UConn women play for spot in Sweet 16 tonight

UConn senior guard Bria Hartley will play her final game at Gampel Pavilion tonight when the Huskies play Saint Joseph's in the NCAA tournament.

Storrs — Nobody believes Geno Auriemma when he uses the word "fragile" in the same sentence as his undefeated team. Fellow coaches dream about being victimized by such fragility.

But in quieter moments, the coach wonders what happens if foul trouble or a starter's off night - against the wrong team - happens. And so while it's doubtful Saint Joseph's, tonight's opponent in the second round of the NCAA tournament, qualifies as the "wrong team," Auriemma surely understands the value of his starting five.

"They have been able to withstand a lot, starting with November when K (Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis) and Morgan (Tuck) went down," Auriemma said. "It's been the same thing every night. They know they have to play well, they know they have to stay out of foul trouble and they know they have to execute. They come into the tournament with a lot of confidence in themselves and a lot of confidence in each other, and at this time of year I don't know that there's anything more important."

The top-ranked Huskies play for the trip to the Lincoln Regional at the University of Nebraska tonight against St. Joe's (7 p.m., ESPNU) at Gampel Pavilion.

The game was originally supposed to air on ESPN until the network decided otherwise.

UConn (35-0) dusted Prairie View 87-44 in the first round Sunday night. The five starters - Mosqueda-Lewis, Breanna Stewart, Stefanie Dolson, Moriah Jefferson and Bria Hartley - all scored between 11 and 19 points.

"I think we were just really in sync out there on the floor. We had good chemistry out there, knowing what the other person was going to do before they do it," Hartley said. "You can just see how well we play together and looking at the stat sheet you can see that we all contributed and did a little to help each other out. It's great when you have a team like this where everyone can contribute and everyone can play really well."

St. Joe's, the No. 9 seed, opened some eyes Sunday with an upset of No. 8 Georgia. Auriemma called the Hawks a "really good team."

"I think it's no secret that UConn is the best team in the country, but it's an opportunity," coach Cindy Griffin said. "We're looking at it as an opportunity. If you're going to play in this tournament then why not play the best and challenge yourself against the best? Even from a coaching standpoint, they're one of the best coaching staffs in the country.

"I think for Connecticut, they're a national championship-type team but if we stay through our game plan and do the things that we do well and do them often, every opportunity we have to find a hole, we have to take it."

m.dimauro@theday.com

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