STORRS - UConn coach Geno Auriemma doesnât take much for granted, but heâs pretty confident his Huskies can get through the first couple rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
The top seed in the womenâs tournament opens play Saturday against Saint Francis (Pa.) (24-9), a team out of the Northeast Conference. The league is 0-24 in the history of the tournament. Saint Francis seeking its first win in 12 appearances.
UConn (32-0) has its sights set on a 12th national title and fifth in six years. The Huskies are 25-2 in first-round games, havenât lost in the opening round since 1993 and won their opening-round games by an average of just over 42 points.
âItâs not always true, but generally speaking, Iâd like to think that once you create a certain culture, once you create a certain level of commitment that your program has a pretty good chance of getting you to the regionals, to win two games,â Auriemma said Friday.
The second game at Gampel Pavilion on Saturday will feature another Connecticut team, No. 9 seed Quinnipiac (27-5) taking on eighth-seeded Miami (21-10). Thatâs a rematch of last yearâs second-round upset by the Bobcats in Miami.
âIt feels like a home-and-home,â said Quinnipaic coach Tricia Fabbri.
The winner will likely have the task of trying to prevent UConn from making it to the Sweet 16 for a 25th straight season.
Saint Francis guard Jessica Kovatch, who averages just under 25 points per game, said her team considers it an honor just to have earned the opportunity to play the Huskies.
âI saw Geno at one of our tournaments and youâre just like, âOh my God,ââ she said. âAnd now, heâs kind of got to know your name, because youâre going to be playing against him. So, I think thatâs pretty cool. Obviously, Iâm going to take some pictures.â
Here are some other story lines from Saturdayâs first-round games at Gampel Pavilion:
UConn has relied on six players for much of the season and will go into the NCAA Tournament with one fewer player on the bench.
The school announced Friday that freshman guard Mikayla Coombs will miss the tournament after being treated for a blood clot in one of her legs.
Coombs played in 25 games, averaging just over one point had coming up with 17 steals.
Another freshman, Megan Walker, said she and the rest of the reserves are hoping to show the coaches on Saturday they are ready to step up if needed.
âI feel there is always an opportunity,â she said. âWe just need to be ready in case of foul trouble or injury. Anything can happen, so we have to be ready.â
Miamiâs players said they arenât necessarily looking for revenge or redemption when they play Quinnipiac on Saturday, but last yearâs 85-78 loss to the Bobcats is something thatâs been on their minds all season.
âIt fueled us,â said senior Erykah Davenport.
Quinnipiac guard Carly Fabbri, the coachâs daughter, said the Bobcats are ready to take the Hurricanesâ best shot.
âI think theyâre definitely looking for a little bit of payback, obviously we ended their season last year,â she said. âBut being up in Connecticut, obviously I think weâre going to have a bit of a home court advantage.â
Miami forward Erykah Hof disagrees. She said playing at Gampel may actually be an advantage for her team.
âThereâs a lot of excitement that comes with hosting and we were all not really prepared for it,â she said. âI think it will actually help us to be here. We know everyone is going to be against us, so we just have to look at ourselves and turn within the team to pull this off.â
Miami coach Katie Meier said Quinnipiac just had a better night last year and the loss hasnât been an âalbatross around my neck.â But, she said there are some things she needs to learn from that game, such as how to keep the Bobcats from getting 24 assists on 28 field goals.
ACE UP THEIR SLEEVE
The NCAA Tournament is a new experience for most Saint Francis players, but not Ace Harrison, a graduate transfer from Maryland.
Harrison was a part of two Final Four teams and scored two points and had two rebounds in an 81-58 loss to UConn in the 2015 national semifinals.
Harrison told a story about attempting a 3-pointer in that game, only to have UConnâs Breanna Stewart come out of the lane (âI promise you, sheâs in the paintâ) to block her shot.
She said that was intimidating, but her coach told her to keep shooting. Eventually, she got one past Stewart and into the basket.
Thatâs a lesson she wants to pass along to her teammates.
âAnything can happen,â she said. âYouâve just got to keep playing through each possession and you canât let anything discourage you out there on the court.â