STORRS - UConn coach Geno Auriemma is pretty sure the top-seeded Huskies have the talent to win a fifth straight national championship.
What they don’t have, he said Friday, is any margin for error with injuries or foul trouble.
UConn, which begins its NCAA Tournament run on Saturday against America East champion Albany, goes just seven deep and the Huskies’ starting five all average more than 28 minutes a game, despite resting in the final quarter of many blowouts.
“I can’t remember the last time we were in this scenario, where if one or two things go wrong, we can’t recover,” Auriemma said. “Last year, we lost Lou (Katie Lou Samuelson) for the national championship game and we won by 30. If we lose one of those guys this year for any game, we’re going to be in trouble, big trouble. If we get the wrong officiating crew, it’s going to be a big problem for us.”
UConn (32-0) hasn’t needed depth in winning by an average of 33 points this season and extending the program’s record winning streak to 107 games.
In UConn’s 19 previous first-round games as a No. 1 seed, it has an average margin of victory of more than 48 points. Twelve times the margin of the win has been bigger than the number of points the opponent has scored.
But, Auriemma points out that most of those teams had more tournament experience than this one.
Of UConn’s core players, only Kia Nurse and Katie Lou Samuelson have started multiple NCAA Tournament games.
“The first one you play, it might be a little nerve-wracking for them,” Nurse said. “But, we’ll get them through it.”
Napheesa Collier, who is averaging 20 points this season after scoring under seven off the bench last year, acknowledges feeling a bit of pressure.
“Now, it’s not just the streak that’s in jeopardy, it’s our season,” she said.
Other things to watch during the first round in Storrs:
BACK TO COACHING
Albany coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee was a rising star as an assistant at West Virginia and then at Maryland, where she helped the Terps win a national title.
But she gave up coaching for four years to be at home with her two sons.
She returned at the University of Pikeville in Pikeville, Kentucky, four years ago, when Luke, now 10, and Caden, 9, began school.
She was hired at Albany last summer and has guided the Great Danes to a 21-11 record this season and a sixth straight conference title.
Bernabei-McNamee said she’s very grateful to the administrators who did not hold here hiatus against her and hopes her journey may pave the way for other coaching moms.
“I missed (coaching) desperately,” she said. “But the years I got to spend as a stay-at-home mom I would definitely not trade for the world because they were unbelievable.”
Her husband, Joe McNamee, a former college baseball coach, is now the stay-at-home parent. He left his job in the pharmaceutical industry when the family moved to Albany and says he’s enjoying life as a dad and youth sports coach for his boys’ teams.
But the biggest thing, he said, is that his wife is happy.
“She has to be around the game,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine living in the same house with her if she wasn’t around the game.”
Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman says he believes he will bring the best backcourt the nation into his team’s first-round game against ninth-seeded Iowa State (18-12).
Seniors Alexis Peterson and Brittany Sykes combine to average more than 42 points a game, a point better than Washington’s Kelsey Plum and Aarion McDonald.
They already have led the Orange to one national final, last year against UConn.
“Every situation that can happen on a court, they’ve been through it,” Hillsman said. “You don’t know what will happen in any of these games, but they will be prepared for anything.”
Peterson, who averages 23.3 points and more than seven assists, is just 72 points away from 2,000 for her career. She is second on the school’s career scoring list, behind Kayla Alexander, who scored 2,024 points between 2010-2013. Sykes ranks third on that list with 1,803 points.
Iowa State’s Bridget Carleton, from Chatham Ontario, is one of seven Canadians playing in Storrs this weekend.
She will face off against Syracuse’s Julia Chandler (Toronto) and Chelayne Bailey (Pickering, Ontario) on Saturday.
UConn has Nurse, who is from Hamilton, Ontario and played on the Canadian Olympic team. Albany’s team includes Hamilton’s Mackenzie Trpic, Cassandra Edwards from Brampton, Ontario and Jessica Fequire from Montreal.
“It’s really great to kind of reunite with all those girls and get a chance to play with them, see them play and play against them,” Carleton said. “I just think it says a lot about the growth of Canada basketball, for sure.”