A trip to the Final Four.
That is what the second-seeded UConn women’s basketball will be fighting for when they take on No. 1 seed Louisville tomorrow at noon in the Albany regional finals of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.
“You know, there’s probably no more, I think, nervous energy on a team or coaching staff than the day between your Sweet 16 game and your final eight game because you just want to play,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “You know you’ve got to play a really good team. You know you’ve got to play really well. You know what’s at stake in the game. You know what’s the reward for winning the game. And the prize for losing the game is your season is over.”
UConn defeated No. 6 seed UCLA 69-61 on Friday night to advance to the Elite Eight while Louisville defeated No. 4 seed Oregon State 61-44 later that evening to continue their dance.
The Huskies and Cardinals have already seen each other once this season with Louisville defeating UConn 78-69 in late January. The Cardinal’s star point guard Asia Durr scored 24 points in the win and looking back, the Husky starters agreed that they did not play like themselves in that game.
“Well, we need to improve on everything,” Napheesa Collier said of playing Louisville a second time. “We played just not our game at all. And we were watching the film, and we were just like, what are we doing? That doesn’t look like us at all, how we’re playing now and how we know that we can play.”
The Huskies have won 16 straight games since losing to Louisville earlier in the season but the squad is well aware that they are up against a big challenge, especially when it comes to Durr. She was named the ACC Player of the Year for the 2nd straight year and became the first player in program history to win the award multiple times. The senior averages 21.2 points-per-game on the season.
“I think the NCAA Tournament is about great players, and if you happen to have one of them who’s used to being in that situation, and I think Asia certainly is, I think you spend so much energy trying to defend her that you hurt yourself at some other positions,” Auriemma said of Durr.
On Louisville’s side, defeating UConn once already this season does give the team more confidence heading into Sunday but they know not to take the Huskies lightly.
“…we did win in January, but it’s going to be a whole new ball game,” Louisville head coach Jeff Walz said. “We aren’t playing at home. You’re not going to have your home crowd behind you. But it does give you a little bit of a sense of like, okay, if we play our best, we can win this game.”
Another obstacle for the Huskies may be the health of senior Katie Lou Samuelson. Samuelson suffered an injury in early March in a conference matchup against Houston that led to back spasms. She sat out the American Athletic Conference tournament but has been playing significant minutes for the squad in the NCAA tournament. In Friday’s game against UCLA Samuelson drew a flagrant foul when the Bruins’ Lajahna Drummer fell over her under the basket. Samuelson hit the ground hard after that play but gutted it out and remained in the game. Going forward she says the game is much more mental over physical for her despite any pain she may be in.
“At this point in the season, it’s all mind over matter,” Samuelson said. “There’s people all over the country that are playing still, that have injuries and have little things that are bothering them. Stuff that’s going on with me, I’m not letting it affect me. I’m doing whatever I can to feel my best, but mentally if I feel good, then that’s good enough.”
This will be the Cardinal’s second-straight trip to the Elite Eight and the Huskies 12th straight.
Sunday’s game will be broadcast on ESPN2 and will tip off at noon.
Mariana Dominguez is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.