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    Saturday, April 01, 2023

    UConn women earn a No. 2 seed and will host No. 15 Vermont in first round on Saturday in Storrs

    UConn head coach Geno Auriemma talks with UConn's Aaliyah Edwards (3) during the Big East tournament championship game on March 6 at Mohegan Sun Arena. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

    Storrs — All the pieces, previously somewhat unglued, came together a week ago as the UConn women’s basketball team won the Big East Conference tournament with a dominant three games in three days at Mohegan Sun Arena.

    Now, the Huskies get a chance to build on that in the NCAA tournament.

    “Everyone’s just proud of themselves and I think as a team we’re proud of ourselves,” UConn junior forward Aaliyah Edwards said of the Huskies, who endured several injuries this season. “I think we still have so much to prove.

    “Having a complete team now, we’re coming in as the same team that we started the season with and we’re trying to finish it the same way. I think everyone’s super excited just to get back on the court and back into that winning mentality.”

    UConn (29-5) drew the No. 2 seed in the Seattle 3 Region on Sunday as the NCAA tournament pairings were announced and will face No. 15 Vermont (25-6) in a first-round game Saturday at Gampel Pavilion. Game time has yet to be determined.

    No. 7 Baylor (19-12) will face No. 10 Alabama (20-10) in the other first-round game at Gampel and the winners of the two games will meet in the second round on Monday, March 20.

    UConn has been to an unprecedented 14 straight Final Fours, falling to South Carolina in last year’s national championship game in Minneapolis. The Huskies are bidding for their first title since winning four straight from 2013-16.

    “You first have to win two games regardless of what region you’re in. Job No. 1 is you have to win two games and that’s no different than it is every other year,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said.

    “And every year people go, ‘Oh, that’s a tough bracket.’ ‘Oh, that’s an easy bracket. ‘Oh, that’s a tough matchup.’ ‘Oh, that’s any easy matchup.’ And every year I say the same thing. There are no easy games in the NCAA tournament. Certainly, this year is no exception.”

    The tournament has a different look this season with only two regional tournament sites instead of four. After the first two rounds are played at campus sites, eight teams each, broken up into two pods of four, will compete in Seattle and Greenville, S.C.

    The Final Four will be held March 31-April 2 in Dallas.

    “Me, personally, I’m not crazy about it,” Auriemma said of the two-region system. “Not that it matters because every team is in the same situation, but if you’re going to do it, why not have them in the middle of the country where everybody only has to go halfway?

    “I understand, let’s try something different, think outside the box, all that other stuff. And if I was 35, I’d say, ‘Wow, this is a great idea. Let’s try that.’ I’m not into new ideas at my age.”

    UConn struggled with injuries this season, losing All-America junior Paige Bueckers and highly touted freshman Ice Brady to knee injuries before the season even began.

    The Huskies adapted to that with early-season wins over No. 3 Texas, No. 9 Iowa and No. 10 N.C. State, only to then lose another potential All-American in sophomore Azzi Fudd on Dec. 4 in a game at Notre Dame.

    Fudd missed 22 games. UConn lost back-to-back games, Feb. 5 against South Carolina and Feb. 8 vs. Marquette, for the first time since 1993.

    Then came the Big East tournament. Fudd returned. Caroline Ducharme and Dorka Juhasz, who had missed time with injuries, were on the floor.

    Edwards, a finalist for the Naismith Trophy as national player of the year, led the way, being named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after three straight double-doules. In the tournament, she averaged 19.3 points and 13.3 rebounds per game.

    In the championship game, top-seeded UConn blitzed No. 2 Villanova 67-56, up 25 in the third quarter.

    “If we can approach that level, then I think we have a chance,” Auriemma said of the weeks ahead. “I’m sure there’s a lot of teams out there that are going ‘If we approach the level of when we played this game.’ But for us, that’s it right there. We have to be able to compete at that level, execute at that level.”

    “I feel like you guys already saw us in the Big East tournament,” UConn junior guard Nika Muhl said. “Just how we turned our game around, how we started playing UConn basketball. I just kept saying this is the March UConn. I feel like we proved it and now we gotta prove it on the next one.”


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