Published March 22. 2013 6:00PM Updated March 23. 2013 12:10AM
Storrs — Leave it to the NCAA, whose officials speak frequently about saving money during the process of tournament travel, to send the University of Idaho just 2,754 miles for its first-round tournament game today at Gampel Pavilion.
Yes. According to Google Maps, a drive from South Deakin Street, Moscow, Idaho, to Gampel Pavilion would require 41 hours to drive. Happily for the Vandals, champions of the Western Athletic Conference, the plane ride was a little more than four hours.
And now Idaho, the 16th seed, gets No. 1 UConn Saturday at 1:30 p.m. (ESPN2).
"I think we have the toughest task," Idaho coach Jon Newlee said Friday. "Geno (Auriemma) and I talked about that at the coaches' meeting (Friday) morning. What are we doing all the way out here when there are closer places we could be? The NCAA talks about wanting to save money."
Not that Newlee isn't thrilled to have ventured from them thar hills to these thar hills.
"This is their reward for all the blood, sweat and tears they've put in," he said. "I want them to enjoy every minute. I tell them to embrace this moment. A lot of people don't get this chance."
Newlee is a self-described "surfer from San Diego" who has also coached at Hawaii and Southern Methodist. There can't be many other coaches in the history of college basketball who have ended up in Moscow by way of Dallas and Honolulu.
And now Saturday, his players are the state's most noted female athletes since Picabo Street.
"We don't just grow potatoes," junior Alyssa Charlston said. "There's a lot more to Idaho. It's beautiful, first of all. There's some unbelievable falls."
Moscow (pronounced MOS-koh) is located on the Washington-Idaho border, not far from Pullman, Wash., home of Washington State University. The program has been east of the Mississippi River three times to play games. But never to play one of the game's Gatsbys.
"We all have so much respect for the (UConn) players and obviously Geno is a big name as well," Charlston said. "When we were getting recruited, I think we have that 'awe factor' for any school. I think it's more of a respect thing for us because we all respect them."
The Vandals have players from California and Norway. Sophomore guard Stacey Barr is from Melbourne, Australia.
The Huskies haven't played since early last week when they lost to Notre Dame in the Big East Tournament championship game. UConn would play the winner of the No. 8 Vanderbilt/No. 9 St. Joseph's game (beginning at 11:05) in Monday's second round.
"At this time of year, you get too philosophical or too analytical about what the path looks like or what happened during the regular season," Auriemma said. "We would love to come out of (Saturday) and have seven players who play the best game we have played all year, but I don't think that's going to happen.
"Idaho is going to come out and play inspired. I remember being in their situation before," he said. "I know what it feels like to have their team playing against our kind of team. I'm just worried about making sure we play well and win."
UConn officials said tickets are available for today's doubleheader. As of late Friday, fewer than 4,000 tickets have been sold.