UConn's Tina Charles. Photo by Al Malpa
As the NCAA tournament brackets were announced Monday night on ESPN, loud cheers were heard inside the University of Connecticut women’s basketball locker room at Gampel Pavilion.
Cheers for the six other Big East Conference teams selected for the NCAA tournament – DePaul, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Rutgers, St. John’s and West Virginia.
All but one – St. John’s – was not in UConn’s region.
Cheers also were heard when the match-up everyone has been clamoring about has the potential to happen at the Final Four in San Antonio between UConn and Tennessee.
And there were the cheers when the players watched the ESPN-produced segment they had taped, with junior Maya Moore playing the drums, surrounded by the rest of the starting lineup dancing to the beat.
Six games remaining and a chance to make history
The road to San Antonio begins on Sunday afternoon at 12:16 p.m. (ESPN2, WILI 1400-AM, WTIC 1080-AM) when No. 1 nationally-ranked UConn (33-0), the top seed in the Dayton Regional, meets No. 16 Southern University (23-8) in the first round of the NCAA tournament at the Ted Constant Convocation Center in Norfolk, Virginia.
“It’s tough this year,” senior Kalana Greene said. “A lot of teams are evenly matched, from what I can tell. It is fun to see who is going to play who and which bracket seems the most difficult.”
Initially, it was thought that the Huskies – who will be making their 22nd consecutive NCAA tournament appearance – would be headed to Pittsburgh for the opening two rounds. But about15 minutes before the Selection Show aired on ESPN, murmurs were rumbling that UConn would take its road show south to Norfolk.
“I was excited that we get to play our first game in Norfolk,” Greene said. “It’s closer for my family [South Carolina] to come up there and, hopefully, we get a little bit more sun than we have had here in Connecticut.”
And Coach Geno Auriemma likes the fact that UConn will be playing in Norfolk.
“I’m actually happy,” Auriemma said. “We’re in a tournament atmosphere. Sometimes when you’re home you’re still going to class, you’re still doing the same things. So this is a real tournament feeling. I love the fact that we’re not home. Now, it’s bad for our fans that we’re not home.”
Six victories would put UConn into the history books as the first women’s team ever to win back-to-back national championships while going unbeaten.
The only other time that has happened was on the men’s side, when the Wizard of Westwood, John Wooden, guided UCLA to back-to-back titles in 1972 and 1973.
Opponents are riding 7-game streak
The Huskies’ first-round opponent, Southern University, hails from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
The Jaguars – who received the automatic bid from the Southwestern Athletic Conference with a 60-47 victory in the tournament final over Alabama State last Saturday – are riding a 7-game winning streak and are making their first NCAA appearance since 2006.
In the second game on Sunday, eighth-seeded Temple (24-8), coached by former UConn assistant coach Tanya Cardoza, meets Colonial Athletic Association tournament champion and No. 9 James Madison (26-6).
Last year, Temple and UConn were in the same bracket as well, in Storrs. Florida played the role of spoiler by defeating Temple in the first round.
“I just hope Tonya’s team wins, because I always root for my assistants to play,” UConn Coach Geno Auriemma said. “I also know James Madison’s really good. And there are teams I think you’ve got to worry about a little bit. Teams from conferences that people don’t always give the respect that they probably deserve.”
Ohio State, Florida State, Iowa State and Virginia would be potential opponents for UConn when the tournament reaches the Regional semifinal stage in Dayton, Ohio.
And UConn has advanced to the Sweet 16 every year since 1994.
Second-ranked Stanford (Sacramento), No. 3 Tennessee (Memphis) and No. 4 Nebraska (Kansas City) also received No. 1 seeds
And if things hold to form, the match-up everyone is savoring to see – UConn vs. Tennessee – would occur at the Final Four in San Antonio in the NCAA national semifinals.
Posted March 17, 2010