Huskies look for redemption in NCAA tournament
STORRS, Conn. (AP)
Connecticut is looking at this NCAA tournament as a chance for redemption.
The third-ranked Huskies, who lost both the Big East regular-season and tournament titles to Notre Dame, received the top seed in the Bridgeport Regional and will face 16th-seeded Idaho (17-15) from the Western Athletic Conference in the first round on Saturday.
The Huskies are again on the same side of the bracket with Notre Dame, setting up a possible third straight meeting in the national semifinals. The Irish have won the previous two and have beaten UConn seven of the last eight times the two teams have played, including all three meetings this season.
''I'm sure they want to play us just as much as we want to play them,'' UConn forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said. ''They are trying to prove that they are the top team and we're trying to prove that we can beat them.''
The Huskies (29-4), who are making their 25th consecutive tournament appearance, are looking for a record sixth consecutive trip to the Final Four and an eighth national title. But coach Geno Auriemma said he feels UConn can't be considered a favorite.
''I think any time you're not the number-one No. 1 seed, you're an underdog, given the success that Notre Dame and Baylor have had,'' he said.
UConn will host the first two rounds at Gampel Pavilion, and is looking at a second-round matchup with either No. 8 seed Vanderbilt (20-11) or St. Joseph's (23-8). Should the Huskies advance, they would play the next two rounds about 80 miles from campus in Bridgeport.
The second seed in the Bridgeport Regional is Kentucky, a team UConn beat in last year's regional final.
Connecticut's only other loss this season was to top-ranked Baylor, a team it would not face again until the national championship game. The Huskies beat eight other Top-25 teams this season.
''There's still a gap there, obviously,'' Auriemma said. ''If you look at the scores of our games against all the teams that won their conference tournaments this year, there's still a gap.''
Connecticut hasn't lost a first-round matchup since falling to Louisville in 1993, and Idaho is not expected to pose much of a threat. The Vandals (17-15), making their second tournament appearance and their first since 1985, upset top-seed Seattle 67-64 in the Western Athletic Conference title game. Idaho likes to shoot the long ball, ranking 11th in the country in 3-point shooting.
The Huskies and Vandals have never played each other.
The No. 9 seed, St. Joseph's, upset Dayton in the Atlantic 10 semifinals before beating Fordham by a point in the conference title game. The Hawks will face a Vanderbilt team that lost to Kentucky in the SEC tournament, but got star player Christina Foggie back from injury late in the season.
''I feel like we haven't played our best basketball and we are still getting healthier,'' Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb said. ''So this time off, I think, was an advantage for us. I think our best game is yet to come. I like our situation and like where we're at as a team.''
The region's No. 3 seed is North Carolina (28-6), which lost to Duke in the ACC championship game. Tar Heels coach Sylvia Hatchell earned her 900th career victory this season, joining a list that includes only Pat Summitt, Jody Conradt and C. Vivian Stringer.
The No. 4 seed in the region is Maryland (24-7), which will play a home game against another team from Connecticut, Quinnipiac. The Bobcats, champions of the Northeast Conference, have won 22 in a row. And at 30-2, they are making the program's first ever tournament trip.
''It finally feels real,'' Quinnipiac coach Tricia Fabbri said. ''To see our name go up there on the board. It's such an adrenalin rush, and it feels real now.''
No. 5 seed Michigan State takes on Marist, while the region's No. 6 seed is Delaware, which also has ties to Connecticut. All-American forward Elena Della Donne originally committed to UConn and actually spent a day on campus before deciding Connecticut was not for her.