Vanderbilt-UConn Preview

March 24, 2013

Connecticut goes into Monday's second-round game with Vanderbilt as a prohibitive favorite, especially after beating first-round opponent Idaho by 68 points.

But the Commodores (21-11) are used to playing basketball's elite. They face a Southeastern Conference schedule that includes regular meetings with teams such as Tennessee, Texas A&M, Georgia and Kentucky.

Coach Melanie Balcomb said the biggest challenge in playing an elite team is mental, and she hopes the tough schedule means there won't be any wide eyes at Gampel Pavilion on Monday night against the Huskies.

''I have got to prepare them to come in here and not already be beaten,'' she said. ''I think most of the teams that play UConn and Tennessee are already beaten before they step on the floor. And we can't do that tomorrow.''


Forward Tiffany Clarke, who comes in averaging almost 17 points and 8.5 rebounds, said it also means showing the Huskies they won't be intimidated.

''I know it's going to be a very physical game; they're physical,'' Clarke said. ''I think we can compete with them by being physical and being tough right back with them.''

Connecticut (30-4), which is a top seed for the seventh straight season, has won 30 games for an NCAA-record eighth straight time. It has a 20-2 record in second-round games and has advanced to the regional semifinals every year since 1993.

UConn guard Bria Hartley said the Huskies are willing to play a physical game.

''You kind of want to go out there and make a statement that we are not a team that can be pushed around,'' she said. ''We go out there and we're just as physical back, and make sure we make tough plays.''

The Huskies, she said, are especially concerned with disrupting the game of Vanderbilt guard Jasmine Lister, who plays an average of 34 minutes, scores more than 12 points and dishes out more than five assists.

Vandy, in turn, must be concerned with UConn leading scorer Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who is just one 3-point basket shy of Wendy Davis' single-season school record of 107.

''I had a really long drought last year,'' she said. ''There hasn't been as long of a drought this season. I've just been trying to put an emphasis on making sure that all the shots that I take are good, open shots.''

Balcomb already has some history at Gampel Pavilion. In 1999, her underdog Xavier team lost to UConn in a second-round game by just two points, 84-82.

She called it a ''signature loss'' that helped propel that program and her career and said she wishes she could remember what she told that team that made it play so well.

''I've thought about it,'' she said. ''What did I say? How did I prepare them mentally? Was there some formula? Was there some special confidence that I carried myself in as a leader? And I keep comparing the teams. Was my team better than this team now? Was UConn better then? I don't have any answers.''

UConn coach Geno Auriemma said he remembers that Xavier game as if it was yesterday. But he views Balcomb's Commodores as a serious threat, not because of what her last team did here, but what her current team is capable of.

''You know they have the ability, if they beat Texas A&M, to beat you as well,'' he said. ''And they have the ability, because of some of the games that they played, to play poorly.''