BRIDGEPORT, Conn. - Wes Moore isn't worried about having to potentially face UConn in the state of Connecticut yet.
That game wouldn't occur until Monday night and would require both teams to win their Sweet 16 games on Saturday.
The coach of top-seeded North Carolina State has his team's attention on No. 5 Notre Dame, the Wolfpack's opponent in the regional semifinals. The ACC foe handed the Wolfpack their most recent defeat on Feb. 1.
“We have to worry about Notre Dame. We lost to them earlier,” Moore said. “That’s our focus right now.”
Second-seeded UConn is facing third-seed Indiana - one of four Big Ten teams in the Sweet 16 - in the second game Saturday in Bridgeport, Connecticut. It's the 11th time that the Huskies will be playing a regional in the Northeast, including eight in the state of Connecticut. This is only the third time that UConn is in Bridgeport as a two seed.
“We’ve earned the right to play in Bridgeport, but you have to be good enough to do that,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “I think whoever’s the best team this weekend will win and I think all four teams think they have a chance and that’s all that matters and that’s it.”
N.C. State is also trying to erase the memory of last season's Sweet 16 loss to Indiana that ended the Wolfpack's season sooner than expected. They haven't made it to the Elite Eight since reaching the Final Four in 1998.
“I think we need to take another step or two. We understand that,” Moore said. “It’s nothing to take away from what this team has accomplished. To win an ACC regular-season championship, to win the tournament ... Nothing is going to take away from that."
Notre Dame is back in the NCAAs after missing it last year for the first time since 1995.
“It was terrible. I was heartbroken. I remember sitting on my couch, my head down in the pillow just crying, honestly. That’s a tough question. It’s a tough thing to talk about," Notre Dame senior Dara Mabrey said. “I remember thinking especially in late-game situations that I was going to do everything I possibly could, whether it went right or wrong, to put this team in this position. And we’re in the Sweet 16 now, so I think that sour taste that I had in my mouth definitely fueled me.”
While Notre Dame and N.C. State are very familiar with each other, UConn and Indiana are playing for the first time in school history.
“They don’t know a lot about us. We don’t know a lot about them,” Auriemma said. “You can watch all the film you want, study as much as you want, but until you’re actually on the floor with each other, you really don’t get a feel for how a team plays, how they like to play.”
The Hoosiers are trying to get back to the regional final for the second straight year. Indiana lost to Arizona last season in the Elite Eight.
“We do know the magnitude of this game. We’ve been here before a year ago, and so we do feel like we have some experience,” Indiana coach Teri Moren said. “As you all know, I have a veteran group and experienced group, so I don’t know if it does matter that it’s UConn, but it could be any other name across the chest. We just know that we want to keep this thing going as long as we can.”
THE DORKA REPORT
UConn and Indiana, two storied basketball schools, have never before met on court, but there is some familiarity among the players.
Senior forward Dorka Juhasz transferred to Connecticut from Ohio State, where she averaged 13 points and 10.5 rebounds in four games against the Hoosiers.
“It was exciting just when they started doing the scouting,” she said. “They were like, hey, Dorka, can you help me with this? Of course, I would love to tell you about it.”
Indiana knows Juhasz as well. Moren said she’s impressed with how the Hungarian’s passing game has improved with the Huskies.
Juhasz likely will again be matched up with Indiana post Aleksa Gulbe, who has played against Juhasz since their days on youth national teams in Latvia and Hungary.
“After the first round, she texted me, and she was like, ‘I thought I was going to get away from you guys,’” Gulbe said.
North Carolina State players got a bit of a scare Thursday night after arriving at their hotel in Connecticut.
Guard Diamond Johnson got to her room to find she had been locked out with the room’s privacy bolt - from the inside.
A hotel worker managed to get the door open, but then yells, ‘Oh, my Gosh!’, apparently as a joke. That sent Johnson and a couple of other players screaming down the hallway.
“We searched under the beds, we searched in the closet, so it was all good,” senior center Elissa Cunane said. “But we were all still a little scared."