The No. 1 overall-seeded UConn women’s basketball team will play its first game in the 2018 NCAA Tournament Saturday morning in its home arena at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Connecticut.
The Huskies (32-0) will play the No. 16-seed Saint Francis (PA) Red Flash (24-9), who qualified for the NCAA Tournament by winning the NEC conference tournament. Although the Red Flash have little to no hope at an upset over UConn, there has been one No. 16 seed in women’s basketball to defeat a No. 1 seed, a feat that still hasn’t occurred in the men’s game. Back in 1998, No. 16 Harvard did the unthinkable by beating No. 1 Stanford.
Despite long odds against an upset, the Huskies still have a “one game at a time” mentality and won’t overlook any opponent, especially after last year’s upset in the Final Four to Mississippi State.
“We have a new season starting now,” senior forward Gabby Williams said. “Going into the tournament, anything can happen. Teams play at a higher level, and they come with the adrenaline and they come with a super-tight focus. It’s like a new season for us.”
Williams added that last year’s loss to the Bulldogs has played a part in UConn’s whole season. She said the seemingly endless replays of the game-winning shot by Morgan William haven’t helped much either.
“(The loss) definitely makes us realize how serious every single game is and how nothing is guaranteed,” junior guard Katie Lou Samuelson said. “You’re never gonna get to one spot without taking care of what you need to get done and you can’t take anyone lightly, no matter who it is… We won’t take anyone lightly this year.”
The Red Flash have a scoring machine in junior guard Jessica Kovatch, who averages 24.9 points per game this season. Kovatch shoots well from inside and outside the arc, and has scored at least 30 points in 10 games this season. Kovatch also broke the 40-point mark one time this season, scoring 42 against Robert Morris in a heartbreaking 63-62 conference loss on Jan. 13.
Saint Francis lost just one other game in conference play against Sacred Heart University on Feb. 17, losing 69-68 on that day. The Red Flash avenged both of those losses in the conference tournament beating Sacred Heart and Robert Morris on their way to NEC title.
“(Saint Francis) did what they needed to do to get in the tournament, so I’m excited to play them,” Samuelson said.
UConn and Saint Francis have met twice before, both in the NCAA Tournament with the Huskies coming out on top both times in 1999 and 2002, respectively.
The Huskies lead the nation in scoring offense with 88.8 points per game this season, which is no surprise given how many scorers UConn has at every position. Currently, the Huskies have four players with 1,500 career points in Samuelson, Kia Nurse, Napheesa Collier and Williams. The latter two accomplished the milestone in the American Athletic Conference tournament.
This is the first time in program history that four active players have 1,500 points, and it could still be outdone if Azurá Stevens scores 90 more points by the end of tournament, should the Huskies get that far.
UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said his team will have to go through some tough games if it wants to win the NCAA Tournament this year. The longtime head coach said the level of competition has increased significantly, especially with the No. 8 and No. 9 games.
“There’s nothing easy at all about winning a national championship,” Auriemma said. “At some point you’re gonna have to beat some really, really good teams.”
The Huskies’ quest for success in the NCAA tourney and to regain their champion status begins at Gampel Saturday at 11 a.m. The matchup with the Red Flash will be televised on ESPN2.