UConn women's basketball excited for tournament after no postseason last year

Published on Tuesday, 16 March 2021 21:04
Written by CARL ADAMEC

Journal Inquirer

A year ago, the UConn women’s basketball team earned an automatic bid to an NCAA Tournament that never happened.

So Monday’s Selection Show ended a two-year wait for the Huskies - and for 63 others - as they learned their tournament draws.

UConn is the No. 2 seed overall and the top seed in the River Walk Regional. The Big East champion Huskies (24-1) will begin their bid for a 12th national championship and a 13th consecutive Final Four berth Sunday when they take on Big South champion and 16th-seeded High Point in a first-round game at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.

“It has definitely been a long time coming,” UConn guard Evina Westbrook said. “We don’t take anything for granted. Like we found out about Coach (Geno Auriemma), anything can happen at any moment. So that there is a tournament in of itself is a blessing. The fact we’re able to say we’re going dancing is a blessing. We’re excited to get out there for our first game and be prepared for anything. Anything can happen in March, and I think everyone knows that

“Not having been back in two years, it’s definitely a crazy feeling, but none of that really matters anymore. At the end of the day, it’s time to hoop. It’s time to hoop.”

UConn is making its 32nd consecutive NCAA appearance and is a No. 1 regional seed for the 22nd time since 1994. In the last NCAA Tournament in 2019, the Huskies were seeded second to Louisville in the Albany (New York) Regional but beat the Cardinals in the Elite Eight.

Only two players on UConn’s roster remain from that game - juniors Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Christyn Williams.

To start, they will also be without Auriemma, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday. He will miss the High Point game and, if the Huskies advance, the second-round game between either No. 8 Syracuse or ninth-seeded South Dakota State a week from today. The earliest he can rejoin his team is March 24.

Associate head coach Chris Dailey will be in charge.

“Our program is our program. We’ve been doing this since October,” Auriemma said. “I don’t think anything’s going to change over the next 10 days. We have a certain routine and we know what we do and this is how we do it. We know how to get ready for teams. I’m not worried about that part.”

Baylor was seeded second in the River Walk Regional. Tennessee was the No. 3 seed followed by No. 4 Kentucky and No. 5 Iowa.

The reigning national champion Bears completed a sweep of the Big 12 Tournament title by routing West Virginia Sunday. UConn and Baylor have played just once in the NCAA Tournament with the Huskies earning a 70-50 win in the 2010 national semifinals at the Alamodome.

“It’s hard. You look at every bracket and it’s hard,” Auriemma said. “We play High Point and it’s the first time we’ve played them. Usually it’s someone from up here.

“Second, I wouldn’t want to play Syracuse or South Dakota State if we were undefeated, No. 1 in the country, and we were playing at our place in front of 20,000 people and they got to bring only five players. Those teams are hard to play against. That will be an incredible matchup. The only thing that makes me happy is if we win the first game we don’t have to play both of them

“Having Baylor in there, I’m not surprised at all. You can say, ‘Wow, they’re a great No. 2.’ So is Maryland, so is Texas A&M, so is Louisville. There are a lot of really good teams in the tournament and all the brackets are hard. They’re supposed to be hard.”

UConn (24-1) has won 14 straight games since suffering its only loss to Arkansas on Jan. 28.

The Huskies dominated St. John’s, Villanova, and Marquette in the Big East Tournament at Mohegan Sun Arena, winning their games by an average of 38.3 points while holding their opponents to just 39.7 points per game.

Guard Paige Bueckers became the first freshman to sweep the Big East Player of the Year and tournament Most Outstanding Player awards and was the third UConn freshman to be the Big East Tournament MOP.

“I’m confident in our abilities and how we performed in the Big East Tournament was huge for our momentum heading into the NCAA Tournament,” Bueckers said. “We’ve been getting better in practice and pushing each other there. I think we’re in the right mindset going into the tournament.”

Marquette, the only other Big East team in the Field of 64, was also placed in the River Walk Regional as the No. 10 seed and will face seventh-seeded Virginia Tech.

The Big East got two teams in for the fifth time in the last seven tournaments. Prior to 2014, you have to go back to 1997 for the last time that only two teams were selected. DePaul saw a streak of 17 NCAA bids end Monday.

“I was afraid of that, I really was,” Auriemma said. “The way the Big East Tournament played out, there were a few things that happened at the end that hurt some of our teams. I do think we have four or five teams that are good enough to be in the NCAA Tournament. But there are things you have to do over the course of the season and then in the tournament that can keep it out of the guessing. This was a strange year. Next year we’ll be back to four or five teams.”

DePaul, Villanova, and Creighton will take part in the WNIT.

Posted in New Britain Herald, UConn on Tuesday, 16 March 2021 21:04. Updated: Tuesday, 16 March 2021 21:06.