Another No. 1 Seed for UConn

STORRS, Conn.—Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma says to win an NCAA championship, a team usually needs a superstar.

But this year's UConn team doesn't have a Rebecca Lobo, Diana Taurasi or Maya Moore as it attempts to tie Tennessee with a record eighth national title.

"We don't have that, but that doesn't mean that we can't win," Auriemma said Monday. "It just means that it's going to be a little more difficult than maybe it would have been some other years."

The Huskies (29-4) are a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament for the 15th time and sixth in a row. They will begin their quest for an eighth championship in Bridgeport against Prairie View (17-15) on Saturday. The winner will get either Kansas State or Princeton in the second round.

Before the season began, Auriemma told fans his team would not win a national championship this season. But the Huskies won 29 games and the team's 18th Big East tournament title, putting them in position to make another deep postseason run.

UConn lost at top-ranked Baylor and Notre Dame, before dropping its final two home games to St. John's (the first home loss for UConn after 99 straight wins), and the Irish. That brought more predictions from Auriemma about failure in the Big East tournament.

But the Huskies rebounded, avenging the losses to the Red Storm and the Irish in the tournament semifinals and finals. Center Stefanie Dolson said the team has been motivated by their coach's public lack of confidence.

"I think for us this year is just been about competing harder than we ever have," she said. "We're not the biggest team in the tournament; we're not the fastest team. When we play as a team and we compete extremely hard as a team that's when we are hard to beat."

UConn has never played Prairie View, but they have two common opponents this year. The Lady Panthers lost by 20 points to Marquette in November and by 16 to St. John's in December.

The Lady Panthers (17-15) have won six straight games and are coming off their second consecutive Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament title, despite being the tournament's fifth seed. This will be their fourth NCAA tournament appearance.

UConn forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said the Huskies have already done a little scouting, having watched the SWAC title game on television.

"We were all just sitting in the living room and we wanted to watch some basketball, and we changed the channel and were like, `This is on, let's just watch this," the freshman said.

Mosqueda-Lewis disputes her coach's contention that UConn doesn't have a player to carry it to the national championship. She expects sophomore guard Bria Hartley, who is averaging 13.6 points, and about four rebounds and four assists a game to be that player. But if Hartley does not, Mosqueda-Lewis, who was named most outstanding player in the Big East tournament, said she also is ready to step up.

"The way Diana played, the way Sue (Bird) played, the way Maya played, it's just what everyone at Connecticut aspires to play like," she said. "We want to be remembered like they were. Some people say it's pressure, I think it's exciting for us."

The Huskies will begin tournament play with one injury of note. Leading scorer Tiffany Hayes (15.1 points per game) was wearing a protective boot on her right foot Monday. The senior guard said she suffered two stress fractures prior to playing in the Big East tournament, but expects to play on Saturday.

Should UConn advance past Bridgeport, it would play its regional semifinals and finals in nearby Kingston, R.I., a little over an hour and a half drive from campus.

"Husky nation travels really well, so I know they will be there to support us," Hayes said. "It's going to be really good to play so close to home."

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