Why UConn brought Tonya Cardoza back as an assistant coach

The Huskies' new assistant's return couldn't have come at a better time for the program.

Tonya Cardoza (left) demonstrates a drill with Ben Kantor (right) | Photo: Ian Bethune

Welcome to the UConn WBB Weekly, a recap of everything that happened in the world of UConn women’s basketball over the past week from the team that runs The UConn Blog.

Sign up to get the Weekly in your inbox every Thursday or subscribe to get our premium newsletter which includes film breakdowns, analysis, recruiting coverage, and more!


Last week’s Weekly:


Why UConn brought Tonya Cardoza back

When the NCAA allowed women’s basketball teams to hire two additional assistant coaches, UConn went with a pair of familiar faces.

Ben Kantor filled one spot, the team’s former director of video who stepped in as a temporary assistant during the 2021 NCAA Tournament when both Geno Auriemma and Shea Ralph were absent due to COVID-19.

The other went to Tonya Cardoza, an assistant from 1994 until 2008, when she took over the head job at Temple. Even though she’d been away from the program for 15 years — during which, Maya Moore played nearly her entire career, Breanna Stewart came and went and the Huskies won over half (six of 11) their national championships — Cardoza stepped in like she hadn’t missed a day.

“She's very quiet… I don't think she spoke for the first three years that she was here,” Geno Auriemma joked. “Now to see her so many years later, having been a head coach and having had the experience that she had, it took her exactly one practice to feel like ‘I'm back where I belong.’”

That’s exactly what UConn was looking for. The Huskies are an insular program, highlighted by the fact that their last five assistant coaching hires have either played, coached or done both in Storrs before. The last time they hired someone without any experience in the program was Marisa Moseley back in 2009.

UConn puts a premium on institutional knowledge — of which Cardoza has plenty.

“We brought her back because she has the ability to impact our players in a way that she understands, ‘This is what we want. This is who we are,’” Auriemma explained. “And she has the experience to be able to do it.”

Cardoza is also in a unique position on the staff. When the NCAA allowed teams to hire two new coaches, the rule change came with a caveat: The new assistants couldn’t do any off-campus recruiting. That means Kantor and Cardoza will focus all their time and energy on coaching — whereas Auriemma, Chris Dailey, Jamelle Elliott and Morgan Valley still have to worry about recruiting which sometimes means missing practices while on the road.

The timing of Cardoza’s return couldn’t be better, either. The Huskies have one of their most talented and deepest backcourts in years with Paige Bueckers, Nika Mühl, Azzi Fudd, Caroline Ducharme, KK Arnold, Qadence Samuels and Ashlynn Shade — which just happens to be the position that Cardoza knows best.

During her first stint at UConn, she coached the likes of Jennifer Rizzotti, Shea Ralph, Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi and Renee Montgomery. Cardoza understands what it takes to be great.

“There's a lot of guards that wouldn't be up on that wall without Tonya’s help,” Auriemma said, referencing the wall in the Werth Champions Center that features all the national players of the year and first team All-Americans in the program’s history.

Bueckers has already gotten herself on the wall after a standout freshman year but that feels like a lifetime ago after two separate knee injuries forced her to sit out most of the last two seasons. Fudd seemed to be on that track last year until a pair of knee injuries derailed her season.

As for everyone else at the position, Mühl owns the program’s assist records, Ducharme’s shown promise and the freshmen have all impressed during the European trip, but they all have plenty of work to do if they want to sniff All-American status.

The good news? That’s Cardoza’s specialty and so far, the early returns have been positive.

“She has such a great rapport with the players,” Auriemma said. “She hasn't gotten after them yet — but she will.”

Best of social media

Geno’s happy to be back in his home country:

Paige being Paige:

Azzi ain’t messing around:

Nika Mühl was happy to be home:

Huskies in Italy:

Lou and Dorka were reunited:

Join the conversation

or to participate.