Outside the main room set up for the American Athletic Conference women's basketball media day, there was a placard showing the preseason forecast for the AAC as selected by the coaches.

All the coaches voted for Connecticut, naturally. Except you can't vote for yourself, so there was going to be a No. 1 next to another school's name.

Temple was picked second by the coaches behind the Huskies, but that No. 1 was next to another school, South Florida, the team picked third overall.

"It's obvious. Did he not know it was going to be that obvious?" Temple coach Tonya Cardoza joked that day.

No, she didn't give Geno Auriemma a hard time for not picking her team, she said.

We can handle that.

"Yeah, you can talk about how he didn't vote for me," Cardoza said.

Temple's head coach since 2008 merely worked at UConn as Auriemma's assistant before then, for 14 years.

As Temple opens Friday with a Big Five duel at St. Joseph's, this season's expectations aren't just from the outside. After two straight runs in the WNIT, the Owls are hoping to jump up a tournament.

Cardoza used the word thriving to describe how she felt the entire program was dealing with "knowing that we're expected to do well. We're embracing it."

One of the more interesting parts of that AAC media day was hearing Auriemma talked about Cardoza and vice versa.

"When we were looking for an assistant, and we hired her, I wasn't sure what we were getting because I hadn't been around her in forever," Auriemma said, although they did share a connection. Cardoza had played at Virginia, where Auriemma had been an assistant just before her time there.

"She didn't say a whole lot her first couple of years on the staff," UConn's coach said. "Maybe in four or five years, she probably said five words in practice or in staff meetings. And then there came a point, much later, when she was asking me to do something for one of our players, and I said, 'No, I'm tired of asking that kid to do this, this and that.' "

Cardoza said, "Well, she's going to need you to do that."

"I'm not doing that. I don't care what she thinks."

Auriemma remembers Cardoza saying, "You know, I think you're dead wrong. You're the adult. Why are you acting like this?"

His reaction?

"OK, she's not going to be here much longer," Auriemma said. "Now she's yelling at me. . . . She's going to be leaving soon to be a head coach."

His actual takeaway: "She grew up so much from being a little kid . . ." to now, he continued. "She's done as good a job as anybody . . . It's been remarkable."

How close to true was Auriemma's portrayal of her as being quiet early on at UConn?

"There's a lot of truth to it," Cardoza said "When I first got into coaching, it was not something I was looking to do. He basically recruited me to come be a part of his staff and give it a chance."

Cardoza was a couple of years out of Virginia, had played professionally overseas.

"I'm a very shy person in general and didn't really know what I was doing, how to go about it, because it was something I wasn't used to. So I would just stand in the background and just watch it," Cardoza said. "I'm one of those people, I like to observe and pay attention to things, to figure things out. . . . He might exaggerate a little, but I was really, really quiet for probably the first two years."

Once she got comfortable, Cardoza said, "and figured out what was expected of me and how I could help, that's when I branched off and was able to be confident with what I was doing."

Cardoza laughs at the memory of why Auriemma said she was ready to be a head coach since she's been one now for almost a decade.

"Yes, you know, honestly, I just tried to figure things out," Cardoza said. "Being around him and [UConn top assistant Chris Dailey] for all those years, they helped me grow as a person. Obviously as a coach but more so as a person."

There has to be satisfaction, however, that Cardoza is no longer automatically simply described as a former UConn assistant. She has coached in the NCAA tournament three times, been Big Five coach of the year three times.

"I still want to be connected to it," Cardoza said of UConn. "Because of all the greatness. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for that. But because now you can just mention my name and my program and not have to associate it with UConn, that is also awesome."

Last year was the first one, she thought, that her team wasn't in awe of the Huskies. There were no nerves. It showed at McGonigle Hall, a close enough game until UConn finally took over in the fourth quarter.

"I think coming into this season, because of that game, it gave us confidence," Cardoza said. "If we could play with them for three quarters, we could play with just about anybody else for an entire game."

The next step? Getting that No. 1 next to the Owls.

mjensen@phillynews.com

@jensenoffcampus