Even so, Bird has rarely been one to put herself first on the court. A gifted shooter who as a preteen entertained crowds by shooting three-pointers at halftime of her older sister's high school games in Syosset, N.Y., Bird prefers to distribute the ball. Her unselfishness has both aggravated and impressed Auriemma. "What's beautiful about Sue is she's not just a point guard because she plays the position, she is that position," he says. "She not only wants to know every option in our offense, but she also wants to know everything about all the guys on the team. She cares about them deeply, and that's what makes everybody respect her."
"Sue doesn't realize how good she is," adds Taurasi. "She could average 25 [points] a night, but she's in it to make others better."
That's why her position as UConn's designated hardware collector—she won the Wade Trophy as well as the AP and Naismith Player of the Year awards—makes Bird a little uncomfortable. "When you have teammates who are just as talented as you are, it's kind of weird to get all the attention," she says.
Upon receiving the AP award last Thursday, Bird sheepishly admitted that, as is the case with most awards she wins, her parents would probably have to read about this one in the paper. "I feel silly running back to my room to call my mom and say, 'Guess what? I won an award,' " she says.
Had Bird not been humble when she arrived at Connecticut, Auriemma's system would have drilled humility into her. Last Saturday morning, while the rest of the country was reading about UConn's domination of Tennessee, a group of Huskies stood on a balcony at La Mansi�n del Rio hotel and fretted over all the things they'd messed up—the layups they'd allowed, the rebounds they should have gotten, the screens they failed to set. "You might have done 20,000 things right, but the one thing you did wrong will be the thing Coach shows on tape," says Cash.
Few egos blossom on Auriemma's watch. "He sets us up to fail in practice every day," says Bird. "He might put us in a situation where we're five playing against eight. You can't turn around and say, 'But they have eight people!' You have to figure out a way, and once you do, that's when you start building confidence in yourself. That's why we have confidence in each other. When you're in a tough situation in a game, you know you can do it because you've done it every day in practice."
Auriemma's team-oriented system is one reason he'll continue to be a regular at the Final Four. Another is talent, which he continues to attract from all over the country. Connecticut's recruiting class of 2002 is already being touted—by people outside the program, of course—as the next "greatest ever." The load of top 15 talent includes Naismith high school player of the year Ann Strother, a multifaceted 6'1" guard out of Highlands Ranch, Colo.; Willnett Crockett, a laid-back 6'3" forward in the Asjha Jones mold from Harbor City, Calif.; 5'11" point guard Nicole Wolff, the confident daughter of Boston University men's coach Dennis Wolff, who has some similarities to Bird; and Barbara Turner, a lively 6-foot forward from Cleveland who might sharpen Auriemma's already honed wit. "We already got Eddie Haskell," Auriemma told The Hartford Courant recently, referring to the insouciant Taurasi. "Now we're getting Eddie Murphy." The Huskies are still hoping to sign Gillian Goring, a 6'7" center who's considered the top recruit at her position. A native of Trinidad, Goring has been playing in Waterloo, Iowa.
The class of 2006 has the highest standard to measure up to, not just in terms of winning, but also in terms of teamwork. When Bird and Taurasi—"the best offensive backcourt I've seen in my 28 years," according to Summitt—struggled on the perimeter against the Sooners, hitting nary a three for the first time all year, the frontcourt of Cash, Jones and Williams took over, pounding undersized Oklahoma inside for 51 points and 31 rebounds. "That was, without question, the most difficult game we've had to play," said Auriemma, who watched the Sooners whittle UConn's lead from 16 points to six with 2:22 left. " Oklahoma was unbelievably good."
But not good enough to foil the Huskies' quest for perfection. When the buzzer sounded, all earlier bets were off. Bird walked to a TV camera and Cash donned a radio headset while Jones and Williams embraced their teammates. As a huge portion of the 29,619 spectators roared, the four seniors finally shed tears.