seconds remaining iced the Storm's 91-87 win that gave them a 2-0 lead in the series. They can advance to the WNBA Finals for the first time since 2010 Friday night by beating the Mercury in Phoenix.
For the coach who helped them earn the 2002 national championship at UConn and two Olympic (2012, 2016) and two FIBA world championship gold medals (2010, 2014), it's been must-watch TV.
"I made a comment to a guy in an interview before the first game about what to watch for," Auriemma said. "With those two, it's always fascinating to watch how they will impact the game and they will do it at the most crucial moments. Sue will do something that will put Seattle in charge and then D will respond, and they'll go back and forth, back and forth.
"That's how it was Tuesday night and they do it in different ways."
Bird finished with 19 points and six assists Tuesday night in a performance that followed a Game 1 double-double. Taurasi had 28 points, six rebounds and nine assists, but did come up short on a couple of jump shots in the overtime, perhaps the effect of Phoenix playing its sixth game in 12 days.
In four playoff games, including single-elimination wins over the Dallas Wings and Connecticut Sun, the 36-year-old Taurasi is averaging 26.5 points, four rebounds and eight assists with a 3.2 assist-to-turnover ratio. The Storm, who recorded the league's best record to earn a double bye into the semifinals, had six days off before Game 1. In their two games, the 37-year-old Bird is averaging 14.5 points, three rebounds, 1.5 steals and eight assists with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 8.0.
"Sue's not going to get 30 points and do it like D does," Auriemma said. "But at the same time, Sue will make the right play, set the right tone, get the ball to the right person at the right time with the right pass, and when she needs to make a layup or make a jump shot.
"D will do it in ways that are more dramatic. The other night before that last stretch of regulation, I got a text from my son, Mike, that said, 'D is about to go full D.' Two minutes later, it's going to overtime. If you've watched her play all these years, the ones who know her, they can see it coming."
Auriemma noted that Bird was the closest defender to Taurasi on the game-tying shot. As the ball went up, Bird faced Taurasi and only turned when the ball was about to find nothing but net like she knew what was coming. When Bird was fouled in the final seconds of overtime, Taurasi dropped her head like she knew there was no way her former teammate on the biggest stages would miss.
"That's because they did know," Auriemma said with a laugh.
While Auriemma takes pride in the accomplishments of his former guards, he was thrilled for Stewart, who became the fourth player from UConn to win MVP honors joining Taurasi (2009), Tina Charles (2012) and Maya Moore (2014). No other school has had more than two.
Stewart ranked second in the league in scoring (career-high 21.8), third in rebounding (8.4), seventh in blocks (1.44) and eighth in steals (1.35) during the regular season and is averaging 27.5 points and 5.5 rebounds in two playoff games.
"Her talent has always been off the charts. She's always been confident," Auriemma said. "But Stewie decided that having a body fueled on just skills is not the winning edge. Once she decided to take care of a diet, take care of her body and take it to another level with her conditioning, she could take full advantage of all of her talents. Now she's out there and she acts like she's the best player in the league."
The Storm-Mercury winner will face either the Atlanta Dream or Washington Mystics in the WNBA Finals. If Seattle wins the league crown, Stewart will become the 11th player to own NCAA and WNBA titles along with Olympic and FIBA world championship gold medals. That list includes six former Huskies -- Taurasi, Bird, Moore, Swin Cash, Asjha Jones and Kara Wolters.