The circus is coming to Tulane on Monday night.
And the feature act is the 800-pound gorilla that is the Connecticut women’s basketball team.
At least that’s what Huskies Coach Geno Auriemma calls it whenever his teams makes its first appearance in a new location, as is the case at Tulane now that both schools are in the American Athletic Conference.
“Everybody always wants to know what the hubbub is all about,” Auriemma said. “So we want to put on a great show for people who have never seen us play before, hopefully in front of a full house that’s a loud and enthusiastic home crowd.
“To us, it’s all very flattering. We look at it as a source of pride for our program.”
UConn truly is the behemoth of its sport — statistically even more so than during its 90-game winning streak from 2008-11.
Since an 88-86 overtime loss at Stanford in the season’s second game — one that snapped a 47-game winning streak that included national championships in 2013 and 2014 that brought Auriemma’s total to a record nine — UConn has steamrolled its subsequent 25 opponents by an average margin of 88.8-46.1.
In conference games it’s a staggering 90.6-40.8 — almost 50 points per game — including an 87-39 Valentine’s Day thumping of Tulane.
For those who haven’t been following the Wave this year, Tulane is 20-7 and is currently projected as an NCAA tournament team.
Still, for Green Wave coach Lisa Stockton, that first meeting was the second-worst margin of defeat in her 21 years at the school and the worst in a conference game.
“Nobody beats you like UConn, because they do it through their offense,” Stockton said. “When we played LSU during their Final Four years, they’d beat us by about 15.
“When we played UConn up there, they had us down by 35 until the final six minutes when we finally ran out of gas. I was glad we’d kept it to 35 that long.”
Stockton also admired the fact that on a snowy, icy day in Storrs, Connecticut, more than 9,000 fans turned out for the game, drawn in part, no doubt, by the fact UConn was honoring its 1995 championship team, the school and Auriemma’s first.
Now, as then, the Huskies are doing it with overwhelming talent — talent drawn to UConn because nobody challenges good players to want to become great and prepares them for the next level like Auriemma, who recently surpassed Louisiana Tech’s Leon Barmore for the top career winning percentage (905-135, .871).
But such overwhelming talent advantage against game but outclassed foes like Tulane does present motivational problems.
“It’s difficult at times, no question about that,” Auriemma said. “They’re normal kids who want to compete and want to be challenged.
“So we challenge them every day to get better and not to worry about whether the team we’re playing might not be as talented as they are.”
That includes making sure his teams are prepared for every foe, regardless of its talent level, even though the Huskies usually are good enough to just roll the ball out and win if they choose too.
“You could tell they had scouted us well,” Stockton said. “It’s a sign of respect for an opponent, and we certainly appreciate that.”
Obviously things might be a little tougher for the Huskies night-in and night-out if they played in a stronger conference.
But when the Big East broke up and UConn didn’t make the cut for either the Big Ten (like Rutgers) or the ACC (like Notre Dame and Louisville), the Huskies were left in a league without anyone who can contend with them.
While Tulane and South Florida are at least bubble teams, the AAC is eighth in conference RPI (down from sixth last year when Louisville and Rutgers were still in the league).
And the Huskies are only No. 6 in team RPI, although that won’t prevent them from being a No. 1 seed.
But Auriemma is not publicly bemoaning his school’s conference situation.
“Most of the teams in our league were in Conference USA at some point, and for some of them, that’s still their point of reference,” he said. “They haven’t had time to prepare their programs to compete with us.
“Back when we won our first championship, the only other Big East team in the NCAA tournament that year was Seton Hall, so we’ve been down that road before. I think you’re going to see the other teams in our league get themselves in position to get better.”
“We could never compete with SEC and Big 12 schools over who we were playing,” she said. “Now we can tell recruits that they will be going against the best program in the country because we’re in the same conference.
“This puts us on a different stage.”
And while the Wave is decidedly overmatched Monday, Auriemma can envision the day when things could be different.
“In a perfect world, there will come a day like the one we had in 1995 when Tennessee came to our place as the No. 1 team and we beat them,” he said. “We’ll go into somebody’s sold-out arena, and they’ll beat us and things will change for them like it did for us.
“I can really see that happening. But I’m not ready to be in that kind of a giving mood quite yet.”