Women’s Basketball: Huskies No. 2 seed in NCAA tournament

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Napheesa Collier will need help from the supporting cast in order for UConn to hoist its 12th National Championship. Photo by Charlotte Lao/The Daily Campus

Despite being ranked No. 2 overall, the UConn women’s basketball team was named the No. 2 seed in the Albany Region. The announcement was released accidentally on ESPNU, causing ESPN to nix its original plans of releasing the brackets on ESPN at 7 p.m. The official announcement was announced at 5 p.m. instead.

“In working with the NCAA to prepare for tonight’s Women’s Selection Special we received the bracket, similar to years past,” ESPN said in a statement. “In the midst of our preparation, the bracket was mistakenly posted on ESPNU. We deeply regret the error and extend our apology to the NCAA and the women’s basketball community.”

This is the first time that UConn was not a No. 1 seed since 2006. The chair of the NCAAW selection committee Rhonda Lundin Bennett said on ESPN that UConn’s strength of schedule and conference is the reason they were not ranked as a top seed.

The Huskies played top competition on the road – Notre Dame, Louisville and Baylor, this season.

UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said, after the Huskies defeated UCF in the AAC championship game, that he did not care where the team had to play.

“People are out there bitching that we always go to Albany,” Auriemma said. “Well, then tell somebody else to friggin bid on it. Like it’s our fault. People are bitching, ‘they go to Albany every year.’ Well guess what, we’ve been the No.1 seed in the country the last 11 years. Where the hell else are you going to put us? It’s just unbelievable …

“People don’t know this, but we play with a little chip on our shoulders too, it just doesn’t show. Yeah people think we get breaks. We earn our breaks. We win every goddamn game and then we go where we’re supposed to go. That’s what the rule says. The No. 1 seed in the country goes someplace close. Someplace close is either Bridgeport or Albany. When it was in Trenton, we went to Trenton. When it was in Dayton, we went to Dayton. How far east you gotta go? I don’t care if they put it in the friggin Middle East. We’ll go there and we’ll still win,” Auriemma continued.

The Huskies will not only play with extra motivation, but they will have senior Katie Lou Samuelson back and healthy for the beginning of the NCAA tournament. The guard missed the entire American Athletic Conference tournament after she sustained a back injury on senior day. Over 29 games, Samuelson has averaged 18.9 points and 6.7 rebounds per game.

Point guard Crystal Dangerfield said Samuelson has been extremely active and helpful on the bench during the AAC tournament. She would tell her team what she was seeing from the bench and constantly cheering them on.

“I think it’s really going to benefit her, seeing the things she saw on the bench and taking it back out to the court,” Dangerfield said.

Napheesa Collier has emerged as the go-to player for the Huskies and the tournament should be no different. Auriemma has called her the best player in the country and thinks she should at least be in the conversation for the National Player of the Year. The senior leads the team with 20.9 points and 10.5 rebounds per game.

The supporting cast of Christyn Williams and Megan Walker, with Olivia Nelson-Ododa off the bench, will play a vital role in UConn’s success during the tournament. With Samuelson out for the AAC tournament, Nelson-Ododa shined in the starting spot and she even reeled in 17 rebounds against ECU.

Williams provided UConn with a burst in transition and the speedy lefty has a knack for finishing around the rim. The freshman showed that she is not shy of the bright lights when she erupted for 28 points against Notre Dame in South Bend, carrying the team to a 89-71 win.

Walker may only be 6-foot-1, but the sophomore is an absolute bruiser in the low post. She will need to continue to flex her muscles to alleviate the pressure on Collier to snag some rebounds. Walker is also lights out from 3-point range, shooting nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc.

Photo by Charlotte Lao/The Daily Campus

“If we can count on those young kids and now, when Lou comes back, we have a much more complete team,” Auriemma said on the positive state of the team. “We have more options and we have more confidence in ourselves and each other. Sometimes that does take some pressure off Lou and Pheesa if they know that other people can step up and make shots.”

The Huskies will start the NCAA tournament Friday at 6:30 p.m. in Gampel Pavilion against Towson. If UConn wins, they will take on the winner of the Rutgers vs. Buffalo game. The round of 32 game will take place on Sunday at a time to be announced.

It will be difficult for the Huskies to be on their A-game every day during the tournament, but they will have to find a way to continue to grind out games. Auriemma said that the team has struggled to find a happy medium this season.

“There is no in-between with this team,” Auriemma said after the AAC tournament. “Those other teams that I’ve coached, when they were good, you couldn’t get a shot off against us. Forget you would miss, you couldn’t get a shot off and when we were bad, you would get a bad shot. That was our worst – you got a bad shot. This team? When we are really good, you have a hard time scoring. When we are bad, you can get any shot you want and nobody will be near you.”


Michael Logan is the sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at michael.logan@uconn.edu.

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