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Lori Riley | The Hartford Courant | February 8, 2018

Remembering Kay Yow: UConn set for Play4Kay Game Saturday

Just over 11 years ago, the UConn women's basketball team played North Carolina State in an NCAA tournament regional semifinal game in Fresno, Calif.

It was a highly emotional game. Earlier that season, in November of 2006, NC State's coach Kay Yow had been diagnosed with a recurrence of breast cancer and took a leave of absence from her team. But upon her return, the Wolfpack went on a magical run, winning 12 of their last 15 games, including a victory over No. 1 Duke. The night North Carolina State's Reynolds Coliseum court was named after Yow, the Wolfpack beat No. 2 North Carolina.

They made it all the way to Fresno, where UConn was waiting. Everybody was cheering for Yow and her team, even members of UConn coach Geno Auriemma's own family, he said at the time.

UConn won 78-71. Yow, who won over 700 games and was a Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer and a gold medal-winning Olympic coach, made it through another season before she had to stop coaching. She died Jan. 24, 2009 at age 66.

Her legacy lives on through the Play4Kay movement, part of the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, a non-profit she established before her death. Since its inception, over $5 million has been given to women's cancer research. The Play4Kay initiative is the fund's biggest fundraiser.

No. 1 UConn (23-0) played in UCF's Play4Kay game Wednesday night, which drew over 6,000 fans to CFE Arena in Orlando. UConn's Play4Kay game is Saturday against Wichita State (1 p.m.) at the XL Center.

Auriemma went way back with Yow, back to his days as an assistant coach at Virginia. He faced her team as the brash young coach of an upstart UConn team in 1991 when UConn beat highly-touted NC State at the NCAA regional semifinals at The Palestra in Philadelphia en route to the Huskies' first Final Four berth. He faced her again in 1998 in the regional semifinals in Dayton, Ohio, when Yow's team won and she went to her only Final Four. And then again in Fresno, at the twilight of her career.

"There were a lot of big games, a lot of memorable games," Auriemma said. "From when I was an assistant, through all those games, Kay never changed. She was always the same."

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When she died, the late Tennessee coach Pat Summitt summed up Yow's demeanor and approach to coaching with a story about coaching the 1984 Olympic team with Yow, who was her assistant. Summitt was mad that Lynette Woodard, the team's captain, wouldn't take a charge so she made her take six charges in a row in practice. Yow watched and then approached Summitt.

"She said, 'Sure would be a big loss if Lynette got hurt, wouldn't it?'" Summitt recalled on the day Yow died. "We didn't take any more charges after that."

That was Yow, quiet but determined. She coached for 38 years. She fought cancer since 1987 when she had a partial radical mastectomy. She had another tumor removed in 2004 and in 2006, she coached while undergoing radiation. Later that year, it was discovered that the cancer had spread to her bones and liver. But after a short leave of absence, she returned to coaching.

She was excited to be in Fresno that spring.

"I feel good," she said when her team arrived for the regional. "I feel well taken care of."

Yow coached up until three weeks before her death, when she decided to step down after missing four games due to low energy levels.

"Stepping away from coaching is one of the hardest decisions I've had to make," Yow said at the time.

This article is written by Lori Riley from The Hartford Courant and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.