UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- The Big East was in its fourth season when Geno Auriemma became the coach of the University of Connecticut women's basketball team in 1985.
The following March, the league sent two teams to the NCAA tournament for the first time.
The American Athletic Conference finished its fourth season Monday night and the Huskies remained perfect in league play (82-0) in that span. Top-seeded UConn capped off its latest run by rolling past No. 3 South Florida 100-44 in the AAC tournament final at Mohegan Sun Arena.
The AAC figures to get three in the 64-team NCAA field when it's announced Monday. The Huskies (32-0) will be the overall No. 1 seed with the league's automatic bid and will begin their bid for a fifth consecutive national championship either March 17 or 18 in a Bridgeport Regional first-round game at Gampel Pavilion. Temple (24-7, RPI 18 according to rpiratings.com) and USF (24-8, RPI 30) have made compelling cases for at-large bids. The league's RPI is fifth nationally, ahead of Power 5 Conference the Big Ten.
But with UConn so strong, the league is perceived by many as weak and the Hall of Fame coach doesn't buy it.
"I check the Top 25, and when Temple got in we had three teams in with us, South Florida and Temple," Auriemma said. "I think the Big Ten had Maryland, Ohio State and maybe one other. The SEC had three if I'm not mistaken. The Big 12 had Baylor, West Virginia and Oklahoma at the time. Not many. So the ACC because they took seven of our teams all of a sudden got way better, but every league has the same issues.
"It's just that we haven't been around long enough. This year our RPI was fifth of all the conferences in the country. So things are happening. Are they happening fast enough? No. Are they happening as fast as I want them to happen? No. But I said that in the Big East, too, then all of a sudden it happened and I was pissed because every night was a battle."
When UConn won its first Big East tournament title and made its first NCAA tournament appearance in 1989, the league sent three teams to the Big Dance for the first time. When the Huskies won their first national championship in 1995, two Big East teams -- UConn and Seton Hall -- reached the NCAA tournament. The next two years, even with the addition of Notre Dame, Rutgers, and West Virginia, it was the only the Huskies and Irish in the field of 64. By 2004, the Big East put eight teams in.
Maybe its wishful thinking by Auriemma that the AAC can grow in much the same way. But what happened over the weekend at the casino was UConn's continued domination. The Huskies' rout was their most lopsided victory in their 22 league championship game wins. The previous was a 42-point beating of Boston College in 2002 followed by a 39-pounding of Louisville in 2009, a Cardinals' team they would see again a month later in the national championship game.
Yes, UConn is 82-0 against AAC opponents. But the Huskies are also 66-1 against everyone else since the AAC started play.
"I think the level of competition has improved," Auriemma said. "You certainly had a shakeup in the standings this year. You had more teams that were more competitive. I have always said that if you take our team out, there are a lot of competitive games being played among everybody else.
"People have a tendency to forget, until Notre Dame got really, really good for a couple of years, there were many times in the old Big East that we would do the same thing. Maybe not to the same extent, but the same thing would happen. We would run through a tournament and not lose a game, not lose a half. I remember it happening early on, and it happened for a long time. We won (nine) straight Big East tournaments. It was the same way. It took awhile, but after awhile it does change. Does it ever change as fast as you want it to? Probably not. But what happens is schools change coaches or coaches change their recruiting or philosophy, and the next thing you know you've got a much more competitive environment."
The Huskies ran into a perfect storm Monday night. Four of USF's starters had played 40 minutes in each of its tourney wins over SMU and Temple. And the Bulls don't have the speed, quickness or athleticism to keep up with UConn on their best day.
Then there was Katie Lou Samuelson putting on a show for an entire nation to see. The sophomore guard scored a career high 40 points and was a NCAA record 10-for-10 from 3-point land. UConn scored the first 12 points and did not look back.
The average margin of victory in UConn's three AAC tournament wins was 42.0 points.
"We have a lot of pride in how we play, we try to come out focused, and sometimes we do it better than others," UConn forward Napheesa Collier said. "The fact we have done so well is a testament to our coaching staff and the players they recruit."
Samuelson was named the Most Outstanding Player with Collier and Gabby Williams joining her on the all-tournament team.
The Huskies will return to practice Friday and learn their NCAA draw Monday night. The Final Four is set for the American Airlines Center in Dallas March 31 and April 2.
"The way we did it (Monday) was a real high note that we wanted to end conference play on," Samuelson said. "Now we just want to keep going forward as the season goes on. It really helps us and makes us ready for whatever is going to come. We want to pick up from here and go forward every day."
While UConn, Temple, and USF will head to NCAA tournament play, four other league teams -- Central Florida, Tulane, SMU, and Cincinnati -- will be in consideration for WNIT bids.
So maybe the questions shouldn't be so much about the mediocrity of the AAC, but how good UConn is.
"The problem this league is going to have is they are always going to be viewed as 'Oh, they are in the league that Connecticut wins all the time,' " Auriemma said. "Well who wins the Big 12 every year? Baylor wins the Big 12 every year. And Maryland wins the Big Ten every year they have been in the league. Notre Dame went to the ACC and they win the league every year. And up until recently, Stanford wins every Pac-12 championship. So the same thing is happening at a lot of places, but people just love to point in our direction for a lot of different reasons."
UConn Class of 2017 signee Megan Walker (6-foot-1 wing, Chesterfield, Virginia) was named to the 2017 Naismith Trophy All-America first team on Wednesday. Walker is averaging 25.6 points and 7.5 rebounds per game for Monacan High (29-0), which will go for its third straight Class 4A state championship against King's Fork on Friday.
Joining Walker on the first team were fellow Class of 2017 stars Rellah Boothe (Texas), Dana Evans (Louisville), Anastasia Hayes (Tennessee), and Evina Westbrook (Tennessee).
UConn Class of 2018 commit Charli Collier (6-foot-4 forward, Baytown, Texas) was named to the Naismith All-America third team as was 2018 recruiting target Christyn Williams (5-foot-11 guard Little Rock, Arkansas). Collier and Williams were the only juniors to any of the Naismith five-player three teams.
Walker's fellow UConn Class of 2017 signees Mikayla Coombs (5-foot-8 guard, Buford, Georgia) and Lexi Gordon (6-foot wing, Fort Worth Texas) were Naismith honorable mention All-Americans.
On Tuesday, UConn Class of 2017 signee Andra Espinoza-Hunter (5-foot-11 guard, Ossining, New York) kept her season alive as she scored 19 of her 31 points in the second half of a 60-44 win over Monroe-Woodbury in a Class AA state regional semifinal. Ossining (20-5) will face Elmira (19-2) Saturday for the regional championship.