UConn back in regional for 25th consecutive year
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Reaching the Sweet 16 is basically a rite of spring for Geno Auriemma and his UConn Huskies.
They have advanced to the women’s NCAA Tournament regionals 25 straight years. Still, the Hall of Fame coach doesn’t take it for granted.
“You have to think at some point in 25 years you’d stumble once or twice,” Auriemma said on Friday. “It’s been a remarkable run through a lot of different players and scenarios and a lot of different places.”
Top-seeded UConn will face fifth seed Duke on Saturday in the Albany Region semifinals. Defending champion South Carolina will face 11th-seeded Buffalo in the first game. The Bulls are one of two 11 seeds to advance to the Sweet 16.
“I think it is good for the game,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “Anytime you can show some parity in our game on any level, it’s always good. The fact that Buffalo and Central Michigan are here playing in the Sweet 16 gives other coaches hope.”
After upsetting third-seeded Florida State on the Seminoles home floor, the Bulls aren’t intimidated by South Carolina and expect many of their fans to make the nearly 4½-hour trip across the state from Buffalo to Albany.
“We always thought we’d be here, we just never got here (before),” Buffalo coach Felisha Legette-Jack said. “That’s the expectation, the mindset. ... I’m not smart enough to know about 11, 3, 2 (seeds).”
The Buffalo players are loose and ready for the challenge.
“After the last win at Florida State, you wake up and wonder if it’s still a dream,” Buffalo guard Stephanie Reid said. “It kind of sinks in over the week. We’re focused on the game and it’s really exciting.”
Other things to know about the Albany Regional:
FAMILIAR FACE: UConn center Azura Stevens transferred from Duke after her sophomore year and is going against some of her former teammates. She said she hasn’t talked to any of them during the NCAA Tournament. She’s put Duke behind her.
“I think that’s what you have to do. Some people are going to say what they’re going to say, but you can’t always let things affect you. I saw the article, but it’s out of my mind. It doesn’t faze me,” Stevens said.
“It was definitely hard (deciding to transfer). When I look at being there, it wasn’t all negative. There was obviously things that I didn’t agree with, but I did do a lot of growing there and a lot of learning.
“It’s a part of my journey that I’m never going to forget. It wasn’t easy. It’s not like I just picked up and walked out. I have relationships there. It definitely wasn’t a super-easy decision to make.”
THE CHAMP ISN’T HERE: Dawn Staley’s adorable dog Champ didn’t make the trip to New York. The Havenese pup has been on the road with South Carolina, but the coach didn’t want to bring the dog to chilly upstate New York.
“Champ is a warm climate puppy and that’s why he didn’t make the trip,” Staley said laughing.
Friday is National Puppy Day.
GOING GLOBAL: Seven members of the Buffalo squad are from outside the United States. There are four Australians, including unquestioned leader and point guard Stephanie Reid, two Canadians and a Nigerian.
“I think it really makes us closer. Being from so many different countries you kind of have to rely on the team to be your family, and I think that’s exactly what we are,” said Courtney Wilkins, who hails from Melbourne, Australia. “It’s our oneness and our family culture that’s really allowed us to get here.”
STOPPING A’JA: Legette-Jack has a simple plan to contain South Carolina’s star A’ja Wilson — tickle her.
“Everyone tried everything else and she averaged a high double-double,” Legette-Jack said. “Someone go low and someone go high, we’re into the tickle motion. You can’t stop someone as good as A’ja. She’s a special player. We aren’t going to stop her.”
The players laughed when they heard coach’s plan during the news conference.
“If she’s getting her points, we’ll try anything,” Buffalo center Cassie Oursler said, laughing.
TIP-INS: Duke is the only school left that has both its men’s and women’s basketball team playing in the NCAA Tournament. The men’s team plays against Syracuse on Friday night. ... Auriemma celebrated his 64th birthday on Friday. ... Of their 29 wins this season, the Bulls have posted 21 double-digit victories, including a 21-point win over Florida State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
AP Sports Writer John Kekis contributed to this story.
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