UConn women's basketball takes aim at fifth consecutive AAC Tournament title

Published on Friday, 2 March 2018 20:21
Written by Carl Adamec


The UConn women’s basketball team won its 16 American Athletic Conference regular season games by an average of 47.4 points, with the closest margin 18.

The Huskies twice faced six-point deficits and won those games by an average of 50.0 points. The latest they trailed was with 1:24 to go in the first quarter at SMU last Saturday and they came from behind in Dallas with a 43-0 run.

But UConn heads to Mohegan Sun Arena and the AAC Tournament this weekend with plenty to play for. Since 1985, the Huskies’ philosophy has been that if there’s a championship to win, they want to win it.

Top-seeded UConn (29-0) opens postseason play Sunday (6:30 p.m.) against the winner of Saturday’s first-round game between No. 8 Memphis and ninth-seeded Tulane.

The Huskies have won the first four AAC Tournament titles and are seeking their 23rd league tourney crown overall.

“We have to make sure everyone is on the same page, everyone knows their role, and everyone knows what they can bring to the table in March,” UConn All-American Gabby Williams said. “That’s our next focus: ‘How can you help us in the tournament?’ ”

Williams’ reference is as much or more towards the NCAA Tournament than what may happen over three days starting Sunday.

The tourney winner receives the AAC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. While the Huskies’ resume will get them in the field of 64 no matter what happens at the casino, three wins in three days should get them the NCAA’s overall No. 1 seed and assure them the top-seed in the Albany (New York) Regional. They would also host first- and second-round games on campus at Gampel Pavilion.

According to rpiratings.com, UConn is No. 2 in RPI and 3 in strength of schedule. Fellow unbeaten Mississippi State (30-0) is No. 3 in RPI and 31 in strength of schedule. The Bulldogs open Southeastern Conference Tournament play today with a quarterfinal-round contest.

“We talk a lot about what the future is, and nobody knows,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “I reminded the players about this. We can celebrate what we did in the past, but we have no idea what the future is. We have no idea whether we’re going to be in the Final Four or not. We don’t know if we’re going to be playing for the national championship or not. The only thing we have is the moment that we’re in right now, and we have to make that moment great every night. Because if we do that, all we will know is how to make every moment great.

“I remember back when Svetlana (Abrosimova) was playing for us. “She came in one day and goes, ‘Coach, why do you talk about national championships all the time?’ I go, ‘Because that’s the goal here.’ She says, ‘Don’t you think everyone knows that? Why do you have to talk about it all the time?’ And I thought, ‘You know? She’s right.’ From that point on, we almost never talk about what is at the end of the year. We just keep talking about, ‘This is what we have to do today. This is what we have to do tomorrow. This is what happened last night. This is what we have to get better at.’ ”

The Huskies have won 29 consecutive conference tournament quarterfinal games. UConn has two regular season wins over both Memphis and Tulane. The average margin of victory over the Tigers was 52.5 points and the average margin of victory over the Green Wave was 48.5 points.

Second-seeded South Florida, No. 3 Central Florida, and fourth-seeded Cincinnati also earned first-round byes. If seeds hold in the first round and quarterfinals, the Huskies would face either Cincinnati or No. 5 Houston in the semifinals Monday at 7 p.m.

The championship game is set for 5 p.m. on Tuesday.

Like UConn, USF (24-6, RPI 13, SOS 41) appears to be a lock to be in the NCAA Tournament field regardless of what happens at Mohegan Sun Arena. UCF (20-9, RPI 44, SOS 56) may need to beat USF and get to the final to earn an at-large bid as the Knights are 0-6 against the RPI top 50. Everyone else will need to get the AAC’s automatic bid for an NCAA berth.

The Huskies took two days off following Monday’s win over USF that gave them their third consecutive unbeaten regular season. It was a welcome break, particularly for their walking wounded of Williams (hip), Crystal Dangerfield (shin splints), and Katie Lou Samuelson (left ankle).

But the time has arrived to put injuries or any other issues to the side.

It’s March.

“It’s exciting that it’s here, but you don’t want your college career to end as abruptly or as fast as it does,” UConn guard Kia Nurse said. “At the same time we have to focus on getting better at little things whether it’s defensively, offensively, or just with execution.”

Posted in The Bristol Press, UConn on Friday, 2 March 2018 20:21. Updated: Friday, 2 March 2018 20:23.