By Mike DiMauro
Publication: The Day
If they both get to night time in the city of New Orleans (at the Final Four), what happens today will be nothing more than prologue. But since the calendar says December, what better way to pass the time - and gauge the progress of your team - than playing the No. 1 team in the country?
That is the assignment today for the No. 2 UConn women, who play top-ranked Stanford and sold-out Maples Pavilion (4 p.m., ESPNU).
The Cardinal (11-0) assumed the nation's top ranking after defeating Baylor earlier this season. This game, Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said earlier this week, is another yardstick along the way.
"I believe that playing Connecticut just helps us get better," she said.
This is the 17th time UConn (10-0) will play in a game between the nation's top two teams in the Associated Press poll. UConn leads the all-time series with Stanford 7-6, but has never won (0-3) at Maples Pavilion against Stanford.
Stanford lost Nneka Ogwumike to graduation (she was the WNBA Rookie of the Year) but still has her sister, Chiney, one of the best players in the country.
"Stanford's got a lineup that's not easy to match up with,'' UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "And I'm sure Kelly (Faris) will end up guarding Chiney. I'm sure that'll happen. And I'm sure that'll happen frequently. But one of the problems that I think teams have that have played them, and are going to play them, is that if you put somebody like Kelly, who I think can do a great job, then (6-5 center) Stefanie (Dolson's) stuck guarding a kid that spends most of her time on the perimeter.
"It's not an easy decision to make and just say, `OK, we'll see if Kelly can handle Chiney and then we'll worry about everything else.' Because I don't know that that's necessarily the best way to go about it all the time. So I think we're going to have to be smart about it. And I'm not worried about what Kelly will do defensively. I don't think there's anybody in the country that she can't guard. But, at the same time, I think we've got to be careful what the other match-ups are because is that helping ourselves in one area and hurting ourselves in another?''
Stanford's frontcourt features 6-3 forward Joslyn Tinkle (13.9 points per game) and 6-3 Taylor Greenfield.
Stanford is the best team UConn has seen to date. The Huskies defeated Maryland and Penn State earlier this season in physical, tough games.
VanDerveer said she's not interested in a football game today.
"I think that there's a part for physical play, but not at the expense of seeing the athleticism and the skill that our team has," VanDerveer said. "Quite honestly, our team has never said, `We're going to try to beat you up instead of just beat you at basketball.' I personally feel that the game has become too physical and it doesn't highlight the great skill of the female players that people are paying good money to come and watch. So from my point of view it will be a basketball game.''