Huskies expect to challenge for 8th national title
STORRS, Conn. (AP)
Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma isn't tempering any expectations for this season's team.
A year ago, the Hall of Famer and Olympic coach was telling anyone who would listen that his Huskies were not good enough to win an eighth national championship.
They went 33-5 and lost in the national semifinals.
UConn returns four starters from that squad and brings in what is widely regarded as the nation's top recruiting class, including 6-foot-4 Breanna Stewart, the consensus national player of the year coming out of high school.
This season, Auriemma is telling anyone who will listen that his team is ''really, really, really good,'' and he believes they can win it all, even though defending national champion Baylor returns Brittney Griner and every starter from last year's undefeated team.
''If everyone expected us to go to the Final Four and contend for a national championship without Maya Moore, isn't the expectation level this year to go undefeated and win every game by 100,'' he joked Tuesday. ''So, I might as well say, `Yeah, that's what we're going to do.''
Stewart gives the Huskies a lot of options they didn't have a year ago. She is a good rebounder and can step outside and hit a jump shot.
Auriemma said she also has a smooth, unrushed style that reminds him of former NBA star George Gervin.
Fifth-year senior guard Caroline Doty, who played with Maya Moore and Tina Charles said Stewart has that type of potential.
''To have her length and her athleticism, being able to shoot the 3 and having all her options down low, it's unbelievable,'' Doty said. ''With (our coaches) working with her every single day, she's going to be something very, very special.''
She also says all the right things, such as how she doesn't care if she's the next big name at UConn, as long as the team wins.
''Obviously Coach Auriemma has gotten a lot out of a lot of players coming through his program and I would just like to reach my potential here,'' she said.
But Stewart isn't the only star. The Huskies rotation could include 10 players, led by junior guard Bria Hartley and last year's Big East freshman of the year, forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis.
Junior center Stefanie Dolson and sophomore Kiah Stokes, will be joined down low by Stewart and 6-2 freshman Morgan Tuck, whom Auriemma says has been the best post player in the early practices.
''They don't play like freshmen at all,'' Dolson said. ''They're already playing like upper classmen. I think the chemistry that we have is amazing and like coach said, the expectations are definitely high. We plan to win a national championship and not lose a game.''
Sophomore Brianna Banks is expected to get more time at point guard, where the Huskies also can play Hartley and have freshman Moriah Jefferson, who played with Stewart and Tuck on the under-18 USA national team.
The team also has plenty of veterans such as Doty and senior guard Kelly Faris, the team's top defender.
Mosqueda-Lewis said the team understands that some now consider Baylor to be the dominant program in the women's game. But, she said, nobody should be thinking of the Huskies as underdogs.
''I don't think our role really matters to us,'' she said. ''Our goal never changes, whether our role is being Darth Vader or people are actually rooting for us. We're going to try to win a national championship. And if we need to knock off Baylor, which is probably going to have to happen, then we will.''