Geno says, "I called her Eddie Haskell. Everything was, No problem. Everything was a lark. D will say, 'I don't care what anyone thinks of me.' That's her style. That's what she says, and that's her stren'th"—he says strength Philly-style, without the g—"but sometimes your greatest stren'th is your greatest weakness, and I knew there were times when D was dying inside."
Her freshman year the Huskies had the whole 2000 championship starting lineup back, but late in the season two All-Americas, Shea Ralph and Svetlana Abrosimova, went out with injuries. "D just decides that she's going to take on both of their roles," Geno says. "Now remember, she's a freshman. She hadn't even started at the beginning of the season. But she does it." Geno ran isolation plays, clearing out for Diana. She was the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA East Regional.
Then, against Notre Dame, in the semis of the Final Four, disaster struck. The other Huskies were hot, but Diana was ice-cold. The freshman kept getting open, though, kept taking good shots...and kept missing. Notre Dame came back from 15 down in the second half to win going away. Diana made only one basket; she missed 14 shots, and when she fouled out, for once even Ms. Mona Lisa couldn't hold back the tears. Geno tried to console her. "Hey, man, relax," he said, grabbing her as she fled down the bench. "We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for you."
Amazingly, the terrible performance didn't haunt Diana. She'll even joke about it to bolster a teammate who has a bad game. "Hey, that's nothing," she'll say. "I shot 1 for 15 in the Final Four."
Bonnie Henrickson, the coach at Virginia Tech, says, "In many respects the most important game Diana ever played was that one against Notre Dame. That would have crippled a lot of players. With Diana, it elevated her."
"See," Geno explains, "in her mind it never happened. D lives in the moment more than anybody I've ever seen. The past is gone, and there is no future. It is only right now."
Anyway, after that came the wonder year. Taurasi's sophomore season UConn went 39-0; it really wasn't fair. Her four fellow starters, all seniors, would be among the first six players taken in the WNBA draft. The Huskies were on another planet. The latest lead anybody held on them all season was with 26 minutes to go. John Wooden said UConn was playing prettier basketball than any of the men's teams were playing. In the backcourt with Sue Bird, the college player of the year, Diana averaged 14.5 points. It could have been twice that. In a lopsided game she wouldn't shoot; she said she got a bigger bang from an assist than a basket.
What everybody says, one way or another, is that she sees. D sees things on the court that God hasn't arranged for other people to pick out.
In its own way, though, last season may have been more amazing than the golden gem the year before. The team was made up of Diana, some holdover subs, two redshirts and some callow frosh. The coaches were figuring six, eight, maybe even 10 losses. The first day of practice was a debacle. Afterward, though, Diana blithely bubbled, "This is going to be the ugliest undefeated team in history."
Diana had to do two things that were in utter conflict: carry the team yet build up the confidence of the other players so she wouldn't have to carry them. Jamelle Elliott says, "Geno kept preparing Diana for the double and triple team. 'You can't get frustrated, D. You gotta keep moving. You gotta make everybody else better.' " The Huskies started out winning. Then they kept winning. They beat Tennessee in Hartford, and a month later they took on No. 1 Duke in Durham. It was the first time Cameron Indoor Stadium had ever sold out for a girls' game. The Crazies came to cheer Alana Beard and the Blue Devils, confident of beating up Geno's kids and Diana. Coming into the game, Geno fed the Dookies red meat, ragging on their private-school elitism. "There are just as many Duke graduates working as waitresses as UConn graduates," he declared. "Of course, I'm sure Duke graduates work at better restaurants." The crowd hooted at him, pretty much ignoring the visiting players.