Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma, right, talks with player Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis during the second half of an NCAA tournament first-round college basketball game Prairie View A&M in Bridgeport, Conn., Saturday, March 17, 2012. Connecticut won 83-47. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
It took 35 games but UConn's three high-profile freshman finally put it all together. Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck combined for 35 points against Maryland in a 76-50 Sweet 16 victory, and now the Huskies will face Kentucky Monday night in the Elite 8.
But unlike the previous two seasons that ended in the Final Four at the hands of Big East rival Notre Dame (who is headed to the ACC after the season), the Huskies' have a clear path to New Orleans on April 7. For starters, the Fighting Irish are in the other bracket. And not to be the guy looking too far ahead, but there's more: the No. 1 team in the nation, Baylor, lost to Louisville over the weekend, 82-81.
There's more: Stanford, the top seed in the Spokane bracket, also lost, which means that all the Huskies have to do is take care of their business against the Wildcats, which will put them in the Final Four against the California-Georgia winner.
On paper, things seem to be falling into place for Geno Auriemma's eighth national title. But theory reality echoes reality, which means that UConn can't take anything for granted, especially at this stage of the proceedings. Also worth pointing out: just because the opponents arent Notre Dame, Baylor or Stanford doesn't magically mean the Huskies will waltz to victory; Kentucky has wins over Tennessee, Georgia and Louisville, have a 12-5 record against RPI top-50 schools, and coming from the Big East won't be intimidated by the moment.
A year ago, UConn beat Kentucky in the Elite 8 to get to the Final Four in Denver. This time, the Wildcats have different plans.
“I think we’re better prepared,” junior forward Samarie Walker said Sunday via the Courier-Journal.com. “We have new additions to this team and the players we had last year have gotten better. We’re a better team, we’re a lot closer, our chemistry is great and I think coach is going to prepare us very well for the game tomorrow.”
Auriemma, meanwhile, understands what's at stake.
"It's the best game of the year," he said. "It's just one game and everything that a player dreams of, going to the Final Four, on the line."