UConn women's basketball using last season's loss to Mississippi State as motivation

Published on Tuesday, 13 March 2018 17:03
Written by CARL ADAMEC


STORRS - Once was enough for Napheesa Collier, and that came almost a year ago.

But the UConn women’s basketball team’s junior All-American had a feeling the first thing on the NCAA Tournament Selection Show would be the last thing she’d want to see again: Morgan William’s game-winning buzzer beater for Mississippi State at the 2017 Final Four that ended the Huskies’ 111-game winning streak and their four-year reign as national champion.

“I guess we’ll see it a lot through the end of our season,” Collier said with a sigh.

Collier and UConn hope that’s three more weeks. The Huskies (32-0) are the overall No. 1 seed and the top seed in the Albany Regional. They will entertain Northeast Conference champ Saint Francis of Pennsylvania in a first-round game Saturday at 11 a.m. at Gampel Pavilion.

Also coming to the Storrs sub-regional are No. 8 Miami (Florida) and ninth-seeded Quinnipiac, and they’ll play Saturday at 1:30 p.m. Saturday’s winners will face off next Monday for a berth in the Sweet 16 at the Times Union Center in Albany, New York.

It is UConn’s 30th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, clinched with its win over South Florida in the American Athletic Conference tournament final a week ago at Mohegan Sun Arena. The only longer current streaks belong to Tennessee (37) and Stanford (31), as the Lady Vols and Cardinal received at-large bids Monday.

As Selection Show veterans, the Huskies were somewhat subdued as the pairings were announced according to coach Geno Auriemma with one exception.

“They were animated during the highlights,” Auriemma said. “They were counting how many times they showed Mississippi State beating us. They lost track of how many times. Mississippi State got more attention for beating us than South Carolina got for winning the national championship, which is crazy.”

UConn and Mississippi State, which is the No. 1 seed in the Kansas City Regional, would not play until the final game in Columbus, Ohio, on April 1. South Carolina, however, is the No. 2 seed in Albany after winning its fourth straight SEC tournament crown.

It is the first time the reigning national champion has been in UConn’s regional since 2000 (Purdue).

“Every No. 1 seed has a No. 2 seed that if the No. 2 seed wins you don’t go ‘Wow that’s a big upset,’ ” Auriemma said. “There’s nothing easy at all about winning a national championship and at some point you have to beat some really, really good teams.”

The other No. 1 seeds are Louisville in Lexington (Kentucky) and Notre Dame in Spokane (Washington). The Albany and Spokane winners will play in one national semifinal.

UConn has made a record 10 consecutive NCAA Final Four appearances and is tied with Tennessee at 18 berths in the national semifinals overall.

“I was trying to see where everyone goes and what the matches up will be,” UConn guard Crystal Dangerfield said. “You don’t want to look ahead but you find yourself doing that sometimes.

“We have to look at Saturday first. If we don’t win, we don’t play Monday.”

The Huskies have played three teams in the Albany Regional: South Carolina, sixth-seeded USF and No. 7 California. Ten of the 13 teams UConn played in its non-league schedule are in the Field of 64.

But only two teams from the AAC got in and they are in the same regional. The Bulls open with Buffalo in Tallahassee, Florida, in a sub-regional hosted by No. 3 Florida State.

“It’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” Auriemma said. “Two teams out of 64 and they can’t find another place to put (USF)? I thought it was crazy. But I’m sure they have a reason to do it.”

UConn leads the series with Saint Francis 2-0 with both wins coming at Gampel Pavilion in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. In 1999, Shea Ralph, Svetlana Abrosimova and Amy Duran scored 13 points each in a 97-46 victory. In 2002, Asjha Jones had 18 points in an 86-37 romp.

Saint Francis won the NEC tournament crown and the league’s automatic NCAA bid with a 66-56 win over Robert Morris on Sunday. Junior guard Jessica Kovatch was the NEC Player of the Year, freshman guard Caitlyn Kroll the NEC Rookie of the Year and graduate student forward Ace Harrison the NEC Defensive Player of the Year.

“Some of the teams in our region we’ve played, some we haven’t,” Collier said. “But right now we don’t focus on that. The coaches were emphasizing today that we need to take things one game at a time or it gets dangerous. That’s how upsets happen.”

The 8-9 game features Miami and Quinnipiac. The Bobcats, the automatic qualifier from the MAAC, upset the Hurricanes in Coral Gables a year ago as a 12-seed en route to the first Sweet 16 appearance in program history.

Quinnipiac has not played at Gampel Pavilion since losing to the Huskies 117-20 on Dec. 27, 1998, its first season as a Division I program.

UConn and Miami were Big East rivals from 1992-2004. The Hurricanes won the first five meetings while the Huskies captured the last 18.

Georgia is the No. 4 seed with Duke fifth at the sub-regional in Athens, Georgia.

The Huskies returned to practice Saturday after getting three days off following the AAC final.

“We came back and did conditioning to get our legs back,” Collier said. “Now we’ll work on things specific for our next game.”

They’ll be doing it on their own. While the players await today’s expected snowstorm, they all have friends that have headed to Florida for spring break.

“I’m pretty jealous right now,” Dangerfield said. “I just wish it were a little warmer here.”

It will be, with Auriemma turning up the heat.

Posted in The Bristol Press, UConn on Tuesday, 13 March 2018 17:03. Updated: Tuesday, 13 March 2018 18:16.