State friend Quinnipiac up next for No. 1 UConn in NCAA tourney

Quinnipiac coach Tricia Fabbri huddles with her team during Saturday's 86-72 win over Miami in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Storrs. The No. 9 Bobcats play top-seeded UConn in the second round on Monday night at Gampel Pavilion. (AP Photo/Stephen Dunn)
Quinnipiac coach Tricia Fabbri huddles with her team during Saturday's 86-72 win over Miami in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Storrs. The No. 9 Bobcats play top-seeded UConn in the second round on Monday night at Gampel Pavilion. (AP Photo/Stephen Dunn)

Storrs — Perhaps it's because he sees a little of himself in her that UConn coach Geno Auriemma has so much respect for his counterpart from Quinnipiac University, coach Tricia Fabbri, even going so far as to don a Quinnipiac T-shirt during last year's NCAA tournament.

Likewise, Fabbri, the architect of a Bobcats program which now finds itself in the second round of the tournament for the second straight season, thinks highly of Auriemma.

The two are both even fans of the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.

“Obviously, I've known Trish for a long, long time, since she was a player (at Fairfield University),” Auriemma said Sunday. “What's really impressive is she's young, but she's an old-fashioned coach. She instills old-fashioned values in her team, the way they play, the way they carry themselves.

“It's no big shock that they're playing tomorrow night. … They're dangerous. I remember having a team like that back in the day. We couldn't wait to play teams like we are now.”

In a matchup Monday night which will serve as part women's basketball game, part Connecticut block party between a pair of schools just 57 miles apart, top-seeded UConn of Storrs (33-0) will take on No. 9 Quinnipiac of Hamden (28-5) in the second round of the NCAA tournament at Gampel Pavilion (6:30 p.m., ESPN2).

UConn, the 11-time national champion, is coming off a 140-52 victory over Saint Francis (Pa.). Quinnipiac, which carried the title of Cinderella during last year's tournament as a No. 12 seed which reached the Sweet 16, has now validated itself, Fabbri believes, with another first-round victory over Miami, 86-72.

Despite UConn's role as the clear favorite, however, Quinnipiac — which played eventual champion South Carolina during last year's tournament — is undaunted.

The Bobcats have won a program-record 23 straight games since sitting 5-5 following a loss to Michigan State on Dec. 18.

“UConn has been in a class by themselves for a long time and we are so eager for the opportunity to see what we have to put up against the best,” Fabbri said. “Size, length, athleticism, skill, talent and the coaching staff; it's exactly the measurement we need to see where we are as a program.

“Geno has just transcended this game. It's cool to be able to go up against the best. This is why you do what you do.”

Fabbri, in her 23rd year, began coaching Quinnipiac during the 1995-96 season when the Bobcats were still a Division II program. The team went 2-23.

Quinnipiac made its first NCAA tournament berth in 2013 and repeated that success in 2015, before earning its first NCAA win a year ago and captivating Auriemma with what Fabbri calls grit. The Bobcats have now won four conference titles in six years, finishing unbeaten in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference this season (18-0). Fabbri, who picked up her 400th career win on Dec. 28, was named the MAAC Coach of the Year.

“She's a really tough individual. There's no nonsense about her,” Auriemma said of Fabbri. “She tells you, 'This is how I feel' and she has the respect of her players. Too many times, coaches tiptoe around stuff and she doesn't do that. That's why her team plays with the kind of attitude they do.”

“I would like to think we are on the rise,” said Carly Fabbri, Tricia's daughter, who is a senior guard for the Bobcats. “I believe strongly in the coming years it's going to be a similar story.”

Tricia Fabbri, meanwhile, smiled Sunday as she told the story of talking to MAAC commissioner Rich Ensor this week. The MAAC is hosting the Albany Regional next weekend, where the winner of Monday's UConn-Quinnipiac game will advance.

Fabbri told Ensor she wasn't sure if the Bobcats would be quite as big a draw in Albany as UConn, should Quinnipiac advance.

“He said, 'Those tickets are already sold. Do what you have to do,'” Fabbri said. “You have to dream.”

v.fulkerson@theday.com

No. 1 UConn vs. No. 9 Quinnipiac

NCAA TOURNAMENT SECOND ROUND

Location: Gampel Pavilion

Tip: 6:30 p.m. (ESPN2)

Records: Quinnipiac 28-5 overall; UConn 33-0.

Last game: Quinnipiac beat Miami 86-72 in the first round of the NCAA tournament Saturday; UConn beat Saint Francis (Pa.) 140-52 in the first round of the NCAA tournament Saturday.

Probable starters: Quinnipiac, 6-0 Jr. F Paula Strautmane (9.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.7 apg, 1.7 spg), 6-0 redshirt Jr. F Jen Fay (13.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg), 5-10 Sr. G Carly Fabbri (9.8 ppg, 4.2 apg, 1.8 spg), 5-9 Jr. G Edel Thornton (5.0 ppg), 5-11 Jr. G Aryn McClure (12.4 ppg, 3.3 apg, 1.6 spg).

UConn, 5-5 So. G Crystal Dangerfield (9.5 ppg, 4.0 apg), 6-0 Sr. G Kia Nurse (13.8 ppg), 6-3 Jr. G/F Katie Lou Samuelson (17.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg), 5-11 Sr. F Gabby Williams (10.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 5.3 apg, 2.6 spg), 6-1 Jr. G/F Napheesa Collier (15.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg).

Noteworthy: Quinnipiac has won 23 straight games following a 74-55 loss to Michigan State on Dec. 18 which made the Bobcats 5-5. They started 0-3, in fact, with defeats against Iowa (83-67), then-No. 16 Missouri (66-51) and then-No. 9 Ohio State (95-63). “I think obviously our five losses did come during that nonconference play,” Carly Fabbri said Sunday of the early going. “No team likes to lose, but the whole time we were having those growing pains, we knew that while it stung then, this was going to help us come March.” The Bobcats went 18-0 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and followed by winning their second straight league tournament title. … UConn, despite winning its first-round game in record-setting fashion against Saint Francis, has no illusions of being perfect, especially entering the game against hard-nosed Quinnipiac. “I think energy-wise we were all ready to go and we had contributions from almost everyone on the team (Saturday), so that's really good and a positive for us,” Samuelson said. “But we know there are always little things that we can get better on here and there and we can really focus on making sure everything we do is the same no matter who we're playing.” Three UConn players had double-doubles against Saint Francis: Samuelson (18 points, 10 assists), Nurse (15 points, 10 rebounds) and sixth man Azurá Stevens (26 points, 10 rebounds). In addition, Williams (16 points, 9 assists), Collier (25 points, 9 assists) and freshman Megan Walker (19 points, 8 rebounds) came close. Said UConn coach Geno Auriemma: “I don't think it's going to be an easy game for us, but I like the way our team played yesterday and we're anxious to get going (Monday).” … UConn and Quinnipiac are each one of 20 teams in the country to have won 20-or-more games in seven straight seasons from 2011-18. … Monday will mark the final home game for UConn seniors Nurse and Williams. … The only previous meeting between UConn and Quinnipiac came on Dec. 27, 1998, with UConn winning 117-20; Quinnipiac was then in its first season as a Division I program.

— Vickie Fulkerson

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