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Storrs — It begins tonight, the pursuit of the program's ninth national championship. The opponent: Prairie View. The outlook: So long as UConn's players arrive at Gampel Pavilion safely … you know the rest.
Which is why tonight's game (8 p.m., ESPN) is a microcosm of the women's NCAA tournament for the Huskies. They're the big favorite.
"In reality," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said, "it's a two-game tournament three times. We try to break it down into that. We prepare for that by playing a lot of those Saturday-Monday games, big national games and put as many of those together as we can to get us ready for how it's going to be now."
UConn (34-0) would meet the winner of tonight's other first-round game at Gampel between No. 8 Georgia and No. 9 St. Joseph's on Tuesday night.
Prairie View (14-17) lost its first 11 games of the season and was 1-13 on Jan. 20. Since, the Lady Panthers are 13-4 and won the Southwestern Athletic Conference title.
"For us, we look at it as the first game of the NCAA tournament. We know every team that faces us is going to give us their best game because everyone knows that if you lose, you go home," UConn senior Stefanie Dolson said. "You've seen a lot of upsets already and for us we're just going to go out and focus on ourselves and focus on what we have to do to win the game and get to the next round."
Said UConn's Bria Hartley: "It's the NCAA tournament so I think everyone is really excited to play. Sometimes I'm surprised how some teams come out and don't have energy the first game of the NCAA tournament. I think there should be a lot of excitement in that. We focus on what we do and what we're doing on the court. It's a lot about how we're running our offense, how our defense is looking and as long as we go out with a lot of intensity, it's always exciting."