STORRS - UConn coach Geno Auriemma wore a Quinnipiac University T-shirt to an NCAA Tournament news conference a year ago to celebrate Connecticut’s other successful women’s team and its surprise run to the Sweet 16.
On Monday night, his top-seeded Huskies (33-0) stand in the way of those Bobcats reaching the regional semifinals for a second straight year.
Quinnipiac (28-5), which is located about 60 miles south in Hamden, comes into the game on a school-record 23-game winning streak. This is the team’s fourth appearance in the NCAA Tournament and third in the last four years. They are now 3-3 in tournament play after eliminating Miami for a second consecutive season on Saturday, 86-72.
The Bobcats no longer consider themselves to be Cinderella.
“This program is validated,” said coach Tricia Fabbri. “It wasn’t like we’re a one-hit wonder or you saw your pod and you had some good matchups in the first two rounds and you got to the Sweet 16. Well, here we are, back again, winning another game again against a team we had to beat last year in the NCAA Tournament, which is not easy, to face the top team in the country.”
That doesn’t mean Fabbri has any illusions that her squad will be anything but overwhelming underdogs against the Huskies, who set numerous tournament records on Saturday in demolishing Saint Francis (Pa.) 140-52.
Auriemma defended that win Sunday, saying his team did not set out to score that many points or win by that big a margin. He also said it is not indicative of the parity in women’s basketball, where six double-digit seeds won in the first round.
“People are almost like dying to get a game like that so they can rise up and talk about the disparity in college basketball,” he said. “Last time I checked the same four teams win the national championship in football every year. I could be wrong, it might be five. And last time I checked, every score in September is like 80-20, if I’m not mistaken.”
In their only other meeting, almost 20 years ago, UConn beat Quinnipiac 117-20, giving the Huskies the largest margin of victory in program history. But, that was a Quinnipiac team that had just made the jump from Division II. Auriemma said he’s enjoyed watching Fabbri build her from that into a program that has won at least 20 games in seven straight seasons.
“What’s really impressive is she’s young, but she’s an old-fashioned coach. She instills old-fashioned values in her team: the way they play, the way they carry themselves. When you watch them up close, see them play in person, you’re not surprised at the success they’ve had.”
UConn, of course, knows about success. The tournament’s top seed will be trying to advance to the Sweet 16 for the 25th straight year and has its sights set on a 12th national championship.
But forward Gabby Williams said the Huskies will not take the Bobcats lightly.
“They had a play against Miami where they had like three or four offensive rebounds in one possession, and I was like, ‘OK, this team is relentless and they work hard,’” Williams said. “They are going to be a good test for us. We always take pride in how hard we work and like to say we outwork teams. If we can outwork them, considering how hard they work, that will be the ultimate accomplishment.”
The game is likely to be an emotional one. It will be the final game in Gampel Pavilion for Williams and fellow senior Kia Nurse, who said she expects to struggle keeping those emotions in check until after the game.
It also could be the final game that Fabbri coaches her daughter, senior guard Carly Fabbri.
“Just being able to have the opportunity to play for her has been awesome,” Carly said. “Obviously, we’ve won a lot and that’s been incredible. These past two seasons especially, being able to get to the NCAA Tournament, making that historic run last year, and obviously trying to make some more magic happen this year.”