STORRS, Conn. – To the surprise of very few, third-ranked Connecticut received a No. 1 seed in the Bridgeport region of the NCAA women's tournament, and the Huskies will face No. 16 seed Idaho Saturday (1:30 p.m.) at Gampel Pavilion.
For 25 consecutive seasons, UConn (29-4) has been invited to the NCAA tournament. The Huskies, who will be playing for a chance at their eighth national championship, have become a permanent fixture in women's college basketball over the last quarter century. As the Huskies prepare to face Idaho (17-15) in the first round, it will be business as usual, despite not knowing much about their opponent.
"It's like any other year when you get a bracket and you're fortunate enough to be the one seed and you get a 16 seed," said coach Geno Auriemma, who is in his 28th season with the Huskies. "You probably don't know as much about them as some of the other teams, but before Saturday we'll know everything we need to know. As of right now, all we know is that they're in the tournament and we play them Saturday."
Idaho ended its season as the Western Athletic Conference champions after beating top seeded Seattle University 67-64 in the championship game. The Vandals entered the tournament as the No. 3 seed. They defeated the No. 1 seeded Redhawks in the WAC championship and the No. 2 seeded Utah State in the semifinals. Each win was a one possession game.
Idaho is lead by Alyssa Charlston, who averages a team-high 13.7 points per game as well as 7 rebounds per game. Charlston's play is complemented by fellow guard Stacey Barr, who was named the MVP of the WAC tournament. Barr averages 10.8 points per game.
"I do not know anything about them personally, but obviously we're going to find out in the next couple days from the coaching staff," said Breanna Stewart, who will be playing in her first NCAA tournament.
"I'm really excited," Stewart said about the tournament. "To actually be a part of it is an awesome experience and these next couple of weeks are going to be memorable."
UConn is expected to advance into a strong region, which consists of Kentucky as the No. 2 seed, North Carolina as the No. 3 seed, Maryland as the No. 4 seed and Delaware as the No. 6 seed. UConn has a chance to potentially face Kentucky in the Elite Eight and could face Maryland in the Sweet Sixteen. The Huskies played the Terrapins on Dec. 3, winning 63-48 behind a game-high 14 points from Stefanie Dolson.
"Obviously we can't kind of look that far ahead," Dolson said. "It is interesting to kind of see who gets in your bracket and what teams you could potentially be playing, but right now we got to focus on the first two games and right now, in particular, just focus on our team getting better individually and as a team and just working hard."
Baylor received the No. 1 seed for the Oklahoma City region and Stanford has been selected as the No. 1 seed of the Spokane region. Both of these teams have a chance to play against UConn in the national championship. However, before the Huskies can even think about their eighth title, they will potentially have to face a familiar foe in the national semifinals.
Notre Dame received the No. 1 seed of the Norfolk region. If everything goes according to plan, the Huskies will face the Fighting Irish in the Final Four. It would be the fourth time the two teams have met this season. Notre Dame has won the previous three, including the recent 61-59 win over UConn in the Big East Championship.
"It's in the back of our minds," Mosqueda-Lewis said about the loss against Notre Dame in the Big East championship. "And whenever you lose to a team like that so many times that if you're just competitive at all, you keep that in the back of your mind and you use it as fuel. That's what we're doing right now. I think that those loses have made us stronger. "Coach told us that he thinks that those losses might have been the best thing for us, especially coming in to this tournament. I feel like now that we've learned from those losses and we know what it feels like, we're coming in more confident. We know the things that we need to get better at. We know the things that we need to do. And we've been working on them for the past week."